21 May 2008

The Second Hand Record Dip Part 7 - Sgt Pepper OST

Sgt Pepper

Who: Various Artists (although mostly consisting of The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton)
What: Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
Label: RSO
Year: 1978
Cost: One pound

At last, a Second Hand Store Lucky Dip everybody at home can take part in, for it is highly likely that you too will be able to go to Oxfam tomorrow morning and purchase this said disc for a low, low price. And no surprise there.

If there’s one thing about The Beatles’ songs that seems to be a universal constant, it’s that almost all of the cover versions of their work are complete and total drek. It’s an unfortunate fact possibly made true by a number of unfortunate factors – but primarily, the tunes being covered are usually well known and loved by most members of the public from birth, and therefore far too familiar to be tweaked and interfered with without the results seeming in some way awkward and self-conscious. Even if those of us with patient ears manage to get past the remodels and attempt to find something beyond them, we usually discover that the new version does little that the original didn’t attempt already, except in a more cloying, charmless and over-produced way. There are exceptions, of course – Otis Redding’s version of “Daytripper” is a brutal piece of work which trumps the original, sixties garage band The Score’s version of “Please Please Me” takes the somewhat twee original and gives it some spittle and spite, and I’ll even guiltily confess to preferring Siouxsie and the Banshee’s version of “Dear Prudence”. What The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton did to the Beatles songs on the soundtrack for the Sergeant Pepper film, however, was almost universally loathed by the public and critics alike.

You can see the thinking behind this project. The Bee Gees and yer man Frampton were enjoying huge success at the time, and you can imagine the project being trumped up in boardroom meeting after boardroom meeting until the lion-maned brothers Gibb roared their hearty approval. “Yes, my glorious pride, we can do it!” Barry Gibb doubtless snarled, before pouncing on the rotting carcass of the Beatles back-catalogue. “And whilst we are chewing on this veritable feast, why not invite some of our comedy friends along to take on their music hall fare? Why, I met Steve Martin in a club last night… and Frankie Howerd said I’d have to fondle his crotch unless he was allowed to join in…”

If it sounds appealing in a kitsch way, trust me it isn’t. Steve Martin talking his way through “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is even more grating than the original was, and that’s quite a trench to dig quality-wise. When Dennis Pennis asked him “how come you’re not funny anymore?” you have to wonder if he’d ever heard this track. Martin could be excruciatingly unfunny even at the peak of his career.

Frankie Howerd and Peter Frampton duetting on “Mean Mr Mustard” might also sound amusing as a concept, but in reality it sounds like two idiots pissing around with a vocoder in a school musical equipment cupboard. The Bee Gees also add little to the proceedings, choosing to anemically bleat their way through overly slick versions of the tracks in a karaoke style. I could add at this point that I do have a great deal of time for much of the Bee Gees back catalogue, but I pray to God that even they would choose to disown this piece of work (they certainly don’t talk about it much anymore).

Robert Stigwood, entrepreneur and owner of the RSO label this was released on, suffered horribly in the aftermath of this release. He lost so much money on the project that the label collapsed not long afterwards – which considering he’d also released and financed the soundtracks to “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever”, two of the most popular albums of their kind of all time, really takes some doing. But then this album is quite uniquely bad, and inexplicably boring in its awfulness too. Given the people involved, it should at least have the decency of being a bit entertaining in an absurd way. Christ almighty, even Alice Cooper sounds dull covering “Come Together”.

Frampton and Howerd: "Mean Mr Mustard":

As for me? I found a brand new copy still shrink wrapped for the princely sum of one pound, and only bought it for the free poster, which is the only lovably ridiculous thing about the entire package.


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