July 24, 1978: ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ Disastrous Movie Opens

Share This:

The album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles is unanimously recognized as an artistic triumph. The movie of the same name, which opened on July 24, 1978? Not so much.

The Brothers Gibb and Peter Frampton

The Brothers Gibb and Peter Frampton

Conceived and produced by music mogul Robert Stigwood, manager of the Bee Gees, with Peter Frampton‘s manager Dee Anthony serving as executive producer, the film was intended to cash in on the success of both acts. The former group had enjoyed huge sales with their soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Grease. The latter artist had recently shot to superstardom with his Frampton Comes Alive album. Bestselling hard rockers Aerosmith were cast as the film’s villains.

Related: Bee Gees and Cream manager Robert Stigwood died in 2016

Also in the cast: Steve MartinAlice CooperBilly Preston and Earth, Wind & Fire.

An ad for the 2-LP soundtrack appeared in the July 28, 1978 issue of Record World. Most of the 4 million copies that were shipped were unsold

A shoe-in box-office success by the power of their popularity and the appeal of Beatles songs from the Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road albums, right?

No. The three brothers Gibb and Frampton were cast as Sgt. Pepper’s Band, yet none of the four had even a smidgeon of acting talent. But that was the least of the movie’s problems. Its plot (as it were) was incomprehensible even with George Burns providing narration. To say that the direction was slipshod is putting it mildly.

If you’re a new Best Classic Bands reader, we’d be grateful if you would Like our Facebook page and/or bookmark our Home page.

As New York Times critic Janet Maslin pondered in her 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 movie has a 15% positive rating at RottenTomatoes.com.

And a bad deal at that. It cost $18 million to make, grossed only $12+ million in the U.S. Perhaps coincidentally, the careers of all three acts that starred in the movie soon tanked.

In retrospect, it can’t even be appreciated as a guilty pleasure or high camp.

There were high expectations for the  2-LP soundtrack, which shipped three million copies upon its release – the first double album to do so – just three months after the Grease soundtrack hit #1. Both albums were from RSO Records, which expected to cash in once again. Within days of its release, RSO claimed shipments of four million in a industry trade advertisement.

Upon its release, there were reports of Top 40 stations in Miami and Los Angeles playing all 29 songs from the soundtrack.

Four singles were released from the Sgt. Pepper’s soundtrack (though none of them were on the Beatles’ original album). Earth, Wind & Fire’s cover of “Got to Get You Into My Life” did the best, reaching #9 pop and #1 R&B.

Robin Gibb peaked at #15 with “Oh! Darling”; Aerosmith’s cover of “Come Together” got to #23; and Billy Preston’s take on “Get Back” stalled at #86. The soundtrack peaked at #5 on the Record World sales chart as retailers returned millions of unsold copies to RSO.

  • Sign up for the Best Classic Bands Newsletter

Best Classic Bands Staff
Share This:

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.