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If the search for the next Dylan – or next anything – seems unfair or silly, the Canadian band Klaatu’s backstory does it one better: Klaatu’s claim to fame is that people thought they were the Beatles in disguise. Part of it is the Capitol Records connection, part the sound. Listening to their first record, it makes quite a bit of sense. It may be the best imitation of The Beatles that exists. It’s true that they inspired more knock-offs than any other band has, but to my knowledge Klaatu is the only band that actually got mistaken for The Beatles. So that dubious title is theirs to lose. I’ve posted “Sub-Rosa Subway,” which sounds a helluva lot like Paul McCartney. The other convincing ringer is “Doctor Marvolo.”
Of course, any publicity is good publicity, so Klaatu did their part to keep these rumors afloat. They didn’t list their names on the jackets of their first few records – 3:47 EST, on which “Sub-Rosa Subway” appears (1976); Hope (1977); and Sir Army Suit (1978) – and they didn’t flat-out deny that they were the Beatles in the hopes that the intrigue the rumor generated would bolster record sales. It did: “Sub-Rosa Subway” was the band’s only appearance on the US pop charts (peaking at #62). The band only released two albums after they unmasked themselves as Not The Beatles in 1980, then reunited for a brief turn in George Martin’s studio in 1988.
Though Klaatu doesn’t win many points for originality, there’s something to be said for their matching of The Beatles’ craftsmanship. Also released as a self-titled album, 3:47’s best moments are catchy, psychedelic jams that are at least as good as unused takes of White Album songs. Other times, the album falls flat: “True Life Hero” is as close as Klaatu comes here to straight-ahead Rock n’ Roll, and the band doesn’t wear it nearly as well as they do their Beatles pastiche. Those songs make the album worth a listen, if for no other reason than that it’s hard to find such careful mimicry on many other records.