Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, by the Carpenters

I have a weakness for well crafted pop songs, the kind that have great arrangement and orchestration, interesting structures, vocal harmonies and instrumentation. When popular artists have interest in more progressive music, the combination can yield great results. In 1977, as Progressive Rock was losing popularity fast and most of the classic

bands of the genre had their best albums behind them, progressive music managed to find an ear with wide audiences by sprinkling its dust into songs by artists that had both pop and prog sensibilities. In April 1977 Supertramp released Even in the Quietest Moments with the 11-minute multi-part Fool’s Overture. In June The Alan Parsons Project released I Robot and a month later Styx put out The Grand Illusion. The opening for Fooling Yourself could have come from an early 70s Yes. October of that year saw the blockbuster release of Out of the Blue by The Electric Light Orchestra. Mr Blue Sky was a huge hit, but it also included Standin’ in the Rain, a mini pop symphony.
For me the surprise pop-prog release of that year was by a band that many would consider as far from prog as it gets, one of the most popular bands of the 70s, the bro-sys combo known as The Carpenters. After releasing a series of mega hits in the early seventies, starting in 1970 with Burt Bacharach’s (They Long to Be) Close to You, through Goodbye To Love, Top of the World to their last great song of the period, Neil Sedaka’s Solitaire in 1975, the duo was in decline. Other fashionable music styles like Punk and Disco took over and the two sibling’s health issues did not help. By 1977 they were still popular, but their songs did not chart as well as they used to.
The Carpenters
The Carpenters had a knack for recognizing good songs that they could cover and make their own. Their first single in 1969 was a lukewarm cover of the Beatles Ticket To Ride, but they got better a year later after they heard a TV commercial for a California bank showing a newly-wed couple embarking on life together. The song in the background of the commercial caught Richard Carpenter’s ear and the number one hit song We’ve Only Just Begun was born. Countless of couples used it as their wedding song over the years. A few years later they took a song from the Sesame Street show and made another huge hit. That was Sing, who was covered earlier by Barbara Streisand but everyone knows it as a Carpenters song. In 1973 they covered Leon Russell’s This Masquerade, and their crown achievement in the early 70s was another Leon Russell song, one he wrote with Bonnie Bramlett in 1969 and was performed by Rita Coolidge during the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. The song is Superstar, the tale of a groupie abandoned by a rock star. Bette Midler gave the song a great emotional interpretation in her The Divine Miss M album in 1972, but for me the best cover of the song is by the Carpenters. Lot of praise has been given to Karen Carpenter’s voice, and if one song explains why, this is the one.
In late 1976 Richard Carpenter heard a very different type of song that caught his arranger sensibilities. It was much more complex than any song he attempted to write, cover or arrange thus far. Karen Carpenter told an interviewer: “He wanted to do that more than anything in the world. When we got done with it it turned into an epic. We figured out we spent more time on it then we did out third album. That was a job. It was a masterpiece when Richard got done with it.” The song was Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, originally appearing on Klaatu’s debut album 3:47 EST.
Klaatu named themselves after the alien ambassador to Earth from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, 3:47 EST being the time Klaatu arrived Earth with his spaceship in the film. Klaatu (the alien) also made an appearance on Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album in 1974, with Ringo’s head replacing him. Continuing with the sci-fi motif, the band’s debut album opener was a reference to World Contact Day, a tradition that started in 1953 by by an organization called the International Flying Saucer Bureau, founded by Albert Bender who later wrote Flying Saucers and the Three Men, telling his encounter with men from a different planet. The organization’s belief was that if all members of the organization focus on reading the same text at the same time, they will send a telepathic message through space to other life forms. I can’t even begin to chose what parts of this I am more skeptic about. But something useful came out of this nonesense, as parts the text to be transmitted by mass telepathy inspired Klaatu’s (the band) song lyrics: “Calling occupants of interplanetary craft! Calling occupants of interplanetary craft that have been observing our planet earth. We are your friends, and would like you to make an appearance here on earth.”
While Klaatu was not exactly a prog band, that song definitely has many of the genre’s staple characteristics. Over eight minutes long, it has interesting shifts in song parts and moods, instrumental passages, extensive use of mellotron, and of course that sci-fi theme. The song was written by drummer Terry Draper and keyboard player John Woloschuk and both of them make great contributions to the song arrangement. The trumpets you hear in the song were created using a Moog Sonic V, which was designed by an ex-Moog employee for the muSonics brand and later morphed into Moog Sonic 6, a portable brief-case style synth. Terry Draper was heavily influenced by Ringo Starr and also by King Crimson’s first drummer Michael Giles. If you listen carefully to the fills that Draper plays towards the end of the song, they are very similar to those Giles plays in The Court Of The Crimson King.
When the Carpenters decided to cover the song a year after its release by Klaatu, they made a smart move and brought in Peter Knight, who wrote and conducted the fabulous orchestral arrangement for the album Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues in 1967, including the full movement at the end of Nights in White Satin, which sadly is the most cut-off piece of music in the history of rock radio. Unlike the Moody Blues record, were the orchestral segments are used as segues between the songs, in Calling Occupants Peter Knight scored an orchestral accompaniment that is an integral part of the song in both its bombastic and quiet moments. A couple of years later in 1979 Peter Knight created another lush orchestration to Philippe Sarde’s music for the soundtrack of Tess, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel.
Calling Occupants Carpenters Single
Richard Carpenter is at his peak as an arranger with this piece of music. Largely in the shadows of his younger sister who reluctantly took the front seat as a singer, to me he is the unsung hero of the duo, creating all of the band’s arrangements over the years in the best tradition of Brian Wilson, Jack Nitzsche, Burt Bacharach and George Martin. For the most part he stack by Klaatu’s song structure, but the way he brings up various instruments and the parts he wrote for them is classic. From the inner sleeve of the original LP: “Richard purposely avoided the kind of electronic devices with which Klaatu conveyed the illusion of outer space. “They employed a lot of sound effects – tape delay, things like that – and did all their sweetening with synthesizer. I wanted to use the real thing.” So Tony Peluso plays his Appollonian guitar over swelling cosmic threnodies, swirling violins, pipe organ, choir, classical piano and a marching band – Charles Ives goes to March!”.
Passage_(Carpenters_album)
Indeed this was a colossal recording date with over 150 musicians between the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the choir. For contractual reasons the orchestra could not be credited, and instead the track credits mention the “Overbudget Philharmonic”. Another great contribution to the track is by legendary bass player Joe Osborn, who played on countless hits with the Wrecking Crew, among them another pop symphony, MacArthur Park from 1968. To close, here is what Klaatu’s Tery Draper said of the Carpenter’s version: “Not only did they do a great job, it was  such a stretch for them, they were really stepping out of their comfort zone and doing what could possibly be described as prog rock although I like to call it progressive pop”. Agreed.
carpenters-calling-occupants
The Carpenters version was released as a single in September 1977. Two months later the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg was released. The Carpenters could not hope for a better promotional vehicle. The song reached no. 32 in the Billboard Hot 100, no. 9 in the UK and no. 1 in the Irish chart. Not the best in the Carpenters career, but a phenomenal achievement for a 7-minute progressive pop song.
The original LP version starts with a one-minute corny-funny DJ skit. I’ll save you the bother and go strait to the song:
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In your mind you have capacities you know
To telepath messages through the vast unknown
Please close your eyes and concentrate
With every thought you think
Upon the recitation we’re about to sing
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft
You’ve been observing our earth
And we’d like to make a contact with you
We are your friends
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary ultra emissaries
We’ve been observing your earth
And one night we’ll make a contact with you
We are your friends
Calling occupants of interplanetary quite extraordinary craft
And please come in pace we beseech you
(Only of love we will teach you)
Our earth may never survive (So don’t come we beg you)
Please interstellar policemen
Won’t you give us a sign give us a sign that we’ve reached you
With your mind you have ability to form
And transmit thought energy far beyond the norm
You close your eyes, you concentrate, together that’s the way
To send a message we declare World Contact Day
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
Calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft
Calling occupants
Calling occupants
Calling occupants of interplanetary, anti-adversary craft
We are your friends

 

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Categories: Songs

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