July 1978: "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" Bombs

The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton on the set of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film, USA, 1978, L-R Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Peter Frampton, Robin Gibb. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
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(Michael Putland/Getty Images)

By the summer of 1978, the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton were among the biggest music stars in the world. So when it was announced that the chart-topping powerhouses were getting together to make a movie based on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the movie studio had every indication of an impending smash hit.

Corralling a cavalcade of stars including George Burns, Steve Martin, Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind & Fire, Aerosmith and Billy Preston, the movie and its soundtrack was rife with heavy-hitters taking on some of the most beloved songs in the Beatles catalog.

The soundtrack was released on July 17, 1978. The movie followed on July 24, 1978. And then the reviews started rolling in. They were bad. Really bad. "Bee Gees Make Pale Beatles" screamed a Washington Post headline, with the accompanying review working hard to say something positive amidst the scathing criticisms.

"There are performances by all the latest rock stars, and you can tell how their careers are going by listening to the kids in the audience," according to the review. "Cheers for Aerosmith. Stomping and whistling for the Bee Gees. Squeals and sighs - lots of them - for Frampton. Polite applause for Alice Cooper, though, and not even a clap for Billy Preston or Stargard. They'll have to work on their name recognition factor."

Time Out London's estimation: " This crass moral pantomime is plain embarrassing." The Chicago Reader's review: "Indescribably awful."

It can be argued that the fallout from the Sgt. Pepper's movie did far more to damage the state of the Bee Gees and the perception of disco across America than Steve Dahl's notorious "Disco Demolition" in Chicago a year later.

"The reports on it were so bad that I didn’t want to see it. But maybe it’s good. I don’t know," the Beatles' George Harrison said to Rolling Stone in 1979. "I just feel sorry for (producer) Robert Stigwood, the Bee Gees and Pete Frampton for doing it, because they had established themselves in their own right as decent artists and suddenly . . . it’s like the classic thing of greed. The more you make the more you want to make, until you become so greedy that ultimately you put a foot wrong. And even though Sgt. Pepper is no doubt a financial success, 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."

It wasn't all bad--Earth, Wind & Fire scored a top 10 hit with their shiny take on "Got to Get You into My Life," which peaked at #9 on the Hot 100 for the week of September 16, 1978. The #1 song in America that week: A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie."

Boston bad boys Aerosmith would take their sinister take on "Come Together" all the way to #23 a couple of weeks later on September 29, 1978.

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