On Tuesday at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream Aerosmith's concert from the DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan. Tune in HERE to watch!
Back in 1978, RSO kingpin Robert Stigwood — the man behind such box-office smashes as Grease, Bugsy Malone, and Saturday Night Fever — somehow convinced '70s luminaries like Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Steve Martin, George Burns, Alice Cooper, Sha Na Na, Carol Channing, and actual Beatles cohort Billy Preston to star in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The discombobulated movie musical, composed entirely of bizarre Beatles covers — including Speak-&-Spell-voiced robots bleating and bleeping their way through "She's Leaving Home," Cooper as a cult leader doing a spoken-word version of "Because," and Preston singing "Get Back" in a gold lamé suit and white go-go boots — now stands as an amusing artifact of a very wacky era. But at the time, it was a commercial and critical disaster. For several of the movie's stars, it was basically an act of mass career suicide, caught on camera. Hardly anyone in the film emerged totally unscathed.
Aerosmith starred in Sgt. Pepper as the Future Villain Band, who in the film's most watchable and definitely most rockin' scene battled good guys Billy Shears (Frampton) and the Henderson Brothers (the Bee Gees) while cranking out a hard-charging, absolutely ferocious rendition of the Abbey Road classic "Come Together." The result was one of the best Beatles covers (if not the best Beatles cover) ever recorded — one that Aerosmith still sometimes thrillingly performs in concert decades later.
"I think the critics kind of left us alone on that. We didn't get slammed, so we got out of it clean," Aerosmith guitarist/founder Joe Perry tells Yahoo Music now with a chuckle. "It kind of exposed us to another part of the entertainment industry, and some of the fans — Peter Frampton fans — got to see us be Future Villains. So far as our career, I think we narrowly escaped it hurting us. Which is about the best I can say!"
Perry admits that initially, Aerosmith didn't want to take part — and only agreed to be in the film after one major plot change. "When we first were presented with this movie, we were totally against it. We just thought that the whole thing was going to be hokey, and we were just not cut from that cloth. We were very skeptical about it, and kind of even contemptuous about it. And they had Peter Frampton killing [Aerosmith frontman] Steven [Tyler] in the first script. We said, 'Well, if you want us to do it, you've got to change the script. It's got to be the other way around.' We didn't really consider Peter Frampton worthy enough to take us down, just because we thought his music was a little light. So they said, 'We'll change it!'" [Side note: In the actual film, both the Future Villain Band and Billy Shears survived. Billy's love interest, a girl named Strawberry Fields, was not so fortunate.]
Aerosmith knew even then that Sgt. Pepper would not be winning any Oscars, but it was still an offer they couldn't resist, for a couple of reasons. "We did it for an adventure, just to do it. They said, 'Come on out, all expenses paid,' throwing money around like crazy," recalls Perry. "A lot of people thought it was going to be what it was, and saw it for what it was, but it gave us a chance not only to cover one of our favorite Beatles songs, but to work with [legendary Beatles producer] George Martin. And that, of course, was the real hook for us.
"Probably one of the most flattering things about it was when we were in the studio with [record producer] Jack Douglas, and George Martin came down. We were running the song down, and we were waiting for him to tell us, 'Well, you should change this, you should do that.' We were waiting to hear some words of wisdom. And he said, 'Just keep playing what you guys are playing, it sounds fine.' We were a little stunned. I know that's one of the things we're proud of, that we were able to do it. And it carried its weight. To this day, people love it when we play it live."
Thirty-six years later, Perry says, "I think that that movie really was a window into the times, and looking back at it, it's really fascinating." But over the decades, Aerosmith has frequently crossed over into unexpected and interesting pop-culture realms, always with the band's credibility intact. For instance, there was the 1986 hip-hop remake of their own "Walk This Way" with Run-DMC, which not only revitalized Aerosmith's career and established Run-DMC as pop-crossover MTV stars, but opened the door for countless rap-rock collaborations to come.
"To me, that's one of the proudest things I have in my scrapbook," says Perry of that groundbreaking duet. "I think we got maybe one or two fan letters that said, 'How could you guys do this, you're a rock band, what are you doing playing with those guys?' But that was it. We got so much more positive out of it. And it didn't matter; to us, it was about the music."
The group got a little more flak from rock purists when Steven Tyler signed up to be an American Idol judge in 2010, but even that career move showed that Aerosmith can adapt to the times.
"As far as Steven going on American Idol, it kind of shows how much the whole music scene has changed," Perry muses. "I don't think that people look at us anymore as having sold out. Maybe they did for a bit, but it still didn't stop our old fans from coming to see us. Once in a while we'll get a tweet or something on social media that people will say, 'I'm not gonna come to Aerosmith concerts anymore because Steven did that [TV show],' but those things are so few and far between, it doesn't matter anymore.
"I think it's more of an indication of how society in general has changed and how they think about music, as opposed to back in the '70s, when we were this hardcore, thumb-your-nose-at-the-rest-of-the-world kind of band. I still consider us to be that, actually. We still play 'Train Kept a Rollin'' and 'Toys in the Attic' and all those kickass songs, as well as the singles and the ballads, so it just shows that we've managed to kind of hold onto our fans."