Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), or A Day In The Life… Of Mediocre Musicians

25 08 2009

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you guys know I love The Beatles. I like everything about them, whether we’re discussing their influence on music, fashion, or even movies. That doesn’t mean that I can’t contemplate their faults; I’ve seen All You Need is Cash by Eric Idle, I’ve listened to We’re Only In It For The Money by The Mothers of Invention. And I can see that they perhaps weren’t the best band of all time, but they are still one of my favorites for being the innovators that they were. They had intelligence, they had ambition, and they had unadulterated talent. That’s why seeing a movie like Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band really chaps my ass. For the 10th anniversary of the album that opened a whole new musical world up to the masses (although Zappa totally beat them to it years before…), some people thought it would be good to bridge the musical worlds of the late 60s and the late 70s with the conglomeration of the two biggest bands of the eras, specifically the Bee Gees and The Beatles. It would be a movie LOOSELY based on the concept of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band as an album, and would feature the Bee Gees as characters covering Beatle tunes. A couple problems arose though from such a bold concept, the most glaring of which was that The Beatles were a good band and the Bee Gees were generic pap. And the producers of the movie knew that despite the Bee Gees being hot shit for a couple years, they were going to need help selling this piece of shit, so they hired other big musicians of the day to bolster this Leaning Tower of WTF. But there was no hope for this movie. Never has been, never will be. It’s a bitter reminder that for all the fads of all the history of rock and roll, there will be bands that stick out of the era, becoming immortal and timeless, and there will be bands that fall deep, deep, deep into the age in which they were produced, creating timely, disposable music. And while not all the bands featured in here fall in the latter category, that just makes it all the more poignant to see them mingle with the inferiority of disco.

The plot is a loose translation of the “concept” of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, a “concept” that even the Beatles gave up on by the album’s third track. Basically, listen to the song “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” to get an idea of the prologue:

Got that? Well, as they say in the motion pictures, THAT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING! If we’re acting like a bunch of feeble-minded jerks and are actually taking this idea that there was actually a Billy Shears, quite a few years after he made people laugh and dance and sing and feel all gay and carefree, his grandson reforms the group with brothers Mark, Bob, and David Henderson to make people smile again in the lovely hamlet of Heartland. But things get scary when an evil record label decides they want the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band legendary instruments (with +5 for magic defense), which have mystical properties and could make them a lot of money. Can Billy Shears, with the Hendersons in tow, be able to thwart their bad vibes and make things groovy for everyone again?

It’s laughable to even consider the implications of such a loose idea being turned into the inspiration for a movie. And Sgt. Peppers is only a tiny component of what makes The Beatles oeuvre something different. It’s like making a movie based off of only ONE Muppet. Pirates of the Caribbean was a fucking THEME PARK before it was a movie, though, so maybe it’s not so far-fetched that so much extraneous plot could be pulled from thin air. What is crazy, however, is the sheer number of people that were lured into this folly. Some really, really big people of the age were signed on to this. Besides the obvious losers at the front who play the reformed SPLHCB, we have Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Steve Martin (???), Earth, Wind and Fire, and Billy Preston. All of whom were assured that a rock-opera based on Beatles music with George Burns serving as narrator would be a good idea. They were fools, and now they have to endure their presence in this film like a set of embarrassing class photos.

As I said, this is all based around not only the lame Sgt. Peppers concept, but it’s a rock-opera based on Beatles covers. And I’m using the term covers loosely here, because instead of the lively sound inherent in all Beatles music, this music seems inherently stale and slightly dead, lifeless and limp against a world that never wanted it. The title track by Frampton and the brothers Gibb sounds forced and joyless, like the performance a son gives when his showbiz father pushes him on stage and forces him to sing. Steve Martin’s rendition of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” might as well have been sung by Spike Jones, it’s so god-damn corny and Vaudevillian. And I don’t even want to get into Billy Preston’s shame-tastic musical number… I will say that Aerosmith’s heavy, raspy version of “Come Together” was pretty good, a ray of sunshine on this abysmal idea, but overall I was very disappointed.

But I’m not telling you anything new. Most people know to stay away from a DVD box that features the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton hopping around with band leader uniforms on. But I will say, and this might surprise a few people, that if you come in wanting to laugh, you’ll get more than a few unintentional laughs from this movie. It’s so crap it might just be amazing. It’s on a MST3K level of anti-brilliance. But from where I’m standing, from the Tower of Objectivity, as a film of its own merits, ironic laughter notwithstanding, SPLHCB is pretty fucking terrible; The Beatles’ legacy might never have been as tarnished as the day the 70s thought they could take on the 60s. It’s so terrible that it gets my stamp of disapproval with 2 1/2 enchanted instruments out of 10. Boo.

Stay with me folks! Wages of Fear coming at you tomorrow!

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