Russ Regan, president of both UNI Records and 20th Century Records and vice-president of A&R at Motown, was a recording industry success story. He’s one of the few record executives to have a number one record in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
He has plenty of moments that place him at the center of rock and roll history, like promoting the first Motown song to go to #1, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes. He suggested that The Pendletones change their name to the Beach Boys. He helped produce Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” He helped start the careers of Elton John, Neil Diamond, Barry White and Olivia Newton-John. Four of the films he did music supervisor for — The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Flashdance and Chariots of Fire — won Oscars for best song.
He also had a dream about World War II, an era he grew up in, constantly seeing the horrors of war through newsreels. He wondered, “What if The Beatles provided the soundtrack?” And then he thought on it further and wondered, “What if we did a soundtrack with tons of 1976’s best-selling music artists and made some money?”
Imagine: 20th Century Fox films and newsreels of World War II, scored in a satirical way by The Beatles. Or their songs, at least. Tony Palmer, who directed 200 Motels with Zappa and All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music, would fit it all together (Susan Winslow is also credited as director). And The Bee Gees would record all of the music.
Well, the brothers Gibb did record six songs. Three of them, “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Sun King” are in the film, but they also did versions of “Lovely Rita,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “She’s Leaving Home.” We’ll get back to them in a bit.
The album was put together by Lou Reizner, who produced the first two Rod Stewart albums, brought Bowie to America and created the orchestral version of Tommy. And you know, the music is the best thing about this.
Here’s a breakdown of the artists and the songs they covered:
“Magical Mystery Tour” by Ambrosia, who may not be remembered today, but they had some monster hits between 1975 and 1980, including the top 5 hits “How Much I Feel” and “Biggest Part of Me”, and top 20 hits “You’re the Only Woman (You & I)” and “Holdin’ on to Yesterday.” All four original members played on the Alan Parsons Project album, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” as Parsons had been the engineer of their first album and producer of their second. It’s also where Bruce Hornsby got his start.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by Elton John and Dr. Winston O’Boogie on lead guitar and backing vocals. The esteemed doctor is actually John Lennon.
“I Am the Walrus,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” by Leo Sayer, who was pretty much the mid-70’s soft rock king with songs like “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” and “When I Need You.”
“She’s Leaving Home” by Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, who is no stranger to soundtracks, with “Slave to Love” appearing in 9 1/2 Weeks and Kingsman: The Secret Service, “Crazy Love” in She’s Having a Baby, “More Than This” in Lost In Translation, “Love is the Drug” in Casino and the Baz Luhrman The Great Gatsby, “Same Old Scene” in Times Square and many more.
“Lovely Rita” and “Polythene Pam” are by Roy Wood, a member and co-founder of The Move, Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard, who are best known for the song “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.” He also covered ABBA’s “Waterloo” in 1986 with Doctor and the Medics, reaching #45 on the UK charts.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” was covered by Keith Moon, who sadly only lived to see half that age. As for movies, Moon appeared as J.D Clover, the drummer for the Stray Cats — not the later rockabilly band — in That’ll Be the Day and Stardust. He’s also in Sextette.
“Get Back” is by Rod Stewart, whose songs have been in tons of movies. Just off the top of my head, I can pick “(I Know) I’m Losing You” in Zodiac, “Every Picture Tells a Story” in Almost Famous, “Maggie May” in Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing, “That’s What Friends Are For” in Night Shift, “Love Touch” in Legal Eagles and “Twistin’ the Night Away” in Innerspace.
“Yesterday” was recorded by David Essex, whose “Rock On” was a worldwide success. He’s gone on to act in EastEnders, Smashing Time, Silver Dream Racer and other films.
Speaking of ELO, “With a Little Help from My Friends/Nowhere Man” is by Jeff Lynne. Known alternatively as Otis and Clayton Wilbury, he also produced the soundtrack for Xanadu.
“Because” is by Lynsey de Paul. Who, you ask? She represented the UK in the Eurovision contest in 1977 with “Rock Bottom” and her song “Sugar Me” led to her becoming the first British female artist to reach #1 on the charts with a self-written song. She died unexpectantly in 2014, leaving behind plenty of broken hearts like Dudley Moore, Chas Chandler, Roy Wood, Ringo Starr, James Coburn, Bill Kenwright, Dodi Fayed, Sean Connery, George Best, Bernie Taupin and David Frost.
“Michelle” is by Richard Cocciante, a French-Italian singer whose lone English language album “When Love Has Gone Away” made it to #41 on the U.S. Billboard chart. He also recorded several songs for the Italian version of Toy Story.
“We Can Work It Out” by The Four Seasons was a major song on this soundtrack. Along with the Beach Boys, they’re the only American pop group to enjoy substantial chart success before, during and after the British Invasion.
“The Fool on the Hill” by Helen Reddy? Yep. I always thought she was Canadian, but she was born in Australia. She was the queen of 70’s pop, with 25 singles charting. If you don’t know her, you probably know her song “I Am Woman.” She also appeared as the singing nun in Airport 1975.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was Frankie Laine’s last chart appearance. He was a big influence on the band and also starred in several Blake Edwards-directed musicals.
“Hey Jude” was covered by The Brothers Johnson, the American funk and R&B band best known for “I’ll Be Good to You”, “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Stomp!”
“Getting Better” is by Status Quo, who in addition to recording “Pictures of Matchstick Men” opened Live Aid with “Rockin’ All Over the World.”
“Help!” is by Henry Gross, a founding member of Sha Na Na who also recorded the song “Shannon.” John Lennon said that this version of the song is closer to what he intended it to sound like.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” was covered by Peter Gabriel, who had left the band Genesis just the year before. His songs are all over popular culture, from seven of them being used on Miami Vice to “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything and even a compilation of songs he wrote for soundtracks entitled Rated PG.
“A Day in the Life” is by Frankie Valli, which is an odd pick that works. Valli is, of course, from the Four Seasons.
“Come Together” is by Tina Turner, who played The Acid Queen in Tommy and, of course, Aunty Entity in Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.
“You Never Give Me Your Money” is by Wil Malone (who produced the scores for The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” arranged the orchestra for Tommy and composed the music for the movie Death Line. Metalheads know that he produced Iron Maiden’s self-titled album and arranged the strings on Opeth’s Sorceress and Black Sabbath’s “Spiral Architect”) and Reizner.
The last song on the album, “The End” is by The London Symphony Orchestra.
The soundtrack outperformed the movie, reaching #23 on the UK Albums Chart and #48 on the Billboard Top 200. Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” went to #1 in the U.S., Ambrosia’s “Magical Mystery Tour” hot #39 and Frankie Laine’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” got to #86. The entire album was re-released in 1979 as The Songs Of John Lennon & Paul McCartney Performed By The World’s Greatest Rock Artists.
The results of the movie? Well, it was in theaters for all of two weeks and has never been released from the vaults of 20th Century Fox. Gonzo Multimedia released a bootleg called The Beatles and World War II in 2016, but this is a revised version with a slightly different soundtrack.
If you’re interested in seeing “Sun King” juxtaposed with kamikaze pilots and “Fool On the Hill” with German leaders at Adolf’s mountain hideaway in Berchtesgaden, this would be the film for you. There’s nothing quite like it, to be perfectly honest. I can see why people hated it — the world was not yet ready for culture jamming mashups in 1976 and probably still hadn’t gotten over the breakup of the Fab Four.
But if you can find this, wow. It’s something.
Be sure to join us for our three part “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series as we look at 33 films dealing with the legacy of the Beatles.