The rumours, combined with the undeniable high quality of their debut recording, led to Calling Occupants (GRT 1216-1075-T) peaking at No. 45 in Canada and reaching Billboard’s No. 62. (Its B side, Sub-Rosa Subway, was also a hit.)
Produced by Terry Brown at Toronto Sound studios and featuring mellotron and Moog Sonic V synthesizer, Calling Occupants was included on the album “3:47 EST” (“Klaatu” in the U.S.), released in September 1976. “Billboard” noted its “spacey but lush sound texture” and commented on the song’s similarity to The Beatles’ Day in the Life, a comparison that led to many calling the band “the Canadian Beatles” and drove album sales to 50,000 copies at home and another half-million in the US.
Songwriter Draper modestly told a radio station that the Beatles rumour “was a very nice compliment.”
The single opens with a 40-second introduction featuring worldly birds and insects serenely chirping while human – or alien? – footsteps crackle underfoot, before we hear “Calling occupants of interplanetary craft” repeated like a radio operator calling across a void.
What on earth inspired Draper and Woloschuk to write Calling Occupants? Well, as sci-fi fans, they had read about the short-lived 1953 International Flying Saucer Bureau (yes, it really existed), which asked folks to mind-beam the message “Calling occupants of interplanetary craft … we are your friends” on what it called World Contact Day. Klaatu adopted these words as the basis for the lyrics.
Calling Occupants, in a decade when the world was caught up in the space race, was timely. In the 1970s Canada began developing its Canadarm, America had its Skylab space station, and the U.S.S.R. its Salyut 1. And the recording followed such space-related hits as Elton John’s Rocket Man and David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
Grammy-winning brother-and-sister duo The Carpenters caught the wave, recording a Calling Occupants cover in 1977 that earned a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. Their seven-minute version on their “Passage” album featured an introduction in which a DJ takes a phone-in request from – of course – an alien.
The Carpenters’ shorter 45-rpm single (AMS 7318, subtitled The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day), also proved popular: No. 1 in Ireland, top 10 in the U.K., and in Canada No. 9 Adult Contemporary and No. 18 Top 100. In the U.S. market, it was Cashbox’s No. 24 and Billboard’s No. 18 Adult Contemporary and No. 32 Hot 100.
Draper enthused about the Carpenters’ cover: “We hear it as the ultimate compliment…. they nailed it,” with Woloschuk adding, “It was, and is, extremely gratifying to hear one of our compositions rendered so beautifully by a group that is so respected.”
Klaatu’s single was later included on their albums “Klaasic Klaatu” (1982) and “Solology” (2009), on “Oh What a Feeling 2,” and the tribute album “Around the Universe in 80 Minutes” (1999). It has been covered by Airlines, pop-rockers Swirl, punk rockers Babes in Toyland, the experimental orchestra The Flowers of Hell, and electronic dance cover artist Jackie Clune.
On television Calling Occupants has accompanied “Due South,” “Roswell,” “Mindhunter,” and “American Horror Story.”
Draper summed up Calling Occupants’ success: “I think we accomplished what we set out to do, which was to create some really good music.”
Drummer Terry (Edward) Draper and guitarist John (William) Woloschuk, co-founders of Klaatu, had made music together since high school in Toronto in the band Whitemail. Draper has released solo albums, performed with Atomic Tracktor, and is president of Klaatunes Records. Woloschuk is a studio musician and producer, and is now an accountant. In recent years, both were involved with remastering Klaatu’s albums.