How '70s Stars Besmirched The Beatles In 'Sgt. Pepper'
After the Beatles had retired from touring in the mid-'60s, Paul McCartney came up with "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band," a new song about an Edwardian era military band. The song became an entire album. Sgt. Pepper, the 1967 Beatles LP, is considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The movie based on it, featuring a cast of then-popular musicians, was a flop at the box office and remains notorious as one of the great fiascos of cinema.
"Like a box of candy left on the beach, this movie is a gooey, sugary mess," wrote a TV Guide reviewer in 1978.
The Story Behind The Beatles' Album
The Beatles made the decision to stop touring in 1966 because they felt they needed a reprieve from Beatlemania including the never ending public expectations, screaming fans and not having any down time. They were just utterly exhausted. The fab four had reportedly lost interest in being “The Beatles.” Making the Sgt. Pepper’s album would allow them to take some creative liberties not normally associated with the group. The album allowed the Beatles to hide behind an alter ego and it actually turned out to be a great way to channel their frustration. The movie, was released in 1978, starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees as the band, and the plot of the story was derived of songs from the 1967 title album as well as the Beatles’ subsequent 1969 album, Abbey Road.
The Movie Was A Dumpster Fire
Janet Maslin, one of the nation's most prominent movie critics at the time, wrote in her New York Times review:
IS IT A film? Is it a record album? Is it a poster, or a T-shirt, or a specially embossed frisbee? Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the ultimate multimedia mishmash, so diversified that it doesn't fully exist in any one medium at all. This isn't a movie, it's a business deal set to music. ... The musical numbers are strung together so mindlessly that the movie has the feel of an interminable variety show. Characters are named, invented or introduced to one another simply to provide excuses for the various songs.This reaches a pinnacle of idiocy when a character named Strawberry Fields (Sandy Farina) sings "Strawberry Fields Forever" to her beau, Billy Shears (Mr. Frampton), who has been knocked unconscious. ... The movie may have been conceived in a spirit of merriment, but watching it feels like playing shuffleboard at the absolute insistence of a bossy shipboard social director. When whimsy gets to be this overbearing, it simply isn't whimsy any more.
Was any of it good? Maslin conceded that three moments weren't horrible:
Steve Martin, cackling his completely unhinged rendition of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," is a reminder that the film is otherwise humorless. Billy Preston, doing a flashy, rousing dance to the tune of "Get Back," makes the other hoofers look sadly two-left-feet. And Aerosmith, singing a piercing rock version of "Come Together," bring a taste of the 60's to a movie dead-set on both exploiting and soft-pedaling that era.
How A Great Album Becomes A Bad Movie
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a 1978 American, musical movie which depicts a band as they challenge the music industry and battle evil forces who are determined to steal their instruments and compromise their beloved home town, Heartland. The movie plays out as a musical but includes a narrator, Mr. Kite, to move the story along.
Mr. Kite, the mayor of Heartland, narrates the story, giving the history of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The band was credited with bringing much pleasure to Heartland with their music. Their music was to have had such a powerful affect that it actually caused troops in World War I to stop fighting. When the bandleader died, he left the band’s magical instruments to the town, with the condition that they remain in Heartland. The instruments were stored in City Hall, which was topped with a magical weather vane. The trumpet shaped weather vane was able to predict both good and bad fortune.
The Convoluted Plot Thickens
In the story, when the original bandleader died, he left a musical legacy to his kind grandson, Billy Shears, who subsequently revives Sgt. Pepper's band with his friends, the Hendersons. Dougie, Billy’s jealous stepbrother, serves as the band’s manager; but is only interested in one thing… money! Heartland instantly falls in love with the band’s revival and before long, the group is offered a (superficially) legitimate record deal in glitzy Hollywood, by crafty B.D. It was seemingly a dream come true!
Billy reluctantly says goodbye to his girlfriend, Strawberry Fields, and sets off to the big City. As soon as the naïve band is lured away from the security of Heartland, B.D. sets his plan in motion. He proceeds to temp the band with drugs and promiscuity, ultimately having them sign a bogus contract. Billy is tempted and eventually takes up with another woman, Lucy, forgetting all about his precious Strawberry. As all of this play out, the band is enjoying sold out shows and epic success.
The Bad Guy
No story is complete without a villain, so let’s not forget about Mr. Mustard. While the band is far away in Hollywood, a plan is carried out where Mr. Mustard heads to Heartland to steal the infamous musical instruments out of the City Hall. After the instruments are stolen, Mr. Mustard takes over the town. With Mustard in control, the town goes right down the tubes! Everything good and wholesome is soon turned into debauchery and despair.
Strawberry then flees the mayhem and finds Billy to let him know what has transpired. They set a plan of their own in motion to take back the stolen instruments. While they are initially successful, their plan is momentarily foiled and they lose the instruments again! Not only did the instruments fall back into the wrong hands, but Strawberry was kidnapped in the process. As Strawberry is being taken away, Billy and the band give chase in a hot air balloon. It is a race against the clock to avoid F.V.B. taking over the world. Greed, not good, was about to reign! The band shows up, a fight ensues and Strawberry dies while saving Billy’s life. Billy is so distraught that he makes an attempt to take his own life but is spared by the magical weather vane. The weather vane continues to dance through the town, restoring it to its once pure state; even bringing Billy’s beloved, Strawberry, back to life! The movie ends with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band performing in new, polished marching band uniforms and they all lived happily ever after.
- Introducing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- With a Little Help from My Friends
- Here Comes the Sun
- Getting Better
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
- I Want You (She's So Heavy)
- Good Morning Good Morning
- She’s Leaving Home
- You Never Give Me Your Money
- Oh! Darling
- Maxwell's Silver Hammer
- Rise to Stardom Suite
- Polythene Pam
- She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
- Nowhere Man
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
- Got to get You into my Life
- Strawberry Fields Forever
- When I’m Sixty-Four
- Mean Mr. Mustard
- Fixing a Hole
- The Death of Strawberry
- Golden Slumbers
- Carry That Weight
- Come Together
- Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
- The Long and Winding Road
- A Day in the Life
- Get Back
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Finale)
- The Bee Gees: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb
- Peter Frampton as Billy Shears
- Steve Martin as Dr. Maxwell Edison
- Frankie Howerd as Mr. Mustard
- Paul Nicholas as Dougie Shears
- Donald Pleasence as B.D.
- Sandy Farina as Strawberry Fields
- Dianne Steinberg as Lucy
- Aerosmith as Future Villain Band (F.V.B.)
- Alice Cooper as Father Sun
- Earth, Wind & Fire as themselves
- Billy Preston as the magical Sgt. Pepper golden weather vane
- George Burns as Mr. Kite
- Stargard as the Diamonds