We’ve all done it. Every last one of us. Whether over coffee at some dingy, hole-in-the-wall '90s Seattle wannabe café, over beers under neon while surrounded by untold yards of wood paneling, or maybe just on the bus. Wherever, whenever, you’ve gotten the question. Or hell, maybe you asked yourself. If you could go back in time to experience one historical moment, where would you go?
Would you kill Hitler while he was still an artist? Attend a performance of Mozart – performed by Mozart? Go to Woodstock? Tell Kevin Costner that Waterworld wasn’t the best idea ever? Well, I know where I’d go. I would travel back in time, to the magical land of L.A. to be a fly on the wall of what has to be the greatest, most positively insane pitch meeting of all time. The pitch for the classic musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Oh yeah.
Imagine the scene. A swank Hollywood office. Producers dressed to the nines with flair collars are sitting around firing off ideas. And someone says, “Look, I’ve got a killer idea. We’re gonna make the greatest album of all time into a movie.”
Which album is that?” another responds, "Frampton Comes Alive?"
"No, no, no. Better than that. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band."
"I don’t know, man. Frampton Comes Alive is pretty killer."
"Forget Frampton Comes Alive. We’re talking the Beatles."
"You talked the Beatles into getting back together to do a movie?"
"No, they won’t do it. So if we can’t get the Bee…tles, we’ll get the Bee...Gees."
"Oh that’s genius," A third producer notes. "But aren’t there only three of those?"
"Ooooh! I know who could be the fourth! Peter Frampton."
"Hey, I like your thinking."
Look. I can’t defend this one. If ever there was a train wreck of a film that I cannot for one moment take my eyes off of, it is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Directed by hip as hell '70s icon Michael Schultz (Cooley High, Car Wash, The Last Dragon, Carbon Copy, Krush Groove), a man who didn’t just direct bad movies – a man who directed epically bad movies. Movies that live on today in the annals of Guilty Pleasure history. And Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is his magnum opus – a film that sends Beatles fans into spastic fits.
But for those of us lacking a fascination with the Fab Four, this is a goofy movie that has to be seen to be believed. I mean, come on, Steve Martin performs "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" while ludicrously strutting around. And while the Bee Gees/Frampton perform a lion's share of the songs in the film, the rest of the lineup isn’t exactly a forgotten bunch of slouches either. Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Earth Wind and Fire, Billy Preston, and even God himself, George Burns. Hell, they even got Donald Pleasance to sing a few notes.
No. It’s not a good film. It’s gaudy, ridiculous, and to some, absolutely sacrilegious. But when it’s on, I can’t turn it off. No matter how much my Beatles-loving wife whines or begs. If for some reason you’ve never had the sick pleasure of staring mouth agape at this psychedelic oddity for two hours, you owe it to yourself. Your life is not yet complete. This is an awfulness you will either embrace or loathe for eternity. But damnit if you won’t be able to stop watching it, song after song after song – at least once. It’s cinematic rubber-necking at its finest.
And damn how I wish I could have been there when they tried to pitch it. Everyone always talks about the infamous Alien pitch, "It’s Jaws in Space." Pfffft! Forget that! I want to hear, "It’s the Beatles … with the Bee Gees." Now that’s a pitch of legend. If only because someone actually made it.
C. Robert Cargill