Early in 1976 in Britain, EMI rolled out reissues of all The Beatles’ singles – along with Yesterday, released here as a 45 for the first time. All 23 of them featured simultaneously at one point in the Top 100. Perhaps spurred on by this, a number of critics came declared that what the music industry needed was not a new musical movement to shake things up but a new Beatles, an act that could make the same kind of impact The Beatles had during the ’60s.
Twinned with this notion, a growing clamour was emerging for the former mop-tops to reunite. That summer witnessed the mammoth Wings Over America tour, the first time McCartney had played live in the US since The Beatles performed at Candlestick Park in San Francisco ten years earlier. This seemed to wet the appetite of an entertainment industry with big bucks to offer his old band to get back together and this idea peaked in September when American promoter Sid Bernstein, who’d been involved in the band’s early Stateside tours, made a multi-million dollar offer to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr to play a one-off show.
The offer was seriously considered. The Beatles liked and respected Bernstein, who was the first American who put them on live on his side of the Atlantic and who also introduced a succession of other English acts to the States, most notably The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. Bernstein’s part in creating the so-called British Invasion is undeniable.
Ultimately his offer was turned down but I’m guessing you knew that already.
You might well know too that early in 1977 rumours began to spread about an album released the previous August by a group calling themselves Klaatu, who failed to feature photos or credit individual band members in any way on the cover of their album, 3:47 EST (which was simply named Klaatu in America).
The album displayed a diverse range of influences and could in places be called Beatlesque or maybe more accurately, McCartney-esque. Sub-Rosa Subway, for instance, was a slice of infectious powerpop that sounded like it could have been taken from Wings’ Live at the Speed of Sound or one of his early solo albums.
Steve Smith, reviewing the record for the Providence Journal speculated that Klaatu could conceivably be a project by The Beatles in disguise.
I’m guessing that you also knew that The Beatles never made a secret, anonymous album but the rumour that they might have soon spread across the planet.
But why did anyone believe this nonsense when, for starters, when the vocals sounded nothing like John Lennon or Paul McCartney?
Well, the suggestion was that studio trickery had been used and, to be fair, the vocals on some tracks were disguised with a vocoder or some similar device, most notably on Little Neutrino, the album’s closer. Rather than The Beatles – and I am aware this is one of the biggest cliches out there – I think this track sounds more like ELO ‘on acid’ or maybe some members of that band on acid, some on weed, others on other drugs or the bottle. Strange stuff.
Why release an album in this way? Well, coming out anonymously, the music would enter the world and be judged on its own merit rather than the unthinkably huge hype that it would have received had it been credited to the world’s most famous ever group. Although despite this, so the theory went, they still playfully wanted to put clues out there that this was indeed a Beatles album.
Okay, but what actual clues existed that could give anybody the idea that Klaatu was in fact The Beatles?
As is the norm with conspiracy fans, they picked up on many insignificant details and let these percolate a little fantasy in their minds. Some fixated on a line from Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III: ‘he’s the only man who’s ever been to hell and come back alive’; which they decided was a reference to the Paul is Dead rumour which I won’t even go into here. Then there’s the fact that while there’s eight trees illustrated at the very bottom of the front cover of the album, only seven of them have roots shown and guess what?
The word Beatles contains seven letters.
Still sceptical after that?
Well, on Abbey Road, The Beatles had sung about a ‘Sun King’ and the EST album had an illustration of the sun on its cover. Then there’s the fact that the album came out on Capitol, the label that released most of the Beatles’ records in America.
There’s nothing like an uncanny coincidence and none of these are anything like uncanny coincidences, are they?
History will not remember Smith as being one of the more perceptive music journalists who ever picked up a pen but at least his madcap idea brought the Canadian act to the attention of many who would otherwise never have heard them, albeit the whole story came to an abrupt end when somebody took the trouble of visiting the Library of Congress to research the album’s copyright registration information. When any Beatles involvement was proven to be non-existent, album sales immediately dipped and the conspiracy theorists moved on to the next batshit crazy notion. Most of them anyway, some do continue to believe, unless that is, this blog itself is a hoax.
While Californian music of the mid-’70s tended to bore me rigid, I did make an exception for anything to do with Kim Fowley, one of the real mavericks of the era. While laid back Laurel Canyon luminaries were wearing cheesecloth and sandals and singing dippy ditties about their latest failed relationship, Fowley was launching a noisy, teenage girl band called The Runaways that wore leather and corset tops and spat out lyrics about dead end dreams and being born to be bad. Hard though it is to believe some teenagers actually preferred the former.
Fowley also put out glammy classics under the pseudonym Jimmy Jukebox, and released and co-produced quirky material by acts like The Quick on his Mondo Deco label.
Although hardly a Beatles fanatic, I have to say that a massive majority of the myriad of Fab Four covers out there are distinctly un-Fab when compared with the originals. The Breeders’ take on Happiness is a Warm Gun and The Banshees’ Dear Prudence are two of the few covers that would get a Macca style thumbs up from me and I have to admit that even The Fall failed to get anywhere near the surrealist majesty of A Day in the Life. There is a version of A Hard Days Night that I’m very fond of because it always makes me giggle. Not the comedy version by Peter Sellers but the one here by the redoubtable rockin’ granny, Mrs. Miller. Then there’s The Quick with their clipped and very arch version of It Won’t Be Long from With The Beatles which I might even prefer albeit this is not a song that is ever considered one of The Beatles’ masterpieces. Here it is:
Of course, 1977 meant no Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones but luckily The Damned managed to squeeze in a Beatles cover late in ’76 before the diktat came into action. Help! featured as the B side to New Rose and sounded like they had learned the song by playing the original on the album but at 45. I do like it but New Rose is better in just about every way. Here it is, the first British punk single, produced by Nick Lowe and released on Stiff: