Song Of The Day 9/11/2016: Klaatu – “Sub-Rosa Subway”

The Hidden '70s, Part 3 – Klaatu’s debut album, helpfully titled Klaatu in the U.S., was released by Capitol Records in a shroud of mystery. All the work on the album was credited to “Klaatu” with no specific mention of the participants. Terry Brown, the producer of all of Rush’s albums between Fly By Night and Signals, was behind the boards. The music was pleasant progressive pop, which helped with the group’s anonymity strategy: Most progressive rock bands had no use or need for the typical star-making publicity hoo-ha since their targeted fans couldn’t care less what the band members looked like.

Everything in Klaatu’s universe was flowing along swimmingly until a music journalist from Providence started suggesting they were the reformed Beatles. Steve Smith of the Providence Journal wasn’t just being thoughtlessly provocative, like we in the media are required to be now. He had some interesting points:
Their names are being kept secret by Capitol Records… The band will not submit to any publicity pictures (a Capitol press release says “they want to be known for their music and not for whom they are”). They are rumored to be independently wealthy. Capitol claims to have no knowledge of the identities of the band members, but this raises a question: Why would Capitol invest in an “unknown”?
Smith noted some curious potential signifiers, though a few were clear stretches of imagination. The most compelling was that the robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still after whom Klaatu named themselves appeared on the cover of Ringo Starr’s solo album Goodnight Vienna. The rest of Smith’s clues were very choppy associative arguments, even less persuasive than the ones used by people who thought Paul was dead.

Finally Smith contacted Klaatu’s “sort-of manager” Frank Davies who, to his credit, flatly denied the rumor upfront, before realizing clearing up the issue might ruin the clandestine marketing strategy:
He said he could not tell me who was in the band. I asked him if it was the Beatles or whether they had anything to do with Klaatu. First, he gave me a flat “No” and said that the only Beatles connection was “inspirational.” But when asked if any Beatles played on the album, he hesitated, laughed quietly, hesitated again and then said everything “you’ve summarized is really pretty accurate all the way around” and that “everything that is there, can and will be identified even without, perhaps them, the people, being seen.”
First of all: Frank Davies, you are a genius. Only those deft in tongue and confident in connotation could come up with a line of such wonderful abstruseness as that last bit there. In the real world Davies, who started the Canadian label that signed Klaatu, is one of the most-decorated music executives in Canadian history.

Klaatu, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, were not the reconstituted Beatles, but just three talented Canadian dudes who, at least according to me, sound almost nothing like the Beatles. They probably didn’t quite deserve the distraction of the gag cliffhanger that, when they revealed themselves in 1978, created a bit of a backlash. “It got us noticed,” guitarist Dee Long told Goldmine, “but also led to a situation where we could not ever really measure up to expectations.” A true gift for understatement Dee Long has.

“Sub-Rosa Subway” (#62, 1977) was the original B-side of “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” (which the Carpenters turned into their weirdest single ever). The song, to quote Wikipedia, is about “the efforts of Alfred Ely Beach to create the Beach Pneumatic Transit, the New York City Subway's precursor. His work is described as secretive (hence sub rosa).” (Did I mention these guys shared a producer with Rush?) There’s a snippet of Morse code near the end of the song which was popularly rumored to be a clue to the group’s identity — but since we’ve cleared that up, here’s what it really says: “From Alfred, heed thy sharpened ear — A message we do bring — Starship appears upon our sphere — Through London's sky come spring.

On that note, I’d like to say Sia is actually Sinéad O’Connor with a black doily. Hop to it, Internet!

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