In part one I introduced you to Klaatu and the bizarre “are they the Beatles?” rumour that surrounded their first few album releases in the late seventies. I also included some cool behind-the-scenes info on the various Roland products they have used throughout their career. But for the band who initially only wanted their music to “speak for itself” let us now focus on the music of Klaatu.
PART 2: Back to the Future
Over the past couple of years Klaatu took on the momentous task of remastering the first three albums in their discography: 3:47 EST, Hope, and Sir Army Suit. The remastering was completed by audio restoration guru Peter J. Moore, with Terry Brown and members of the band in attendance, so this is a real treat for any Klaatu music fan. I recently purchased copies of the remasters for all three Klaatu albums. Included in the newly remastered deluxe edition of the Sir Army Suit album is a bonus DVD containing animated music videos for A Routine Day, Everybody Took A Holiday, Tokeymor Field and Perpetual Motion Machine, plus an hour long interview with the three band members Terry Draper, Dee Long, and John Woloschuk.
John Woloschuk: Vocals, Bass & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards
Dee Long: Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Terry Draper: Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Klaatu’s debut album 3:47 EST was actually recorded over a three year period with all three members of Klaatu bringing their song writing skills to the table. There was no pressure and no rush to get the album completed and they often got into the studio only once or twice a week. With that much time, talent and lack of pressure the end result was a very versatile selection of songs.
Regarded as one of the band’s greatest albums, 3:47 EST introduced styles in song writing and production which many considered “Beatlesque”, creating quite the stir, especially given the mysterious anonymity of the band members. What qualities make music Beatlesque? Well, there’s that distinct piano style of Paul McCartney, vocal distortion, recorded instruments played backwards, and some obscure musical instruments such as electric sitars. And then there’s that “big ending” on Sub-Rosa Subway (Klaatu’s most explicitly Beatles-influenced track).
“We intentionally went after that Yellow Submarine sound of (George) Harrison’s It’s All Too Much,” says Draper, who co-wrote the other famous track from that album, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. “There’s a big ending on (Sub-Rosa Subway) where the vocals are repeatedly saying ‘Brahmsian tunes’ and at the end of It’s All Too Much, it’s ‘too much,’ ‘too much…’ Then there are the horns and the backward sound effects.”
Being a bassist myself, what struck me immediately as being Beatlesque when I first heard 3:47 EST in my mid teens was both the sound and style of bass playing; if it wasn’t Paul McCartney playing on the album then it was clear his influence was huge. It would be years before I would find out that it was John Woloschuk playing both a Höfner violin bass (later nicknamed the “Beatle bass”) and a Rickenbacker 4001S bass, both of which Paul McCartney used on Beatles recordings. An interesting fact that could have easily tamed the potent rumour that Klaatu were the Beatles – had it been more common knowledge, that is – was that Klaatu had actually performed two of the album’s songs – California Jam and True Life Hero –Keith Hampshire’s Music MachineTV show back in 1974 – two years prior to the album’s release, and the rumour that followed.
Things being as they were, these musical similarities along with Klaatu’s anonymity are what caused the great stir that has now become history. Some of their vocals and vocal harmonies could pass as Beatles-inspired too, yet there were other songs on 3:47 EST that bore no resemblance to the music of the Fab Four. Guitarist Dee Long’s True Life Hero and Anus of Uranus are straight ahead rock songs that bring the guitar to the forefront and have a very different lead vocal. And on the album’s final track, the listener is taken into outer space as Little Neutrino dynamically develops its mesmerizing and haunting melody, introducing the listener to a synthesized vocal (produced by patching the sound of the Moog Sonic VI synthesizer through an artificial larynx which Dee used to silently “mouth” the lyrics as John Woloschuk simultaneously played the corresponding melody on the synthesizer). Spacey, way out there and experimental, like a lot of other music of that decade.
The album ends with a mouse squeak, introducing us to one of Klaatu’s mascots. According to The Morning Sun, “The story behind the mouse was more accidental than intentional. In designing the first album cover, we asked Ted (Jones – album artist) to do a Beatrix Potter number on the foreground and asked him to put in assorted furry creatures, insects and plants. So off he went with his brushes and paints not to be heard from for several weeks. In the meantime, back in the recording studio, we were busily working on ‘Little Neutrino’, a mammoth task, and it was getting close to the end of a long day, about four o’clock in the morning or so, when suddenly while listening to a play back of ‘Neutrino’ we heard this loud ‘squeak’ at the end of the tune. The problem was we couldn’t figure out how it got on tape…we didn’t put it there. Somebody said it must have been a mouse in the control room and everyone had a chuckle and that was the end of it…or so we thought. The next day Ted arrived with his finished artwork, and lo and behold right there on the front cover was…you guessed it, a mouse. Being avid believers in the mysterious workings of Fate at that time, we felt we had no choice but to officially pronounce Ted’s mouse as our mascot and he has been with us ever since.”
Dee Long: Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars
John Woloschuk: Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Terry Draper: Drums, Percussion, Vocals
London Philharmonic Orchestra
I loved Hope when I first heard it and it’s still one of my all-time favorite albums. Many fans and critics consider Hope, recorded with contributions from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, to be the most creative of the Klaatu catalogue of albums. It received a Canadian Music Critics award for “Best Album” in 1977 as well as a “Best Engineered Album” Juno Award for producer, Terry Brown.
The album opens with a mouse squeak.
With Hope, that whole “are they the Beatles?” discussion is reinforced right from track one. We’re Off You Know has that staccato piano, that Beatles’ bass sound, trumpets, clarinets, hand bell-type sounds and such that remind the listener of Beatles’ songs like Penny Lane and When I’m Sixty-Four. Track two, Madman, is a leap between two contrasting energies, a melodious, sorrowful energy and another that has a ferocity reminiscent of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter. But then track three quickly calms the listener, drawing them into one of those rare occurrences where music and lyric are magically woven to convey an emotionally dynamic story. Around The Universe in Eighty Days is one of my favorite Klaatu songs, masterfully crafted. Side one ends with a very strange track about an ancient race of people called Politzanians. As strange as it is, Long Live Politzania introduces the album’s musical theme, beautifully arranged by Doug Reilly (a.k.a. Dr. Music) and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which the listener is re-introduced to on side two. Long Live Politzania concludes with the fictional “Politzanian National Anthem”. Like I said, very strange writing and yet impressive; I mean, how many rock bands write fictional national anthems replete with classical arrangements for symphony orchestras? And did I mention Klaatu are Canadian?
Side two of Hope introduces the listener to the meandering thoughts of a lighthouse keeper, the sole survivor of a race of beings who were destroyed, whose task is to keep “constant vigil” over the universe and warn space travellers of hazards in the last days of his life. The story is played out with an interesting musical score consisting of classical themes, vocal counterpoint, and dynamic tension. The awesome musical tension created by the complex orchestral sequences and arrangements throughout Prelude is given a sweet release with So Said the Lighthouse Keeper where we are introduced to a melody so beautiful and powerful the listener can soar on it, especially when the acoustic guitar comes in (another one of my favorite Klaatu songs). This melodic and seemingly weightless flight brings the listener to a feathery landing in the final track, Hope, a beautiful song to end the album with. Hope was originally called H.O.P.E. which stood for Hymn of Peace Eternal, according to Klaatu’s Terry Draper.
An alternate version of Hope was released in 2005 as part of the group’s Sun Set collection of rarities. The alternate version on Sun Set included the complete contributions of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which had largely been removed from the version released in 1977. The alternate version also includes a short unreleased track, Epilogue, which had originally been intended to be placed between So Said the Lighthouse Keeper and Hope:
When to his end the old man came
Death told him “You’ll not die in vain”
And on his lips the fatal kiss was placed
But from within his falling chest
The old man uttered one last breath
And had we heard his parting word
We’d know that he had said.
Dee Long – lead vocals, keyboards, guitars
John Woloschuk – bass, acoustic guitars, keyboards, vocals
Terry Draper – drums, percussion, vocals
Sir Army Suit, Klaatu’s third album, was different from their two previous albums, adopting more of a pop feel. John Woloschuk had just spent a year writing and arranging the Hope album and so did not have much new material. The band’s other main songwriter, Dee Long, picked up the ball with many new compositions and ultimately co-produced and engineered the record while the band’s regular producer, Terry Brown, was busy working with Rush and Max Webster.
In spite of this, the album is generally well regarded by the group’s fans.
This is the only original Klaatu album whose cover was not painted by artist Ted Jones; the cover of Sir Army Suit was painted by Hugh Syme, keyboardist in the Ian Thomas Band, who was mainly known for album cover work with Rush. The cover represented the first crack in the group’s notorious anonymity since all three members appeared on the back cover (the front cover features a self-portrait of Hugh Syme and, ironically, Klaatu’s previous graphic artist Ted Jones). Other people featured in the back cover are Queen Elizabeth II, Linda and Terry Brown and Francis W. Davies. Of the Sir Army Suit album artwork, Klaatu drummer Terry Draper says, “…this was our attempt at revealing our identities”.
The album’s first track, A Routine Day, opens with a piano/bass/orchestral theme reminiscent of Abby Road’s Golden Slumbers and, once again, right from the top of the album the listener is reminded of just how much the Beatles music and sound had influenced this group of writers. And the piano/mellotron break between the first verses gives a slight nod toward songs like The Fool on the Hill and Strawberry Fields Forever. Track two, Juicy Lucy, is an odd song for Klaatu; it’s the only pop-funk song on the album – on any album of theirs for that matter – and is not something you expect to hear from Klaatu. It’s a well-crafted funk song, though – replete with horn section – and stands on its own. In a recent interview, Terry Draper recalled that with disco fever being at a peak (remember, this was 1978) they decided to have some fun and create a parody of a disco song. I’m not sure this was obvious to the listener though, and so it comes across as an odd song.
If your stereo isn’t turned up loud enough by track three, it definitely will be as soon as Everybody Took a Holiday begins. It’s a feel-good, get-up-and-move kind of song with such a strong melodic and harmonic structure you will certainly be whistling it long after hearing it; and its bouncy rhythm has a joy reminiscent of songs like All You Need is Love and With a Little Help from My Friends. Track four, Older, is a great straight-ahead rock tune with a punchy beat, the kind of song any young band would want to cover (which we did, back in the day!). Dear Christine, track five, is another odd and beautifully crafted pop song whose mood and lyric hearkens back to medieval times, or perhaps to the Regency era when elegance and chivalry was part of society, and when quills and ink were used as writing tools. It has a strong chorus with great harmony vocals, perfect for repeating and “tagging out” at the end of the song.
I recall the excitement I felt turning my Sir Army Suit vinyl album to side two and hearing the opening gong and echoed drum fill of Mister Manson. Yah! Bring it on and turn up the volume! If I felt a little too “popped” out from Dear Christine I was now back in full rock throttle with this first track on side two. By the time the first chorus ended and the pounding drums and hammered anvil accentuating the downbeat hit me I was fit to be tied. It still affects me this way! According to Klaatu Track Facts, John Woloschuk remarks, “The percussive metallic sound that punctuates this track was produced using an authentic anvil and hammer which had been borrowed from a local forge for this recording”.
The next track, Tokeymor Field, allows the listener to relax back into another of John Woloschuk’s beautifully crafted pop songs. The thing that separates a great pop song from a basic pop song is the ability of the writer to bring their authentic and unique self to the song. John Woloschuk is the real deal.
Track eight, Perpetual Motion Machine, is another odd song from Klaatu. It took me a few listens to get used to it and I really like it now. I might be wrong but I think they were just having fun with the harmonic structure of this song and also experimenting with new sounds and new gear in the studio. The chord progression is cool in the chorus as well as at the end of the song. Fun!
Side two of Sir Army Suit really challenges the listener with each new song and the next track, Chérie, is no different. It’s a beautiful composition which, along with Dear Christine, hearkens back to a more classical era, both in its lyrics and, even more so, in its musical arrangement, with the harpsichord giving it a baroque feel and sound. According to Klaatu Track Facts, John Woloschuk remarks, “The orchestral string section on this track was arranged and conducted by Eric Robertson and was recorded on April 14, 1978 at Sounds Interchange studios in Toronto. Eric also played harpsichord on this track which was recorded later that same month at his residence using a mobile studio facility. The flute on this track was performed by the late, great, Moe Koffman (one of Canada’s foremost jazz musicians) who is best known for his classic instrumental composition entitled Swinging Shepherd Blues.”
The final track, Silly Boys, haunting in all its odd vocal, instrument, and sound effects throughout the entire track, all accomplished without losing sight or strength of the melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic content that, in my mind, completes a song. To get the strange effected vocal, guitarist and writer of Silly Boys, Dee Long, is noted as saying they had previously re-recorded Hanus of Uranus vocals backwards, added some regular (forward) vocals, and put them all through a Sennheiser Vocoder. Long goes on to say the “drums were recorded twice to give it (the recording) an extra weird twist”. Guitarists were multi-tracking their guitars all the time in studio recordings but I hadn’t heard of drummers doing this. Crazy. Creative. Klaatu-ish.
On the 35th anniversary of the original release of Klaatu’s third album, Sir Army Suit, Pure Pop Radio celebrated this momentous occasion with an exclusive, in-depth interview with the band’s Dee Long and Terry Draper. Here, Terry and Dee talk about Sir Army Suit and many other matters Klaatu-esque. Originally aired during Klaatu Week, November 18-24, 2013.
More information on Klaatu
Exclusive! Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation with Terry Draper (Klaatu)
Exclusive! Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation with Dee Long (Klaatu)
For more information on John Woloschuk, Dee Long, and Terry Draper of Klaatu click here.
Connect with the various Klaatu sites online here.
Jason Dionne has worked at Roland Canada since 1997 and is currently their Customer Service Sales Coordinator, working out of their Head Office in Richmond, B.C. Jason is also a musician who currently plays in The Undoing and Augusta bands.