Thursday, October 13, 2011

1978 - Sgt. Pepper Destroys the World

Someday far in the future our decedents, who will have hopefully crawled out from under the ashes and rebuilt society instead of heading back into the trees will look back on the ancient time when our technology outgrew our ability and our maturity to control it and the first great technological society of man died out, and they will try to understand why.

Atom Bombs, designer diseases, a mangled environment, karaoke, and so many other things will come into the conversation and be seriously and thoroughly discussed, but in the end, each and every one of those horrors that mankind brought upon itself, will be set aside and those people in their brave new world will be forced to point to the one thing and one thing only that served as the catalyst and started the avalanche that brought about the fall of all mankind.

Produced by 1970’s mainstay Robert Stigwood, and directed by Car Wash’s, Michael Schultz, 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band takes numerous classic songs originally performed by the immortal rock band, the Beatles, and combines them with every single excess and cliché of late 1970’s overindulgence that manages to both physically repel the viewer while at the same time paralyzing them into a semi-fugue state leaving them unable to turn away from the screen.

As the film begins, the mayor of the small town of Heartland, Mr. Kite, as played by a slightly amused looking George Burns, tells the viewer the tale of the original Sgt. Pepper and his band and their adventures during the Great War, and of their eventual disbandment from old age many decades later.

But good news for us, well okay, maybe not that good a bit of news, there is a new band in town these days with the same name and made up of decedents of the original band.

Peter Frampton is Billy Shears, the lead singer of the band, and along with him are the Bee Gee’s as Mark, Bob and Dave Henderson, and Cousin Kevin from the film version of Tommy, Paul Nicholas as the bands manager the slightly evil Dougie Shears.

The band is living the good life in Heartland, their music is popular and Billy is in love with the wholesome yet sexy, Strawberry Fields, as played by the wholesome, yet sexy, Sandy Farina in what I am pretty sure was her only film role.

One day the boys get invited out to Los Angeles by big time record producer, B.D. Brockhurst, played out in a loud, probably, drug fueled mime by Donald Pleasence, and the guys are off to the big time.

But unbeknown to our heroes the forces of darkness in the form of an evil record company FVB, decide that they need to steal the musical instruments of the original Sgt. Pepper’s band in their quest to take over the world.

And so their top agent played by British funnyman Frankie Howard, in what was a thankless and very unfunny role, of evil real estate agent, mean Mister Mustard, who along with his giant sidekick, the always likable, Carel Stuycken, and his two disco fembots head off to Heartland and proceed to steal the instruments right out from under the nose of the ever vigilant, but ancient Mr. Kite and then quickly buy up all the business in town and opening various sleaze pits and discos.

With the instruments in their hands, the bad guys send them to all corners of what honestly looks like the LA basin and start on their evil plan to end everything good about the world.

Meanwhile in the big city, the band along with Dougie are enjoying a taste of the 70’s version of the good life which involves lots of drugs, lots of money and the attentions of the erotic and sly, Lucy and her band the Diamonds, played by Dianne Steinberg also in her only film role, and the all-girl disco band Starguard.

Back home in Heartland Strawberry decides to leave home and head off to the big city to find Billy and the rest of the band to see if they will help save Heartland from evil. But unknown to her, the evil Mustard had fallen in lust with her and is following in his yellow school bus of evil.

Soon enough Strawberry is reunited with Billy, and upon hearing about the troubles back home, he and the band immediately drop everything and through a serious of far fetched circumstances find themselves with Mr. Mustards bus and head out to find the missing instruments.

They find Sgt. Pepper’s trumpet in the hands of the evil Dr. Maxwell Edison played to full “Wild and Crazy Guy” effect by Steve Martin, who takes old people and turns them into young mind controlled fashion models.

Next they find the drum on Mustard's bus, where it's just sort of sitting there..

Alice Cooper looking like Frank Zappa and singing like Margaret Hamilton, plays Father Sun, former crossing guard turned cult leader, who also keeps his fair share of mind numbed models around the lab.

After setting up a charity show in Heartland to bring attention to its plight and getting a kick ass performance out of Earth Wind and Fire, Lucy and Dougie decide to steal the charity funds but end up prisoners of  Mr. Mustard instead.

Eventually Billy and the Band, Strawberry, who has also managed to get kidnapped, Dougie and Lucy all find themselves in the headquarters of the FVB or Future Villain Band, played to the hilt by the Aerosmith at their nastiest.

The two bands fight and in the ruckus, oh no, poor Strawberry is accidentally killed.

With the villains defeated but Heartland still in tatters, the heroes gather back home for a sad farewell to a beloved friend.

But wait, with the magical instruments back in Heartland a miracle occurs and Sgt Pepper himself appears in the form of Billy Preston who proceeds to set things right, first by turning Mustard and his sidekick into monks, then by putting Heartland back into it’s original form and finally, bringing Strawberry Fields back to life and into the arms of Billy.

Well with this happy ending there’s nothing left to do but to have Peter Allen, Keith Allison, George Benson, Elvin Bishop, Stephen Bishop, Jack Bruce, Keith Carradine, Carol Channing, Charlotte Crossley, Sharon Reid, Ula Hedwig, Jim Dandy, Sarah Dash, Rick Derringer, Barbara Dickson, Donovan, Randy Edelman, Yvonne Elliman, Jose Feliciano, Leif Garrett, Geraldine Granger, Adrian Gurvitz, Billy Harper, Eddie Harris, Ann & Nancy Wilson, Nona Hendryx, Barry Humphries (as Dame Edna), Etta James, Dr. John, Bruce Johnson, Joe Lala, DC LaRue, Jo Leb, Marcella Detroit, Mark Lindsay, Nils Lofgren, Jackie Lomax, John Mayall, Curtis Mayfield, Cousin Brucie, Peter noone, Alan O’Day, Lee Oskar, Andy Paley, Jonathan Paley, Robert Palmer, Wilson Pickett, Anita Pointer, Bonnie Raitt, Helen Reddy, Minnie Ripperton, Chita Rivera, Johnny Rivers, Monti Rock, Danielle Rowe, Del Shannon, Joe Simon, Jim Seals, Dash Crofts, Connie Stevens, Al Stewart, john Stewart, Tina Turner, Frankie Valli, Gwen Verdon, Diane Vincent, Grover Washington Jr., Hank Williams Jr., Johnny Winter, Wolfman Jack, Bobby Womack, Alan White, Lenny White, Margaret Whiting, Gary Wright and Sha-Na-Na sing a final reprise of the Sgt. Pepper song and then the movie, much like Western Civilization itself, ends.

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is not the worst movie ever made, but it tries really hard to make the top 20. No plot to speak of, terrible acting, despite almost no dialogue, and the use of the original songs in ways that have almost no relationship to the actual lyrics.

It’s a true clusterfuck of a film.

Peter Frampton at the top of his teen idol stage, throws his credibility as a musician out the window and ruined his career for a good 20 years. The Bee Gee’s faired a bit better career wise, but still are not doing themselves any favors here.

On a positive note several of the songs covered in the film are excellent especially, Earth Wind and Fire on Got To Get you Into My Life and a completely out of place Aerosmith, on Come Together. 

And to give credit where do, Robin Gibb solo’s on a lovely rendition of Oh Darling.

But really that’s about it.

Alice Cooper really is channeling the Wicked Witch of the West with his cover of Something, and Steve Martin’s, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer needs to be seen to be believed in it’s utterly bizarre awfulness.

The mixture of 1960’s peace and love with late 1970’s overindulgence make for a difficult juxposition that the film is never able to get past, and the intelligent, meaningful songs of the Beatles, coming out of the mouth of disco queens is a little hard to take.

The final with just about every 70’s mainstream musician with an afternoon free for lunch along with the likes of Carol Channing all mug for the camera, making for a truly mind numbingly awful sight.

Look, Im not saying that you shouldnt see Sgt. Pepper, just the opposite, if you havent seen it I recommend you go out and get a copy and watch it right this very minute.

The movie is hypnotic in its badness, you simply can’t look away.

But remember, the end of civilization as we know it started there.


  1. Damn you Rick. Because of you I am now watching Steve Martin's transcendently awful version of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". I can't imagine how many puppies God is going to kill because of this, but I can't look away!

  2. And as far as Beatles covers go, Aerosmith's "Come Together" is good, but it's no scratch on the Ike and Tina version.

  3. To be fair though it's hard to beat Ike and Tina in their prime on about any song.

    Look at Proud Mary.

  4. True, true...Tina's pipes just about make me forget the original. O_O

    What gets me about the "Come Together Scene" is Strawberry Fields' expression when Steven Tyler comes up to her. Is it fear, or regret at the realization that she's been wasting her time with Peter Frampton and the BeeGees when she could have Aerosmith?

  5. It just occurred to me that the Sgt Pepper movie is probably the first instance of the Mama Mia formula where they take a bunch of disconnected songs from a given artist and build a story around them. I've avoided watching this ever since it first came out, but from the excerpts here it might be old and weird enough at this point to be worth a look as a period piece.

  6. Or y'know...just brain melting weirdness...

  7. Where else other than the old Soupy Sales show could you see Alice Cooper getting a cream pie in his puss? And then he lifts his head up, dazed and oh-so confused, only to plop his face back into the pie? CLASSIC!!!!!!!!