Klaatu vs. Keanu
by Marc Weisblott
Today on the Scroll: The greatest Toronto rock band ever rumoured to be the Beatles campaign to get their greatest hit acknowledged by its source.
Klaatu is the name of a rock group that was based in Toronto between 1973 and 1982. Keanu Reeves grew up around here during that time, when his mother was designing costumes for visiting rock stars like Alice Cooper, who even bunked in their Yorkville house.
While his own grunge ambitions never quite panned out, Keanu is the new Klaatu — the name of his character in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Winding down production in Vancouver is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi film that inspired the band Klaatu.
The film's influence on the band extended beyond the name — their 1976 debut album title, 3:47 EST, was the time that the spacesuit-wearing Klaatu arrived in Washington, DC in his flying saucer, a peaceful ambassador from an extraterrestrial confederation, until he gets shot by a member of his welcoming committee. After being released from hospital, he takes on the surname “Carpenter” in his effort to link with the earthlings.
“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” written by two members of Klaatu, was inspired by this storyline, and the concept of World Contact Day where international flying-saucer enthusiasts would collectively send out a telepathic message to visitors from outer space.
The song ended up boosting Klaatu’s fortunes when it was covered by, of all people, The Carpenters. And this was just after rumours circulated that their Capitol Records debut album, lacking any photos of the band members, was actually a secret reunion of The Beatles.
All things considered, over 30 years later, it’s not that ludicrous for Klaatu to suggest a version their tune should somehow be incorporated into the 2008 incarnation of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Dee Long, the only one of three Klaatu members not credited with writing “Calling Occupants,”contacted 20th Century Fox with an offer. He was politely rebuffed, as they are set on using their own original score, but Dee still figures there’s a way to motivate producers to use the track — whether in the end credits, or just playing in the background of a scene. Jaimie Vernon, who took over as the curator of Klaatu on his Bullseye Records label, is determined to stir up their fan base.
And it turns out they still have one — Vernon reports selling Klaatu CDs on a daily basis around the world, to countries where digital delivery of music hasn’t yet entered the mainstream, and to Beatle fanatics recently reminded of the Providence, RI reporter who threaded a yarn worthy of War of the Worlds.
Vernon reports receiving around 1,000 pre-orders for a World Kontact Day DVD set, which chronicles the Klaatu Konvention at the Doubletree International Plaza Hotel Toronto Airport, including an acoustic reunion.
“Calling Occupants” has only been used for a soundtrack once, featured in an episode of Due South, with a sci-fi storyline. So, at the very least, this is a crafty method of promoting its availability for licensing.
“There are a whole bunch of music headhunters working in Hollywood,” explains Vernon. “Here’s a way to let them know there might be some other compatible songs out there besides ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ or ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’.”
Klaatu found their music licensed by an unlikely source in 2003: 50 Cent’s G-Unit heavily interpolated 3:47 EST’s “Doctor Marvello” for the track “Lay You Down” (alternate dirty version title: “Lay Ya Ass Down”).
“This gave us confidence that it wasn’t just the cult of Klaatu connecting with these songs,” says Vernon. The result helped lower the group’s debt to Capitol Records from $150,000 to around $5,000 today.
Currently living in Lillooet, BC, 56-year-old Dee Long remains consumed with music and new media — his music-video tribute to the glory days of MAD magazine was acknowledged in a recent issue of the magazine.
The Day the Earth Stood Still was more than just a visual influence for Long — its original soundtrack, which featured a Theremin and electric violins in 1951, was also a favourite 8-track to listen to in his car while driving to Klaatu recording sessions at the Toronto Sound studios in Don Mills with producer Terry Brown.
Klaatu’s lack of image wasn’t deliberate so much as a reflection of the group’s personality. “We never wanted to worry about dressing like we were ready to rock out,” says Long. “And when it came time to create a cover for the first album, I wasn’t even thinking in terms of what it could be. I was just enjoying making tapes for myself to listen to.”
Nonetheless, the AM-radio-ready sound of indie singles like “Sub-Rosa Subway” netted them the big Capitol deal, where the lack of public image caught up with them after three albums. When they got around to showing their faces and performing live in the early '80s, psychedelic pop was out of style in this country.
“What we should have done was accept the offers to play in big American cities,” says Long. “We couldn’t get the money together and thought it was too big a risk. Instead, we ended up being the opening act for Prism at the Danforth Music Hall. Most of the audience left after we played, but then we opened up the paper the next morning, and it called us a bunch of aging hippies.” Then he quit the band.
A quarter-century later, film, television and commercial producers are providing the most lucrative method of music-related income. The publishing company representing Klaatu’s catalogue, peermusic, recently got The Tragically Hip’s 1996 ditty “Ahead By A Century” into the sci-fi flick Jumper. And The Stampeders’ 1971 hit “Sweet City Woman” is being heard in commercials in France for La vache qui rit (a.k.a. The Laughing Cow) processed cheese. In both cases, it was peermusic who initiated the process resulting in these lucrative placements.
“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” was credited to bassist John Woloschuk and drummer Terry Draper, meaning that Dee Long never reaped those royalties from the Carpenters version. Yet, he’s eager to have the song revived alongside The Day The Earth Stood Still, which continues to inspire him.
“There’s so much atmosphere in the movie,” says Long. “And it’s such a great story, with Klaatu coming to Earth and telling people to stop blowing one another up, or we’re going to do the blowing up for you.”