Help me understand Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

So, I just watched this on Sundance Channel and am wondering what the film’s popular reception was. I was nine years-old when it came out and had no hip older siblings and my parents listened to Engelbert Humperdinck and Johnny Mathis. Thus, I have no idea if it was cool and hip.

Was SPLHCB a popular film? Why are the Bee Gees and Billy Preston singing Beatles’ songs? Where is Andy Gibb? I’m just puzzled in general about the who/why/WTF aspects of the film . .

It was an attempt to cash in. It was reviled when it came out - the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton were laughingstocks in the rock world. It went nowhere.

I’ve often tried to describe the badness of this film to people who haven’t seen it. It’s impossible. It’s fascinatingly bad! No matter how much it wqas reviled when it came out, it couldn’t have been enough.

Total garbage. Not a single redeeming feature anywhere.

We are all puzzled about why that film is rumored to exist. I don’t know anybody who would touch it with a ten-foot pole - if in fact it did exist. If it does, remember that it was the '70s, and cocaine made a lot of people do a lot of stupid, stupid things.

Why on earth did the Beatles license out their songs to this craptacular production?

The movie is an absurdist’s dream.
It did feature a terrific version of “Got to get into my life” by Earth Wind and Fire, Billy Preston doing “Get Back” with the Beatles(he was also on the original version)…

It was certainly popular among 8th grade girls. I was an 8th grade boy at the time it was released, and while I managed to avoid seeing it, I couldn’t avoid the soundtrack at nearly every party I went to that school year. As a kid who had just been turned onto the Beatles by the pothead history teacher that blew off the last two days of 7th grade by putting a 16mm print of “Yellow Submarine” on endless loop in her classroom, I found the Bee Gee’s renditions (particularly the super-fey “Oh! Darling”) absolutely dreadful.

Most “serious” rockers (OK, one High School Senior sister) proclaimed Aerosmith’s verion of “Come Together” better than the original, Earth Wind and Fire’s version of “Got To Get You Into My Life” to be worthwhile, and the rest to be utter crap. Top-40 radio played a buttload of the songs, so from that perspective, it was popular.

Why was it made? To cash in on the Bee Gee’s immense popularity (Saturday Night Fever came out the year before, making them megastars) and the first wave of revival-Beatlemania (I remember the touring production of Beatlemania was about that time) alluded to in the The Clash’s “London Calling”.

True story: Around 1979-1980, I was in a TV/stereo store looking at a demo of the newfangled “laserdisk” system. “It looks like a record, but it’s got a movie on it!!” The film used in the demo? “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Now you know the real reason that format never took off.

It’s an abomination. A bunch of my friends went to see it when we were in Jr. High and I refused. I mean when I found out what movie we were going to see, I just took the bus back home by myself.

They didn’t have to give permission or approval. By the time of this alleged movie, The Beatles didn’t even own any of their music anymore. All Robert Stigwood was required to do was pay the mechanical and any other royalties to ATV.

Good question but I’m not sure if John, Paul, George, and Ringo had any control over the use of their songs in movies at the time. I am aware that for years after the debacle of the Sgt. Pepper movie, it was extremely difficult for movie and TV producers to get the rights to use the Beatles’ recordings for movies and TV shows (e.g., the producers of The Big Chill wanted to use several Beatles recordings for the film’s soundtrack but were refused). Of course, all that changed when Michael Jackson got control of the group’s songs and started pimping them out for Nike ads and the like.

My question is why on earth did the Bee Gees do it?

It’s like getting Keanu Reeves to agree to play the role of Tom Cruise in a Tom Cruise Biography.

Or getting Phil Mickelson to narrate a hilight reel of Tiger’s Major wins.


It was Robert Stigwood’s project / tax write-off.

The Bee Gees were under his management.

And there’s that cocaine thing.

Just to add to the chorus: It was a pathetic joke. A feeble cash in. No one I knew would admit to liking it. Even people who liked Disco & the Bee Gees thought it was a piece of crap.


As a film it was a chaotic, formless diaster.

Individually however, some of the music wasn’t too bad. Aerosmith’s “Come Together” actually still gets some radio play on Classic Rock stations, Alice Cooper & The Bee Gees doing “Because” is delightfully creepy, and I’ve always had a soft-spot for Steve Martin’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”.

According to this site, the OST actually hit #5 on the album charts. Not too shabby at all.

Didn’t someone at the time say that this film would make everyone forget the Beatles? I’m sure I heard that somewhere, but my google-fu turns up nothing…


To elaborate, musicians, even when they control their work, cannot prevent others from recording it once it’s been recorded once. It’s just a matter of negotiating the rights; if there’s no agreement, then they get paid a standard amount and the song can still be used.

The film itself is on several “Worst of all Time” lists. According to the IMDB, it made $13M – on an $18M budget. That spells “flop” loud and clear.

If you had made that claim, wouldn’t you spend the rest of your life eradicating every record of your having said it?

That’s true for recordings, but not for use in other media, such as film. where rights still have to be negotiated.

Robert Stigwood had a thang for musicals. He was also a one time junior partner of Brian Epstein. Add a little Freud (okay, and some cocaine) in the mix and you get "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Embarrassingly bad but immensely watcheable thanks to all the pretty colors.

I have the soundtrack on CD and the movie on DVD. (Um… I thought they were something else, someone forced me at gun point to take them, they were delivered to me by mistake…). It is not a great movie by any known measure, but it is kind of fun. Many of the songs are forgettable, but some stand on their own. Sandy Farina’s Strawberry Fields and The Bee Gee’s Nowhere Man are my personal favorites. I find the number of stars they got to do the final song impressive… also funny when you see how many of them don’t know the words to the song and look like they are reading lyrics posted off to the side or just moving their lips.

Does anyone know how many of those people were in a slump in their career or were just “B” stars at the time? There are some names in there that I thought were reasonbly established at the time like: Keith Carradine, Peter Noone, Carol Channing, Wilson Picket, Bonnie Raitt, Anita Pointer, Rick Derringer, Donovan, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Sha-Na-Na, Del Shannon, Heart, Tina Turner, Frankie Valli, Wolfman Jack, Hank WIlliams, Jr., Mark Lindsay, Gary Wright and others.

Like a lot of things in the 70’s, it was supposed to turn out cool (like “Tommy”!) but it fell far short. And although I knew how lame it was even at this time, there was just one reason this then-17-year-old girl saw it four times.