Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a 1978 American jukebox musical film. Its soundtrack, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, features new versions of songs originally written and performed by The Beatles. The film draws primarily from two of their albums, 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1969's Abbey Road. The film covers all of the songs from the Sgt. Pepper album with the exceptions of "Within You, Without You" and "Lovely Rita", and also includes nearly all of Abbey Road.
The production is somewhat adapted from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, a 1974 off-Broadway production directed by Tom O'Horgan. It tells the loosely-constructed story of a band as they wrangle with the music industry and battle evil forces bent on stealing their instruments and corrupting their home town of Heartland. The film is presented in a form similar to that of a rock opera with the Beatles' songs providing "dialogue" to carry the story, with only George Burns having spoken lines that act to clarify the plot and provide further narration.
The film was produced by Robert Stigwood, founder of RSO Records, who had earlier produced Saturday Night Fever. RSO Records also released the soundtrack to the film Grease in 1978, which had Barry Gibb producing and Peter Frampton playing lead guitar on the title track. In 1976, the Bee Gees had recorded three Beatles cover songs "Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Sun King" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
The Beatles producer George Martin served as musical director, conductor, arranger and producer of the Sgt. Pepper film soundtrack album.
The cast also featured British comedian Frankie Howerd as Mean Mr. Mustard (his only major U.S. film appearance; he later quipped about the film "It was like Saturday Night Fever, but without the fever"), Paul Nicholas as Dougie Shears, George Burns as Mr. Kite, Donald Pleasence as B.D., referred to in Burns' narrative voice-over as B.D. Hoffler, but officially known in the film's credits, publicity materials, and in-film posters as B.D. Brockhurst, Sandy Farina as Strawberry Fields, Dianne Steinberg as Lucy, Aerosmith as Future Villain Band (FVB), Earth, Wind & Fire, who appear as themselves, Billy Preston as the magical Sgt. Pepper golden weather vane come to life, Alice Cooper as Father Sun, and Stargard as the Diamonds.
Additionally, the movie becomes a time capsule of late 1970s pop culture with the last scene in which the cast is joined by " Guests at Heartland" to sing the reprise of the title track while standing in a formation imitating the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover. The scene was filmed at MGM Studios on December 16, 1977; indeed, according to co-star Carel Struycken (Mustard's henchman, "Brute"), Sgt. Pepper was the last film to be made at MGM under that studio's then existing management.
The "guests" were:
Peter Allen, Curtis Mayfield, Keith Allison, Cousin Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie), George Benson, Peter Noone, Elvin Bishop, Alan O'Day, Stephen Bishop, Lee Oskar, Jack Bruce, The Paley Brothers, Keith Carradine, Robert Palmer, Carol Channing, Wilson Pickett, "Charlotte, Sharon, and Ula", Anita Pointer, Jim Dandy, Bonnie Raitt, Sarah Dash, Helen Reddy, Rick Derringer, Minnie Riperton, Barbara Dickson, Chita Rivera, Donovan, Johnny Rivers, Randy Edelman, Monte Rock III, Yvonne Elliman, Danielle Rowe, Jose Feliciano, Sha-Na-Na, Leif Garrett, Del Shannon, Geraldine Granger, Joe Simon, Adrian Gurvitz, Seals & Crofts, Billy Harper, Connie Stevens, Eddie Harris, Al Stewart, Heart, John Stewart, Nona Hendryx, Tina Turner, Barry Humphries, Frankie Valli, Etta James, Gwen Verdon, Dr. John, Diane Vincent, Bruce Johnston, Grover Washington, Jr., Joe Lala, Hank Williams, Jr., D.C. LaRue, Johnny Winter, Jo Leb, Wolfman Jack, Marcy Levy, Bobby Womack, Mark Lindsay, Alan White, Nils Lofgren, Lenny White, Jackie Lomax, Margaret Whiting, John Mayall, and Gary Wright.
The film began as a 1974 live Broadway show called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, which was produced by The Robert Stigwood Organization. Stigwood had purchased the rights to use 29 Beatles songs for the play and was determined to do something with them, so he brought the songs to Henry Edwards to write a script. Edwards had never written a script for a film, but had impressed Stigwood with musical analysis he'd written for The New York Times. "I spread the songs out on my apartment floor and went to work," said Edwards. "Mr Stigwood wanted a concept. I told him I'd like to do a big MGM-like musical. We'd synthesize forms and end up with an MGM musical but with the music of today."
With a script in place, the cast was assembled. In the spring of 1977, Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees, and George Martin met to begin work on the soundtrack.
The movie received extremely negative reviews from most critics and barely broke even at the box office. The movie currently holds a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is not loved by fans of the Beatles, either.