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THE BEATLES’ SECRET ALBUM?

THE BEATLES’ SECRET ALBUM?

Fans of the Beatles were excited by a strange new album in 1976 – long after the band had split. Tony Barrell discovers why

THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2016

Myths cling to the story of the Beatles like stubborn barnacles on the hull of a weathered old galleon. There’s that utter nonsense about Paul dying in the 1960s and being replaced by a man who not only looked identical, but also played left-handed and somehow had just as much musical brilliance as the original. Then there’s that supposed put-down of Ringo Starr – “He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles” – which is often wrongly attributed to John Lennon.

In 1976, there was suddenly a big fuss about a new album by a mysterious band called Klaatu. Strangely, there were no band members listed or pictured on the sleeve, and the record was released on Capitol Records, which just happened to be the Beatles’ US label.

An American journalist called Steve Smith started the rumour mill grinding when he asked the question: “Could Klaatu be the Beatles?” The legendary British band had split up over six years before, but soon people started raving that they had secretly re-formed, or that the Klaatu record was a lost Fab Four LP, perhaps recorded sometime in 1966. For some unknown reason, the band had decided to veil their true identity for this new release. (This wasn’t a completely implausible idea: Paul had once written a song for the duo Peter and Gordon under a pseudonym, as an experiment to see how well it would do without the famous Lennon–McCartney imprimatur. And, of course, the Beatles had semi-pretended to be a different group, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for the legendary 1967 album of that name.)

Klaatu was the alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the 1951 film referenced on the cover of a Ringo Starr album

Speculation that Klaatu were the Beatles was fuelled by some tantalising details of the Klaatu record. One of the song titles, ‘Sub-Rosa Subway’, was strangely similar to the name of Paul McCartney and Wings’ LP from three years before, Red Rose Speedway. Klaatu was the name of the alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the 1951 film that was referenced on the cover of Ringo Starr’s album Goodnight Vienna, and another of the songs mentioned a “sentimental journey”, the title of another Ringo LP. The Klaatu album was originally titled 3:47 EST, and the running time of one of the Beatles’ finest songs, ‘All You Need Is Love’, just happens to be 3 minutes and 47 seconds.

Not everybody believed the hype, and some people had fun with it. A British music paper demonstrated how easy it was to infer Beatle connections just about anywhere, when it jokingly seized on a terrible album of music from The Waltons TV series as another “secret Beatles LP”. The reviewer pointed out that Paul McCartney had been born at Liverpool’s Walton Hospital, and that one of the tracks on the Waltons record was ‘Mimicry’, in whose title was concealed the name of the aunt who had brought up John Lennon.

Klaatu hadn’t meant to cause such a brouhaha: they had merely wanted their prog-rock music to speak for itself

In fact, the Klaatu album was made by three little-known Canadians called John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper. They hadn’t meant to cause such a brouhaha: they had merely wanted their prog-rock music to “speak for itself”. But the controversy ensured that their LP received a lot of attention. And the year after its release, the album’s best track – ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ – was covered by the Carpenters, and became the weirdest hit that the middle-of-the-road brother-and-sister duo ever had.

© 2016 Tony Barrell

Tony Barrell’s new book, The Beatles on the Roof, is out now in the UK. You can read about it here, and buy it here.

August 19, 2014

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About the Author

Tony Barrell is a pop historian, journalist, editor and Londoner who has spent much of his life interviewing musicians. He has written many major articles for The Sunday Times and other publications. His 2017 work The Beatles on the Roof is the first book to be published about the Fab Four’s famous 1969 rooftop concert.

6 comments found

Comments for: THE BEATLES’ SECRET ALBUM?

  1. www.rebelmouse.com

    I love this website, it’s a masterpiece! Delighted to discover this on the internet.

  2. Geoff Gane

    I still believe the Fab Four WERE involved. So many coincidences that cannot be explained away. As for the DJ on RI, he was not the only one to wonder if Klaatu really were the Beatles in disguise. Nor must we forget the role played by producer, Terry Brown. He also produced albums by the Canadian trio, Rush, most notably the 1977 album, “Farewell to Kings”. Could the “Kings” be four very famous gentlemen who started life in the Cavern Club, Liverpool? It is quite possible that Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alec Lifeson may have met some very well-known musicians around the time thanks to Terry Brown. “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” was covered by the Carpenters and it is well known that Richard and Karen were MASSIVE Beatles fans. Does Richard know something we don’t? And don’t forget that many Canadians revere the port of Liverpool. Yes, someone does know something about three session musicians receiving expert tuition from the best tutors possible, namely 4 men from Liverpool, England.

    1. Post author: 
      Tony Barrell

      Thanks very much, Geoff – intriguing stuff. I particularly like the Rush connection.

  3. Geoff Gane

    Dear Tony,
    Thank you very much for your kind comment.
    The reason why I mentioned Rush is because it wouldn’t have been the first time the Fab Four would have encountered another group. For, in 1967, Pink Floyd recorded “Piper At The Gates of Dawn” at the same time the Beatles were recording “Sgt Pepper” – at Abbey Road. Both bands were said to be in awe of each other at the time. Who is to say that wasn’t the case with Rush if they encountered the very famous musicians rumored to be Klaatu at the time. Several Rush albums such as “2112”, “Farewell To Kings”, “Hemispheres” are said to be concepts just like “Sgt Pepper”. Rush are said to be Anglophiles- why else the Tennyson influence with regard to “Xanadu” from “Farewell To Kings”?
    One day we will read the news today, oh boy, and we will learn that the recordings of Klaatu did involve some 4 very special gentlemen, 2 of whom we all wish were still alive today.
    Kind Regards.

  4. Kevin O'Connor

    Tony Barrell, you are wrong. I have a vivid recollection of John Lennon answering a question by a USA journalist about whether or not Ringo was the best drummer in the world by saying, ,” He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles!’ I saw this again, sometime last year or so on a BBC4 Documentary on the Beatles

    1. Post author: 
      Tony Barrell

      Thank you, Kevin. I would be very grateful if you could find the clip of John saying this, or a link to it.

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