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 IFSB 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 that was read by John Woloschuk one of the founding members of a Canadian group named Klaatu. The band was named after the extra-terrestrial, 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 their 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. So much so that rumours spread in the wake of 3:47 EST’s release that it was the Beatles; a rumour fuelled by the fact that none of the groups three members were named on the American album that was released by Capitol Records.
The B-side of Klaatu’s single is ‘Sub Rosa Subway’ that became a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100; it’s also Beatlesque, although it’s actually closer to Badfinger in style. ‘Calling Occupants’ failed to register on the charts for Klaatu.
The Carpenters’ version of ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ came out in late September 1977, having been recorded for their album Passage, and the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 on 8 October as the week’s highest new entry. The Carpenter’s 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 long time guitarist Tony Paluso. Paluso 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 Carpenter’s 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 Carpenter’s version, aside from guitarist, Paluso, 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 is throughout the Passage album and yet despite its status as the highest newest entry of the week it climbed no higher than #32 on the Hot 100. It was perhaps because it was an unusually long record, over 7 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.