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Sgt. Pepper Taught the Band to Play

Behind the scenes of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ movie with Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and George Burns

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

'The Beatles' album entitled 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' which was released on June 1st, 1967.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

It was in fact, ten and a half years ago that John, Paul, George and Ringo taught the band to play. In June 1967 they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to enthralled critical reaction and huge popular success. In the United States, more than 1.5 million copies were sold in two weeks; in Britain, at least a few copies of the album were sold before its release. One of them was purchased by Peter Frampton, a seventeen-year-old guitarist in a band called the Herd that was only a few months away from its own stardom.

“There’s a place in England called Petticoat Lane,” Frampton now recalls, “and…they always used to get the heavy albums like a week before. So I went down there and got it, and I went back home. I didn’t come out of my room for about three days. I just played it nonstop…Sgt. Pepper’s was the best thing I’d ever heard in my life.”

Around the same time, Robert Stigwood, managing director of the Beatles management company, returned to his London flat to meet the Bee Gees, a teenage group he managed who had recently had their first hit (“New York Mining Disaster 1941”) in Britain and the U.S.

“He brought home Sgt. Pepper, which had just been delivered to the office,” recalls Bee Gee Barry Gibb. “Nobody could believe it….It frightened us to death.”

“It was incredible,” says Bee Gee Maurice Gibb. “He just put it on his stereo and we went, ‘Jesus!”‘

On an overcast southern California morning in the autumn of 1977, Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees are riding back and forth on top of a converted yellow school bus along a short street on the back lot of a Culver City studio. They are dressed in pink, purple, orange and yellow uniforms, the uniforms of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album is becoming a movie, and Frampton and the Bee Gees are becoming the band.

“What we’re doing,” says Robert Stigwood, the movie’s producer, “is enhancing and drawing a dream around those songs.” It is a $12-million dream, with thirty songs from Sgt. Pepper and three other Beatles albums adapted into a non-Beatle fable with a non-Beatle cast. Frampton stars as Billy Shears, the leader of the band. The Bee Gees costar, and George Burns appears as Mr. Kite, mayor of Heartland, the band’s midwestern hometown.

It is into Heartland that the yellow bus now rolls, and the place is one hell of a sight. In the band’s absence, the town has been taken over by Mean Mr. Mustard, the villain of the piece, whose character is derived from a sixty-six-second song on Abbey Road (“Mean Mr. Mustard…sleeps in a hole in the road, saving up to buy some clothes, keeps a ten-bob note up his nose…”). The band has returned to hold a benefit concert (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) to save the place. But it looks like they have arrived too late.

Two days ago the Heartland set, newly constructed at a cost of almost $1 million, was a wholesome fantasy of gingerbread Americana. But empty liquor bottles now litter the fresh green sod on the town square. The cute little toy store has been converted to a gun store. The charming old-age home is now an adult motel (“Rooms by the Hour”). The antique bandstand has been surmounted by a twenty-five-foot styrofoam hamburger dripping with yellow vinyl mustard. And the 250 extras who make up Heartland’s population, once dressed in modest calico and neat khaki, have become hot-pants hookers, zoot-suited pimps, leering johns, disheveled winos. As the bus backs into place for another take, loudspeakers broadcast the opening strains of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” the bus moves forward and Frampton and the Bee Gees, perched on top, smile and wave to the scummy extras and move their mouths to their prerecorded version of the song. In front of the bus cheerleaders march, along with tumblers, clowns, ballerinas, a guy on a pogo stick and two acrobats on skateboards. By the time the band reaches the line, “There will be a show tonight on trampoline,” the loud and happy music has begun to capture the attention of the lowlifes ranged along the sidewalk. In moments they are converted. They start clapping and swaying in time to the music. Whores, still embracing their clients, rush out onto balconies to see the show. A ratty-looking wino grabs the arm of a baton twirler and they start to dance. Two hookers link arms with the drum major leading the parade. It is a grand and colorful spectacle of good triumphing over evil.

But then, barely a third of the way through the song, the music stops and the parade comes to a sudden halt. The bus has reached a corner, the end of this shot. Frampton and the Bee Gees stop smiling and waving. The winos return to their places in the gutter, and the hookers return to their wicked ways — until the bus is back in its original position and the music starts again and the shot is replayed.

Which it is, over and over and over.

Between the fourth and fifth takes, a short break is called. Frampton signals to his manager, Dee Anthony, that he wants a cigarette.

Anthony, a corpulent fifty-one-year-old native New Yorker, has managed Frampton’s career since 1970, through years of solo touring and recording that culminated in the spectacular 1976 success of Frampton Comes Alive!, a live double album that has sold more than 13 million copies. It was during the spring of 1976, when the album was taking off, that Anthony was approached with the offer for Frampton to play Billy Shears. “It was like crazy,” Anthony recalls. “We were at fever pitch. I was saying, ‘We can’t talk to you now about a movie.”‘

But a few months later, Anthony recovered and decided that Frampton should take the role. Frampton agreed.

As the bus prepares to roll back down the street again, an assistant director politely addresses the extras over the PA: “Ladies and gentlemen, the bus will not stop for you. So if you run in front of it, you will be flattened.”

The parade rolls up and down the street, until all goes well at last, and then a longer break is called to set up the next shot. A few of the extras pull out backgammon boards to while away the time. A startlingly authentic wino extra pulls out his false teeth and retires to the lawn for a nap. Two of the Bee Gees tool around Heartland’s streets on bicycles, and Frampton adjourns to his trailer to change into blue jeans and a T-shirt and fluff out his hair. He emerges for an interview with a local television news-woman. “I’m going to be on telly!” he exclaims to Anthony in mock excitement. “Oh, blimey!”

By the time he reaches the reporter he has resumed his customarily friendly manner and is as unaffected a superstar as you’d ever hope to meet. (Earlier in the day, while extras flocked around him to take souvenir photos, he circled around them taking souvenir photos to send to his parents in England.)

The reporter asks how he likes making the movie. “I’m having a great deal of fun,” he says….There’s a lot of days when you have to sit around and wait, but I call it ‘interesting-boring.’ There’s so much else going on.”

But how about being in this particular movie? “I’m honored,” he says, “that I’m part of the first serious remake of one of the Beatles’….”

Wouldn’t he rather make a film of one of his own albums?

“One day maybe, but I think this is a very nice way to get into it. It’s music that’s part of everyone’s life.”

But doesn’t he feel that this movie might impinge on the images that fans of Sgt. Pepper carry with them?

Frampton says he doesn’t think that will be a problem.

Back in his trailer, he bursts out, “Stupid questions! Stupid! It was ridiculous. Christ, how can you compare a movie to Sgt. Pepper’s? You can’t. It’s not the Beatles. It’s not about the Beatles. It’s just their music made into a story.”

But this is not just any music. Frampton’s own initial reaction to the album and the magical powers ascribed to the music in the Heartland parade testify to the special significance of Sgt. Pepper. In 1967, the Beatles were at their peak, and the world was a very different place.

Henry Edwards, who wrote the film script, remembers it all. “I got the album before it was supposed to be officially released,” he said over lunch in a West Hollywood restaurant. “That was a moment in time when you had to have certain albums. I used it….I would play it loud out the windows of my first-floor apartment, and everyone could recognize it was the Beatles, and girls would come to listen and it was a way of getting them into the apartment.”

As for the music, Edwards said, it seemed to him like a symphony. “It flowed free and it had movements and it recapitulated itself. No one had ever mixed an album that brilliantly. No one had ever used a studio on a rock & roll album to that kind of effect….It was, and is, the greatest rock & roll album ever made.”

How could his film script follow such an act? Edwards decided to try not to try.

“A movie called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band containing twenty-nine Beatle songs without the Beatles could never, in any way, shape or form, be a Beatles movie, nor should it….The concept was to set it in America, not in England, so it has nothing to do with Beatles, to write a new story that would have nothing to do with the Beatles, to set it in contemporary times if possible so you wouldn’t have any late-Sixties allusions….I wanted to make the first MGM movie musical of the future. The antecedents of this film are films like The Bandwagon and stage plays of the Twenties in which they said, ‘Cole has written twenty tunes, Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman are available, you write the story. Here are the songs, here are the stars, and we want to open in May.”‘

So Edwards, a rock critic (New York Times) and one-time novelist (Harlan Smythe Grossfeld) was handed the songs and sat down to string them together in such a way that, with little or no dialogue, they would tell a story. He came up with the character of Billy Shears (from the Sgt. Pepper title song: “So let me introduce to you, the one and only Billy Shears”), who is the grandson and spiritual heir of the original Sgt. Pepper, a World War I bandleader whose magical music had caused opposing armies to lay down their arms. The Bee Gees became the Hendersons (from “Mr. Kite”: “The Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanques Fair”), who are Billy’s boyhood friends and members of his band. Their home is Heartland, described by Edwards as “the one place left in the world where the granola comes from.”

Inevitably, Billy’s band is discovered by B.D. Brockhurst (played by Donald Pleasance), president of Big Deal Records, the world’s biggest record company. He brings the boys to L.A., where they are seduced and promoted. “L.A. must appear,” says the script, “as the exact opposite of Heartland. It’s a place of smoggy air, superficial values, mindlessness, greed and corruption.”

While the boys are becoming superstars, Mr. Mustard is taking over Heartland, and, in cahoots with Dr. Maxwell Edison (Steve Martin), Father Sun (Alice Cooper) and a gang of Future Villains (Aerosmith), is scheming to take over the world with an army of brainwashed teenage fascists. The band foils the plot, but in the process Strawberry Fields, Billy’s girlfriend, is killed. A disconsolate Billy is in the act of committing suicide when the Sgt. Pepper weather vane atop Heartland City Hall comes miraculously to life (in the person of Billy Preston), saves Billy Shears, literally resurrects Strawberry, and transforms the redeemed Heartlanders into the world’s largest rock & roll band, whose members include Tina Turner, Carol Channing, Wolfman Jack, Donovan, the Doobie Brothers, Helen Reddy and dozens of other musical personalities in cameo appearances. The promise of 1967 to remake the world is fulfilled, in fable, in 1978.

“It is hokum,” says Edwards, “but if it’s done with style, people will love it.”

The man charged with tailoring that style is director Michael Schultz, a veteran of New York’s Negro Ensemble Company who directed his first film (Cooley High) in 1975 and went on to direct Car Wash and Which Way Is Up?, among others. Quiet and bearded, Schultz spoke carefully and at length about his plans for the movie during a break from the “Mr. Kite” parade.

“It’s my belief that what carries a musical,” he said, “is not the music. It can be the greatest music in the world, and the greatest dancing, but if there’s no story the audience is far less interested. So my concentration went into fleshing out the story….and to try to make it as coherent and clear and as much fun as possible for the audience.”

Developing a coherent story was no easy task, considering that the film has almost no dialogue and the songs were not written with the film in mind. How many story points, after all, can be made with the lines, “He got walrus gumboot, he got o-no sideboard”?

And that’s not the project’s only unlikely element. “The studios don’t understand this picture,” said writer Edwards. “Do you realize what Stigwood’s doing? He’s got a writer who never wrote a movie before. The director never directed a musical or a white movie before. And the stars never acted before. Can you imagine what the people who produced Earthquake think about this?”

But Schultz was not fazed.

“When I first started telling people about the project,” he said, “like people in New York, they said, ‘Bee Gees singing Sgt. Pepper? Peter Frampton? Oh God, you’ve got to be kidding.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, you just have to hear it. When you hear it and when you see it, then it’ll be something else….’ If we were trying to do a film that illustrated the album then I think the film would be open to that kind of criticism. But it’s trying to place the music in another context, illustrate a whole other emotion, story, feeling that the music did not originally intend….

“If you look at it from a very practical, pragmatic standpoint,” he said calmly, “it is impossible. But I am an optimist and a dreamer, and so is Stigwood. He’s very positive, a person who believes in making magic, in making something happen out of nothing. He’s very shrewd and very tuned in to young people….He has a kind of sixth sense, an intuition about what is hot, or what will be hot. He’s very clever that way.”

Indeed, if there are any equations to be made between the characters in the film and real people, the closest link is probably between B.D. Brockhurst, the world’s most successful record mogul, and Robert Stigwood, the nattily dressed, Australia-born producer who speaks softly and grosses $100 million a year. Currently riding the success of Saturday Night Fever, his Robert Stigwood Organization also produced Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar and has Grease in the works. In addition, it manages rock groups (Bee Gees, Cream) and produces stage plays (Oh! Calcutta!), a television series (Beacon Hill) and records (Bee Gees, Eric Clapton). Stigwood also produced “Disco Duck.” It cost him $3500 and sold 4 million copies.

Stigwood does not stint when promoting his projects. The stars in the Sgt. Pepper finale were flown in and feted at his expense. To mark the New York opening of Tommy, he threw a lavish party in a rented subway station. Festivities on a similar scale are expected for the opening of Sgt. Pepper, now set for the Fourth of July.

The film is not, however, Stigwood’s first attempt to make something of the Sgt. Pepper music. In 1975, he launched a Sgt. Pepper stage play, directed by Tom O’Horgan, who had directed Hair.

“The original scheme was to do a ten-week season at the Beacon and then move it out as an arena/stadium attraction around the country,” Stigwood explained as he strolled across the Heartland set on the second day of shooting the “Mr. Kite” parade. He looked remarkably cool for a man surrounded by 500 people, all of whose salaries were coming out of his pocket, and all of whom were waiting for the sun to emerge from behind a cloud so they could get back to work. “I wasn’t too happy with the Beacon production,” he continued. “But the thing that really intrigued me was watching the audience singing along with the actors, and I thought if one could really make a decent movie of this that it would be a wonderful thing to capture.”

At that point, Stigwood entered negotiations for the motion picture rights to the songs he had used in the play. The resulting contract with ATV Music/Northern Songs/Maclen, representing composers Lennon and McCartney, is more than ninety pages long.

“It took about a year to negotiate,” said Stigwood. “Anything to do with the Beatles is very complicated. But I must say they were very cooperative.”

Because they knew Stigwood?

“Sure,” said Stigwood, and added with a short laugh, “and they have a good piece of the picture.” They were also given the right to approve the screenplay and the director, and a representative of ATV was empowered to attend each day’s screening, presumably to alert John and Paul if their work was being massacred.

With Sgt. Pepper coming on the heels of Saturday Night Fever, Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar, Stigwood is established as the leading practitioner of the rock film. “The intelligent use of contemporary music in film has an enormous audience,” he explained. “What do kids do? They go to movies and they go to rock concerts…. We spend a lot of money up front on the recording of the music, because the standard that kids expect today is incredibly high.”

In addition to spending money on the Sgt. Pepper music, Stigwood sought out a man uniquely qualified to produce it — George Martin, who produced all the greatest Beatles albums and is generally credited with having been a major contributor to their breakthrough characteristics. For just those reasons, Martin’s initial reaction to Stigwood’s offer was negative.

“I was scared of the responsibility,” Martin said recently. “Whichever way it turned out, it would offend someone. There’s a sort of mythology about the Beatles. One group of fans believes nothing must ever be changed…..It was actually my wife who changed my mind. She said, ‘If you don’t make it, somebody else is going to do it and might not do it as well.’

“I’m treating it like I might a Gershwin opera,” he said, “as if a film were being made of Porgy and Bess. Its authenticity and integrity must be kept, but that doesn’t mean doing exactly the same thing you did ten years ago….But certain things are sacrosanct. ‘A Day in the Life’ must be quite similar and ‘Strawberry Fields’ must be quite similar.”

In the weeks before filming began, Martin worked at Cherokee Studio in Los Angeles, using the band he had worked with on Jeff Beck albums: New Yorkers Bernard Purdy and Wilbur Bascomb on drums and bass, and Londoners Max Middleton and Tobert Awai on keyboards and guitar. He first had them listen to the original version of each song a couple of times, then he had them copy it note by note, and then he let them improvise. Finally, a compromise version was worked out. “We’re updating the rhythm,” Martin said. “The beat has been developed so it’s much more danceable. The original sounds are quite dated if you listen to them now, although they were as good as anything that was being done at the time.”

Meanwhile, Martin was laying down vocal tracks with Frampton, the Bee Gees and the other singers in the film. “We could have gone crazy on a lot of those tracks,” said Barry Gibb. “We wanted to use falsettos and so on, and to some extent he let us do that. But not all the way. He’s got real tight lines the way he wants to go, and he made that clear to everyone when we were doing it.”

“The music is turning out quite well,” Martin said. “Now I’m glad that I’ve done it.” But he realizes he may yet be criticized for redoing his own masterwork of a decade before. “If the film is a total flop, my name will be mud. And if it’s good,” he added, “it will be mud.”

If I can play God,” said George Burns, “I can certainly sing a Beatles song.” Burns’ last role before Mr. Kite was the title role in Oh God!, and the eighty-one-year-old comedian (he was seventy-one when the Beatles recorded “When I’m 64”) seemed as relaxed as anyone on the Heartland set about tackling Sgt. Pepper. When Burns first signed for the picture, Mr. Kite didn’t have a song. Burns asked for one and was given “Fixing a Hole.”

“They figured they had all these great singers,” he explained. “Why not have the greatest?” As he spoke, Burns was relaxing with a cigar in his dressing trailer. He took it out to say he’d always been a fan of Sgt. Pepper.

He knew the album then?

“Yeah,” he said. “I had it. I bought it.”

In 1967?

“Sure! I think they’re great. That was a great album.”

He was a Beatles fan?

“Sure. I go along with that kind of singing. Why not? Just so they lay off ‘Red Rose Rag.”‘ Burns allowed himself a chuckle.

There was a story on the set that Burns had explained to George Martin what the lyrics to “Fixing a Hole” really mean. Had he?

Burns nodded. “Do you know the lyrics? ‘I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and keeps my mind from wandering where it would go. I’m fixing the cracks that ran through the door that kept my mind from wandering where it would go….’ Well, I think what it means is that these kids have been smoking and they don’t want the fumes to go through the cracks so they might get busted.”

Was he shocked to think the song was about drugs?

“Not me. I love the way they sing.”

Did his friends agree with him?

“A lot of my friends….” Burns shook his head. “Look, let me tell you a story. When Gracie and I first started…we were on a bill with Buck and Bubbles, a very good act. And I used to watch Bubbles dance. He fascinated me. And he said to me, ‘George, you like these kind of beats. There’s a kid up in Harlem you’d like. He plays the trumpet….’ Well, I got his records. I went nuts about them. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever heard, and I brought all my friends up to hear it, and they thought I should be put away. Jack Benny would come up, and Jessel would come up, and whoever I would bring up would say, ‘That’s awful. Where’d you get that?’ They didn’t understand him. But I loved Louis Armstrong.”

And the same thing happened with the Beatles?

“Yeah. They’d say, ‘Beatles?”‘ He said the word with surprise and distaste. But Burns felt differently.

“I like young things anyway, and young people and young girls.” A wicked look appeared in his eyes. “I want all of that to rub off on me.”

Rub off?

“Why not? Maybe some of my stuff will rub off on them…if it doesn’t drop off before it gets there.”

We write our own music and we love doing it and that’s great,” said Barry Gibb in his trailer, two doors down from Burns. Barry is the tallest and eldest of the three Gibb brothers who make up the Bee Gees.

“But this is a historical album being made into a film, and we’re proud to sing the music. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like singing Beatles songs. It comes from a basic instinct that you enjoy singing those songs anyway. In fact, we couldn’t wait to get into the studio….To work with George Martin, are you kidding? You just want to do that whether you’re being paid for it or not.”

Had he ever discussed the project with the Beatles?

Barry shook his head. “We haven’t actually spoken to them at all. In fact, we’ve never really met them. We only ever met Ringo….”

The trailer door opened and in came brother Maurice, the balding Bee Gee.

“Maurice,” Barry continued, “used to live next door to Ringo.”

“Name-dropper,” accused Maurice.

“But I don’t think we know them really,” Barry said.

Maurice, still standing in the doorway, interrupted. “Well, for three years I used to play pool with him every Sunday and we used to go clubbing a lot.”

“Well,” Barry conceded, “you know Ringo.” But…”

Maurice cut him off to announce in solemn tones, with a pause after every word, “I…know…Ringo…Starr.”

“I met John Lennon once,” Barry resumed, “and when he reached out and shook my hand he…” “

…said, ‘Who are you?”‘ Maurice, smiling serenely, finished the sentence.

“He was talking to somebody else,” Barry went on, “and to this day he doesn’t know he met me. He was sort of still talking like that and went, ‘Hi.”‘ Barry illustrated the maneuver by looking away from Maurice and sticking his right hand out without turning his head.

“I went skiing with John and Yoko and Ringo and Maureen,” Maurice said brightly.

This roused Barry’s wife, who had been reading a magazine.

“Oh shut up,” she said.”

St. Moritz,” Maurice continued. “Ever since they did Help! they wanted to learn to ski. They were still lousy.”

He thought about that for a moment. “But it was only Ringo that I got to know fairly well. But after I got separated from my first wife I never saw him again.” Maurice assumed a puzzled look and concluded with mock perplexity. “I can’t understand that.”

Meanwhile, back on the set, it was a happy day in Heartland. The “Mr. Kite” parade was well into its third day of shooting, and the corrupt Heartland extras were now thoroughly reformed. All morning they had cheered and clapped like crazy while Henry the Horse (two guys on roller skates in a horse costume) had danced his waltz, of course. Then Frampton and the Gibbs, singing, “The band begins at ten to six, when Mr. K. performs his tricks without a sound,” burst from the crowd around Henry and ran up the steps of Heartland’s art deco City Hall, where George Burns, decked out in his mayor’s costume, picked up with, “And Mr. H. will demonstrate ten somersaults he’ll undertake on solid ground.” Then Frampton, the Bee Gees and Burns linked arms and led the entire mob of clowns, whores and tramps toward the bandstand and the giant styrofoam hamburger.

After lunch, preparations began for the next shot, in which the band would conclude the song while leaping and flipping on a trampoline. In fact, doubles were going to be doing the leaping and flipping; the band stood by and watched. “He looks like me,” Robin Gibb said wonderingly as he joined his brothers on the sidelines. “Nobody told me about the doubles. I was in the bog and came out and saw me on the bandstand. I thought, ‘They don’t need me. I’m already there.’ “Frampton was less pleased, and for good reason. The blond wig his double was wearing looked like something cast off by Harpo Marx thirty or forty years ago. Moreover, Frampton is a bit of an acrobat himself, and he wasn’t happy to be barred by his production-insurance policy from doing any of his own jumping. “Lloyd’s of London won’t let me anywhere near the trampoline,” he confided, “so at lunchtime I went and jumped on it….I was the first kid in my school to do two somersaults on a trampoline. I never got the backward one, though. That scared me to death.”

Frampton did get a chance to work out a few minutes later — with his feet. He and the Bee Gees were called to rehearse the final shot of the sequence, a little dance with George Burns. It was the first time they had danced in the film, so choreographer Pat Birch patiently led them through their steps over and over again. “One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight.” They moved first to the left, then to the right, in a sort of simple chorus line. “One-two-three-four. One-two-three-four. Step-kick. Step-kick. Step-kick. Step-kick.” Frampton had a tendency to look at his feet. George Burns insisted on counting along visibly.

“It’s not really dancing,”mBarry explained later. “It looks like dancing, but it’s a combination of old Shadows movements. Do you remember Cliff Richards and the Shadows?”

Frampton was still looking at his feet. Burns improvised a little bump movement.

One-two-three-four. One-two-three-four.”

“Got any more steps for us, George?” asked Pat Birch. “We have five minutes to come up with something else.”

Step-kick. Step-kick. Step-kick. Step-kick.”

Frampton kept his eyes up. Everyone finished the dance with their feet in the right place. A crowd of extras applauded spontaneously.

It was a Friday afternoon. On Monday the parade was finally finished. Afterward, I found director Michael Schultz in his trailer and asked him how his stars’ acting and dancing were working out.

“Good,” he replied cheerfully. “As a matter of fact, the dancing…” He burst out laughing and changed the subject. “The acting has turned out much better than I had anticipated….It’s not Paul Scofield, you know, or Laurence Olivier. But it is up to what they need to be doing for the sake of the story.”

“Speaking of the story.” I ventured, after staring at a roller-skating horse for two days, “isn’t it just a little bit corny?”

Schultz laughed pleasantly. “I think you have to separate corn from fantasy,” he said, “and if you think in terms of fairy-tale kind of fantasy, then I don’t consider it corny any more than Yellow Submarine was corny — the bad guys and the good guys and music conquers all….

“And within this fantasy,” he added, “even though it’s like storybook time, and it’s purposely that way, within it we’re touching on a lot of real things that happen to young people, that happen to rock stars. And even though B.D. Brockhurst of Big Deal Records is a fantasy character who’s bigger than life, he represents the Ahmet Erteguns and the Robert Stigwoods….He’s not doing the guys in. He is making them superstars. He detects a quality about them. He says their music is infectious. Whatever they have, in its crudest state, if it’s Heartland cornball, it works on people and gets them all excited….Every record producer functions like that because that’s their job, to find what’s going to work in the marketplace and, if they can’t find something, to make something that will work in the marketplace. Like ‘Disco Duck.’ “

Schultz laughed again. “It’s berserk,” he said. “But it’s fun simply because it’s so berserk. Well, that is almost the way I see this picture…. It’s berserk, and in its berserkness the idea is to take people on a trip, even those die-hard people who say, ‘Oh, Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, they’re not going to be the Beatles.’ Well, they’ re not the Beatles. They’re goody-good singers who have been entrusted with the magic music of Sgt. Pepper to bring joy to the world. And if you accept that premise” — he started to laugh once more — “you don’t have any trouble with the picture.”


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