A loving look back at the era of the vinyl record album and the rare ones that had an SF theme
Let’s travel back in time, you and I. Let’s go back to a time before music was delivered in packets of data. Let’s travel back to a time of bell bottoms, long hair and muscle cars. Let’s go back to the 1970’s!
The idea of music imprinted on vinyl discs may seem like a Science Fiction (or perhaps Steampunk) idea to kids today used to music coming from the same place as their texts, tweets and tumblr images, but to those of us of a certain age, the era of the vinyl album is redolent with nostalgia. But the biggest difference with the vinyl album as compared to an .mp3? Room – lots of room – for cover art!
Vinyl albums were HUGE and the sleeves in which they came had to be decorated with artwork in order to attract buyers. Sometimes pictures of the artists were enough, sometimes albums called for a little more than that.
Let’s talk about two bands who had a fantasy or SF angle to them, not just in their cover art, but in their music as well.
Klaatu was the name of Michael Renni’s character in the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). If you’ve seen that film (the original, not the remake with Keanu Reeves) then you know that Klaatu’s flying saucer landed in Washington DC at 3:47 Eastern Standard Time.
KLAATU is also the name of a Canadian band from the seventies and early eighties. Klaatu was a trio from Ontario: John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper. The band went on to release five studio albums of what was at the time labeled “progressive rock”. The name Klaatu is not the only Science Fiction connection for the band. Many of their tunes, particularly from their first two albums, have many SF and Fantasy references. For a fan-boy growing up in the seventies the band’s first album was an amazing discovery.
The first two albums had a sound that was somewhat reminiscent of The Beatles and this was commented upon by a number of music reviewers. This, coupled with the lack of biographical details offered up by Klaatu, helped inspire a rumor concocted by Providence Journal reviewer Steve Smith in February 1977 that the album might be an anonymous project by The Beatles themselves. The rumor turned into a global phenomenon with Beatle fans being fed “clues” by radio stations and print media alike.
While all this was happening, Klaatu was in England, recording their second album. They were somewhat aware of the situation, but didn’t take them entirely seriously—possibly because the UK’s New Musical Express famously published an article on the Beatles-as-Klaatu theory under the title “Deaf Idiot Journalist Starts Beatle Rumour”. Capitol Records, meanwhile, tried to make as much capital out of the rumors as possible, by issuing ambiguously worded statements that failed to make the band’s identity entirely clear. The rumor was soon disproved when Dwight Douglas, program director at WWDC in Washington, D.C., checked the records at the U.S. Copyright Office and uncovered the band members’ real names.
Eventually signed by Capitol’s Canadian division, Klaatu released their final album, Magentalane, in Canada in 1981. This album saw the group returning to their brand of Beatles-influenced pop/rock. Standout cuts from this album include the title song, “Magentalane” as well as the whimsical “Mrs. Toad’s Cookies”.
As a contractual obligation to Capitol-EMI in Canada, the band were forced to play their first ever live dates and tour most of Canada to promote the Magentalane album. From November 1981, the group expanded to a sextet, using members of Max Webster and Nightwind for live performances. However, in April 1982 Dee Long – never all that fond of performing live in the first place by most accounts – quit the group. Although Woloschuk and Draper carried on performing for a few more months, Klaatu officially disbanded in August of the same year.
Listening to the albums always brings back a lot of good memories for me. The music has a positive quality and a whimsy that few other bands have. There are a few websites devoted to the band. Klaatu.org is Dave Bradley’s website about the band and it contains a wealth of information and ephemera. The band’s official website is www.klaatu.org and you can buy their albums directly from them via this site.
HAWKWIND are an English rock band, one of the earliest space rock groups. Their lyrics favor urban and Science Fiction themes. They are also a noted precursor to punk rock and now are considered a link between the hippie and punk cultures.
Formed in November 1969 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Brock, Hawkwind have gone through many incarnations and styles of music. Critic Jim Green describes their trademark sound as characterized by “that gargantuan and impenetrable pre-metal/hardcore drone, those great riffs, that inexorable drive to destinations unknown”. Dozens of musicians have worked with the group but the addition of bassist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and drummer Simon King propelled the band to greater heights.
As well, Fantasy and Science Fiction writer Michael Moorcock was an occasional collaborator. At the beginning of 1975, the band recorded Warrior on the Edge of Time, their fifth studio album. It reached #13 on the UK album charts and was their third and last album to make the US Billboard chart, where it peaked at #150. Many of the lyrics are by Michael Moorcock and the album is loosely based on the concept of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion.
According to Michael Moorcock: “Warrior On The Edge Of Time was a concept of mine. What Dave tends to do is he says ‘Do us a concept’ or ‘I’ve got this rough concept, can you work it out?’ I do it, then Dave has a different idea and the whole thing shifts away, so that’s the way it works. It’s a perfectly good way of working – it tends to give Dave a bit of a start or whatever. I was doing a lot of my ‘Eternal Champion’ stuff on stage, so it seemed automatic to do that because there were so many numbers I could fit into that. I was only in the studio about an hour to do the stuff I did, and it was one of those weird things I didn’t get the session fee either.”
During a North America tour in support of the album, Lemmy was caught in possession of amphetamine crossing the border from the USA into Canada. The border police mistook the powder for cocaine and he was jailed, forcing the band to cancel some shows. Fed up with his erratic behavior, the band fired the bass player replacing him with their long standing friend and former Pink Fairies guitarist, Paul Rudolph. Lemmy then teamed up with another Pink Fairies guitarist, Larry Wallis, to form Motörhead, named after the last song he had written for Hawkwind.
The band is still alive and playing. They are touring this year with The Spring Warrior tour in the UK, which launched in March and includes a full performance of the Warrior on the Edge of Time album to coincide with the re-release on the Cherry Red label.
There is so much more to this topic and M. D. Jackson’s article in the second issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly goes much further in depth with bands like Iron Maiden, Blue Oyster Cult and Electric Light Orchestra. You can read the entire article and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the download button below!