Just how did Karen and Richard Carpenter get involved with a group calling itself the “International Flying Saucer Bureau” and more to the point, turn the affair into a hit record?
It all began in 1953 when the International Flying Saucer Bureau sent a bulletin to its members encouraging them to join the first, “World Contact Day.” Members were urged at a specific time on a given day to collectively send out a telepathic message to visitors from outer space. The message began with the words… “Calling occupants of interplanetary craft.”
In 1967 Jay David published a book called The Flying Saucer Reader. It was picked up by John Woloschuk, one of the founding members of a Canadian group named Klaatu, and had an enormous effect on him. The band was named after the extraterrestrial, Klaatu, portrayed by Michael Rennie in the film, The Day The Earth Stood Still. In this 1951 science fiction film, Klaatu, the alien emissary, arrives in Washington, D.C. at 3:47 in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time.
Given their interest in space, it is perhaps no surprise that Klaatu’s debut album 3:47 EST, released in the summer of 1976, is firmly rooted in prog rock, although their music also owes much to latter-day Beatles recordings like Sgt. Pepper’s. In fact, it sounded so much like The Fab Four that rumors spread in the wake of 3:47 EST’s release that it was the Beatles; a rumor fueled by the fact that none of the group’s three members were named on the American album that was released by Capitol Records.
The first single from the album? That would be a song called “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” It failed to register on the charts, although the B-side (“Sub Rosa Subway”) became a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Carpenters heard the record, and looked to create their own version of “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” It came out in late September 1977, having been recorded for their album Passage, and the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 on October 8 as the week’s highest new entry. The Carpenters rely heavily on the original Klaatu arrangement, but the duo’s version is very different for the first minute of the song, which Richard arranged as a spoof phone-in to a radio station DJ, played by the band’s longtime guitarist Tony Peluso. Peluso says hello to “Mike Ledgerwood,” but the voice that responds is that of an alien trying to make contact on “World Contact Day.” Ledgerwood was the name of an executive at the UK offices of the Carpenters’ record label, A&M Records who had also been Deputy Editor of the British pop paper Disc & Music Echo.
The Carpenters version was recorded on the A&M sound stage in Los Angeles and featured the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra who for contractual reasons was referred to as the “Overbudget Philharmonic,” along with a large choir. The orchestral arrangements were by British arranger and conductor Peter Knight whose credits include the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed album. On the Carpenters’ version, aside from guitarist Peluso, the other musicians include Ronnie Tutt who played for Elvis Presley’s band for many years.
Karen’s vocal on the record is superb, as they are throughout the Passage album. Despite its status as the highest newest entry of the week, though, it climbed no higher than #32 on the Hot 100. It was perhaps because it was an unusually long record, over seven minutes in length, and not ideal for pop radio format in the US. In the UK it made No. 9 on the UK singles chart, having made the chart on the same day as it had done in America. The cover art featured on the US single released was painted by Star Trek designer, Andrew Probert.