The Bizarre ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Movie Came Out 45 Years Ago
45 years ago, a movie came out with Beatles covers and rock stars… which may sound like it would be a hit, right? It was actually a box office loser and was perhaps one of the strangest movies made in this genre. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released on July 21, 1978, starring Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, and Steve Martin. Aerosmith appears as Future Villian Band, Alice Cooper is Father Sun, and Earth, Wind & Fire, appears as the elements Earth, Wind, and Fire. George Burns acts as the narrator of a story about a band hoping to make it big while simultaneously battling evil forces trying to steal their instruments all while singing Beatles songs.
While the movie wasn’t really that well-received and even Cooper called it “consistently horrible,” it did deliver some great performances including Aerosmith’s cover of “Come Together.” After avoiding the topic of the film for many years, Frampton is now up for discussing it. In a recent interview, he said, “I had just become the biggest-selling recording artist in the world, selling the most records ever in the United States, toppling Carole King’s record. It’s the build-you-up-to-knock-you-down syndrome, isn’t it? Whatever sells papers. So, if you’re up at the top and you make a mistake, they’re going to go after you, which is fair game. But the reason I took most of the blame is that my name was on the top of everybody. My name was above the Bee Gees. I think a lot of great actors, they always say, make sure you have somebody else’s name with you on that first screen when they say who’s starring in the movie. Because if it’s just you, you’re going to take the full brunt of it. And I did.”
He added, “It was a disaster from the beginning. Once I arrived on the set that first day, I guess I could have walked off, but it would have probably cost millions, and I’d have got sued and everything. So, I just went along with it at that point.” Reportedly, Frampton only agreed to do the movie because he thought he would be acting alongside one of the Beatles, not just singing their tunes.
Cooper also thought the Beatles were involved in the film. He said, “They said, ‘We’re doing Sgt. Pepper.’ And I said, ‘Oh, with the Beatles? That’s going to be great!’ And they said, ‘No… with the Bee Gees.’ And I immediately went, ‘This is going to be a disaster!’ You’re talking about the Beatles’ [most] sacred record of all time. … Now, I love the Bee Gees, I get along with those guys, I had a great time with them. But the general public are not going to stand for that.”
The Bee Gees seem to ignore the fact they appeared in the film at all, not mentioning it in the 2020 documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and when they regained control of their music catalog, they didn’t bother to include the Sgt. Pepper soundtrack. While the movie sounds like a disaster to be a part of, all of the stars said that the soundtrack is what they are actually proud of and they enjoyed working on the tunes with producer George Martin.
Frampton concluded, “Now I know what it’s like to be in the worst rock movie ever made, and I know what it’s like to experience being a very small part of one of rock’s greatest movies. So, I feel like ‘Almost Famous‘ kind of canceled out ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ I think that the difficulties and battles we all have in life, the ups and downs, it all goes into making you a more experienced and, hopefully, wiser person. Is [Sgt. Pepper] a regret? Yes, it is a regret that I did it, and I’m sure Barry Gibb would say the same thing. But, I did it. It’s part of me, and it’s made me who I am.”
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