When the U.S. dropped the 21-ton Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs,” on Afghanistan last week, it inspired me to write about what I feel is the Mother of All Film Bombs: 1978’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
The musical was based on the iconic 1967 Beatles album of the same name and starred the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and numerous other artists in an incomprehensible train wreck of a story. The accompanying soundtrack initially sold well until it was torpedoed by the film release a few weeks later.
First things first: Before I begin, I feel it’s appropriate to finally offer a public apology to my brother Kelvin for dragging him to the Fairfield Cinema I theater downtown and inflicting this film on his psyche when it came out.
The confession: While I am a huge (5 foot 16 inches) Beatles fan now, in 1978 I was only dimly aware of them. I actually (please don’t tell any one this) had never heard the original album until after hearing the soundtrack to the film. Oh, the humanity!
The background: While researching this column I discovered that the film was loosely based on a 1974 off-Broadway show called “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road.” It starred Ted Neely, who played the title role in the 1973 film adaptation of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” as well as Alaina Reed of “Sesame Street” and “227.”
The plot: Well, explaining the story is difficult. That’s because it makes no freakin’ sense unless you are on peyote. Here’s the (spoiler alert) climactic scene in the film: Frampton’s played Billy Shears, whose girlfriend (named Strawberry Fields) was accidentally killed by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith (don’t ask), and this is what happens next, according to an account on Wikipedia:
“The town of Heartland holds an elaborate funeral for Strawberry, after which a depressed Billy attempts suicide by jumping from a rooftop. Before he can hit the ground, the Magical Weather Vane on top of City Hall comes to life (as Billy Preston) and catches him with a magical lightning bolt. The Magical Weather Vane then dances through the town square, tossing magical lightning bolts that transform Mr. Mustard and the Brute into a bishop and a monk, Mustard’s van into a VW Beetle, Dougie and Lucy into an altar boy and a nun, and finally restores Strawberry to life. As Billy and Strawberry happily embrace, one last lightning bolt transforms his and the Hendersons’ (the Bee Gees) mourning suits into shiny new Sgt. Pepper uniforms.”
It makes “Xanadu” seem like Shakespeare.
The irony: Earth Wind & Fire’s version of “Got to Get You Into My Life” from the film is in my view an improvement on the original, sold a million copies and won a Grammy.
The finale: At the end of the movie they had a bunch of then-celebrities gather in what was an attempt to sorta recreate the famous Sgt. Pepper album cover that featured notables such as Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Sonny Liston, Bette Davis, Dylan Thomas and more. I’m not gonna list who the film had singing the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise in their homage, but one of them was Leif Garrett. ’Nuff said.
The reviews: Movies like this one bring out atomic snark attacks by critics and my favorite is from David Ansen of Newsweek: “a film with a dangerous resemblance to wallpaper.”
The objection: I’m anticipating a robust objection from Kelvin, who would point to another film I dragged him to see, 1980’s “Can’t Stop the Music,” as the true Mother of All Film Bombs. It was a wretched mock-biopic about and starring the Village People. The nadir? A song called “Milkshake.” Here’s a lyrics sample:
“Just get a glass of milk, you see it’s not very hard to make,
Add some ice cream and blend, you will have yourself a great milkshake!
Do the shake, do the shake.”
Now, Kelvin’s objection is noted, but I would point out that there is a very brief scene in “Can’t Stop the Music” where co-star Valerie Perrine was topless. Even without raging teenage hormones that several-seconds-long scene is better than anything in “Sgt. Pepper.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].