It is no surprise that last July 21 came and went with no mention that it was the 40th anniversary of the release of the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, which is considered one of the biggest flops of a high-budget movie in film industry history. It did extremely poorly at the box office and received universally terrible reviews. Many could not believe that the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Steve Martin, Aerosmith and others would participate in such a farce. When asked about the film in a 1979 interview, George Harrison expressed his sympathy for Stigwood, Frampton and the Bee Gees, acknowledging that they had all worked hard to achieve success before making Sgt. Pepper. He said of Frampton and the Bee Gees: “I think it’s damaged their images, their careers, and they didn’t need to do that. It’s just like the Beatles trying to do the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones can do it better.” Furthermore, the great George Martin, the former producer of the Beatles, shockingly served as musical director, conductor, arranger, and producer of the film’s soundtrack.
However, surprisingly, two songs off of the soundtrack have stood the test of time and still receive widespread airplay some forty years later. The soundtrack rerecorded every song from the original 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album except “Lovely Rita” and “Within You, Without You” as well almost every song from the Abbey Road album. Though the 1978 album has been a joke for the last four decades, the songs “Come Together” by Aerosmith and “Got to Get You into My Life” by Earth, Wind and Fire received abundant critical acclaim at the time and so many years later receive regular airplay.
In simple terms, the screenplay, written by New York Times pop critic Henry Edwards, involved the Pepper Band – Frampton and the Bee Gees – becoming corrupted by the record business and the victim of a plot by the Furure Villain Band, played by Aerosmith, to turn music fans into mindless drones consuming product. The day is saved by a weather vane, played by Billy Preston, coming to life to save the day.
In his 2014 autobiography Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith, famed guitarist Joe Perry expounded on Aerosmith’s involvement in the movie project:
“We realized our involvement with this could look cheesy, but we looked at it as another adventure. The real hook was being able to work with George Martin on our cover of “Come Together.” We flew to New York to work at the Record Plant. Our idea was not to stray too far from the original. We had too much respectfor John Lennon’s classic to go changing it just for the sake of change. We ran it down and waited for the arrival of George Martin.
When the tall and elegant Mr. Martin arrrived, we said quick hellos over the intercom and ran dowen the song for him. We sat there nervously, waiting for words of wisdom from the genius producer.
‘It sounds good, boys. Please procced.’
We were shocked. We’d figure he’d have a lot to say – either adding or subtracting from our interpretation. But he had no suggestions whatsover. So we kept playing until we formulated a good basic track.
When we went to the control room to reach him face-to-face, he was the same genial gentleman as ever. ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, boys, and I shall see you shortly.’
And with that he left.
When the movie came out, no one could believe how bad it was.”
In the 1997 New York Times bestselling book Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, the band members offered commentary on their involvement with the movie project. Steven Tyler said:
“There was a lot of Beatles revival stuff in the air back then. People missed the Beatles. Steve Leber put together a show called Beatlemania: four musicians impersonating the Beatles. Aerosmith were investors in that. Then we got offered parts in the movie version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band produced by Robert Stigwood , who had paid the Beatles $500,000 for the rights to use their songs. Stigwood had just made all this money with Grease and Saturday Night Fever movies and soundtracks, two of the bestselling albums in history. I don’t remember why, but we did it, probably because it gave us a chance to work with George Martin when we cut our version of “Come Together” for the soundtrack.
Ray Tabano, an original member of Aerosmith who left in 1971 and assumed a managerial role with the band, put forth:
“The funny thing was that George Martin knew two things about Aerosmith: They took forever to record, and they loved Jeff Beck. George had produced Beck’s two biggest records [Blow by Blow, and Wired] and knew Beck was in town. So when they got into the studio, Martin told them that Jeff was playing that night at Trax and that they could all go see him when they finished. Aerosmith cut “Come Together” in two takes, George Martin flees with the tape, Aerosmith gets to the club, and no Jeff Beck. It was a hoax.”
Joey Kramer, the band’s drummer, offered this insight:
“The Sgt. Pepper? Are you kidding? It was a disaster. A real debacle. The Stones refused to do the part that was offered to us. Now we know why. It was just a pretty silly movie. Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees played the band, there was a girl named Strawberry Fields, and we and Alice Cooper were the bad guys, which was great because everyone looked so silly that we looked cool when we wanted to kill them. The only ones to get any airplay out of it were us and Earth, Wind and Fire, who did a great version of “Got to Get Your into My Life.”
In the three years previous to the release of “Come Together” in August 1978, Aerosmith had five songs in the Top 40, two of which – “Walk This Way” and “Dream On” – were top ten hits. “Come Together” reached number 23 on the Top 40 section of the Billboard Hot 100, staying in the Top 40 for seven weeks. Ironically, it would be over nine years until Aerosmith reached the Top 40 again on November 14, 1987 with the number 14 hit “Dude Looks Like a Lady”. Of course, the band was fractured in the 1980s, until all original members returned in 1984, which earned the band a new contract with Geffen Records. In the most dramatic comeback in rock history, Aerosmith collaborated with rappers Run-D.M.C. for their rendition of “Walk This Way”, the video of which on the MTV network exposed the band to a new generation of fans; this high-profile collaboration with Run-D.M.C. in 1986 was followed by their highly successful comeback album Permanent Vacation, which brought Aerosmith to the level of fame they experienced in the 1970s en route to an even higher plateau of fame than they had cultivated in the 1970s.
In fact, in his 2014 autobiography Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey, one of the band’s two lead singers, stated, “We didn’t just cover a Beatles tune, we transformed it, the EWF way. The folks at Columbia Records went crazy, and so did Paul McCartney who wrote the song. Everybody was pleased.” However, he continued later:
“As the movie inevitably tanked – along with the other singles- soon afterwards the Robert Stigwood Organization’s RSO label and movie empire went down with us. The Bee Gees were pissed! They wouldn’t speak to us because they thought we stole their thunder. Although Barry Gibb is cool with us now, back then they gave us no love at the gala premiere. There was a red carpet welcome for Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb, but by the time EWF got off the plane, they had already rolled up the red carpet! But we were the ones with the number one record.”
Maurice White, the band’s other lead singer, seemed to echo those very sentiments in his own 2016 autobiography My Life with Earth, Wind and Fire. He stated, “Beatles producer George Martin, who also produced the soundtrack for the film ran to me the second we finished shooting and said to me, ‘Damn, we should have done the whole soundtrack like!'”. White continued:
“In essence, the other musical acts in the film tried two hard to be true to the Beatles’ orginal songs, which I beleive was their creative undoing. I revereed the Beatles, too, but I decided to remain true to our rallying cry: any material that EW&F touched, we had to put our own spin on it. In the case of “Got to Get You into My Life,’ we swumng it – hard.I think it’s one of Verdine’s best bass performances on trecord, and, according to Paul McCartney, it’s his favorite Beatles cover……….. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band did turn out to be a complete bust in every way. Critics panned it as one of the worst films ever – but we got another big hit out of it. “Got to Get You Into My Life” had to have been the only successful thing associated in that film.”
Earth, Wind and Fire’s rendition of “Got to Get You into My Life” entered the Top 40 on August 5, 1978 and reached the number nine position, spending a total of nine weeks in the Top 40. The success of “Got to Get You into My Life” sparked a succession of three top ten hits for the band over the next year – “September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, and “After the Love Has Gone”.
If you have not seen the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you should definitely avoid it at all costs. While this 1978 farce has been rightfully forgotten, the songs “Come Together” and “Got to Get You into My Life” are rightfully still staples of FM airplay.