Listen to this track by Canadian space rockers and Beatles reunion suspects Klaatu. It’s their 1977 hit single “Sub-Rosa Subway”, a song that bothered the charts less than the rumours surrounding it bothered the music press and rock fandom at the height of the “will-they-or-won’t-they” era of hoped for Beatles reunions of the mid-to-late ’70s.
And for Beatles fans, this tune was certainly a treat to the ears, making many a Beatles circa ’67 musical reference as it does. The song was a double-A side hit with another song of theirs, “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)”, which would later be covered by the Carpenters, of all people. Both songs appeared on the band’s 1976 LP 3:47 EST.
Yet, with this song it wasn’t just that the tune sounded Beatlesque. At the time, it was actually thought to be a surreptitious move on the part of the Fab Four themselves to reunite, with “clues” that were thrown around to make the “Paul Is Dead” rumours of a decade previous seem almost sensible.
But, Klaatu were a real band -Terry Draper, John Woloschuk, and Dee Long – albeit one that owed a debt to the Beatles on this song. Even they were surprised, and probably not just a little put out, to learn that a journalist had outed them as being a front for a real life Beatles reunion.
How on earth did this happen?
Well, for one thing, this song sounds like the Beatles – like, a lot. For another, there weren’t any names on the record, or credits of any kind, other than ‘Klaatu’ – very fishy. Even more fishy, the band Klaatu never toured!
Was there more evidence? How about this.
The album was released on the Capitol label – the one on which the Beatles’ releases had been put out in North America, and with label bosses who were surely pleased as punch by this point with the rumours as they translated into record sales. And (here’s the most damning evidence of all) the cover of Ringo’s Goodnight Vienna album showed our Mr. Starkey emerging from the spaceship in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still. This is a movie out of which the name “Klaatu” comes as a prominent line of dialogue (“Klaatu Barada Nikto“), and actually is that movie’s main character, portrayed by Ringo on the cover of his album.
There are other examples. But, you get the idea.
Fans cottoned on to these rumours in part thanks to an article printed in a Rhode Island newspaper, which postulated that the band Klaatu were the Beatles in disguise. The spark of that story caught and spread like a brushfire on a windy day. Remember, this was the era when all four Beatles walked the earth still very much in their prime. Every rock fan yearned for their return as a foursome once again.
When the Klaatu Beatle rumours began to take hold, I think it was a case of wanting something to be true on a mass scale. The substance of the rumours on paper didn’t add up to much of anything in the end, other than spurious speculation on the part of those who, to quote a bona fide Beatles tune, should have known better. It was a form of relapsed Beatlemania, with an emphasis on the ‘mania’ part.
Meanwhile, the actual band Klaatu were in Britain while this was happening, working on their follow up record. They were initially unaware of how big the rumours about their band were getting. Their opinions on the matter were most likely tempered by a British press who weren’t buying the rumours even a little bit, and expressed a point of view in the most strenuous of terms best embodied in the title of an actual NME article: Deaf Idiot Journalist Starts Beatles Rumour. There’s not much room for doubt there on where the music press in Britain stood.
Eventually, despite fervent Stateside hopes of a Beatles Second Coming, there was to be no joy in Rockville. Klaatu really were their own band. No Beatle had anything to do with them other than to provide a strong influence, and to have once been on the same record label. That was it.
And really, here’s what should have been the first clue that the Beatles hadn’t reunited as Klaatu; actually listening to the music. For instance, “Sub-Rosa Subway” sounds way too much like the Beatles of the 1960s to truly be the Beatles by the mid-to-late ’70s. It’s clearly a pastiche, although a very well observed and very well-played one deserving of its hit record status. Further to that, the rest of the record, while also drawing on a Beatlesque sound in many places, is clearly the work of distinctly different band. It only takes a single listen to make that apparent.
Unfortunately, when the truth inevitably came to light by the end of 1977 as reason took hold, Klaatu’s record sales promptly declined. This is despite the fact the music remained as high quality and extremely catchy it had been before the rumours started.
The band would put out a few more records. But, by the early 80s, it was pretty much over.
Klaatu are still together today, although they’re a label – Klaatunes – dedicated to the curation of their back catalogue, rather than as a touring or recording entity, at least as of this writing. Check out the Klaatu official website for more information.
4 thoughts on “Klaatu Performs “Sub-Rosa Subway””
Interesting to speculate how rampant the Paul is Dead & Klaatu is the Beatles rumours would’ve been if the Internet had existed back then… Perhaps right up there with 9/11 as an inside job.
Maybe, Geoff. It really is hard to say, just because even if the rumours would have spread that much faster, the proof against them would move just as rapidly. Also, the Internet has sharpened the bullshit detectors in all of us. Back in 1977, if it was in the paper, “there must be some truth in there”. I think they would have fizzled out as soon as they started, personally. But, your point about 9/11 truther movements, and also the birther thing too, is well taken. Maybe if there were some records to spin to put both of those things to rest …
Remember well all the nonsense. But listeningt to the track 35 years later (ouch), it doesn’t sound Beatlesque any more in the least.
Amazing that this article has come out now. I recently purchased and downloaded “Sub-Rosa Subway” and have been listening to it so much lately that it has become my favorite song. The song is awesome and sounds soooo much like McCartney and the Beatles. So incredibly creative, with morse code, train noises, and a McCartney-like bass line, it tells the true story of a man who invented the subway system in New York City. I was 15 in ’77 and remember the rumors about the Klaatu actually being the Beatles. After listening to this song, I can clearly see why these rumors were started.