Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll by Fred Goodman, Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers (Hardcover, $27)
Yoko Ono did not break up The Beatles. Allen Klein did. He also bailed them out of a horrible business swoon they were buried under due to their former manager Brian Epstein not being very well-versed in the rugged financial terrain of the music business. Sure, Epstein had the ear that brought them to the world’s attention. But once there, he was too loyal to the old boy’s club of British manners in his dealings with the outside world to make any real money for his clients. He had the Fab Four sign contracts that gave them a penny for each album sold (that they had to split four ways). Then he promptly died.
Enter Klein, a hard-nosed businessman from Newark, New Jersey, who had saved Sam Cooke a ton of money and then did the same thing for the Rolling Stones. Klein’s talent was to ferret out every nickel owed the artists that the labels would hide. He did so for The Who, The Animals, The Kinks and Donovan too. Managed ’em all. He was brutish, brusque, profane, lived lavishly like a rock star (because he made damn sure to line his own pockets as well) and sneered at convention. The record labels all hated him. Feared him. Klein stuck up his middle finger to the corporate tit while enabling his artists to suck and get all the nutrients they needed for a long and successful career. The man loved litigation. He was happiest in a court room.
Allen Klein, in fact, was one of the most fascinating people in the history of the music business. Up to now, he’s been cast as a villain because of his probable mob connections, his rudeness to his own subordinates, his philandering (he cheated on both his wife and his girlfriends), and his habit of playing both sides of legal issues where only he would win. But damn if he didn’t have a wild ride!
It’s amazing a thoroughly researched Klein biography with dozens of juicy stories about the iconic musicians we’ve loved for years hasn’t yet been written. Fred Goodman, in his fourth book, nails the drama, the hi-jinx, the era, and the transformative power of the deal into a potboiler page-turner that had me up nights oohing and ahhing at the sheer audacity of the man.
But back to the Beatles. John loved him. George and Ringo saw the logic in hiring him as the Beatles were like a boat suddenly unhinged from the dock and slowly floating into the sea. Paul, though, was dead set on having his future in-laws, the Eastmans, represent them as he was to marry the lovely Linda. It broke the band up. Period. Of course, not touring since 1966 didn’t help. Plus, their personal lives started to interfere with each other…not to mention their love lives.
Just when the Stones were going through their most creative and fertile period of their career with “Begger’s Banquet,” obviously their greatest album up to that point, Klein had no time for his biggest clients since he was hellbent to woo The Beatles. It cost him his relationship with the Stones. Add to that the drama of Sam Cooke being murdered in 1964 by a hotel employee who saw a naked black man running out of the love shack he shared with a hooker when he discovered she stole his wallet (such an ignominious ending to a great artist’s life). Klein found himself in control of a gold mine, namely Sam Cooke’s music, fueling ugly rumors. He had to juggle artists like the simultaneous spinning plates of a circus performer. There’s been very few like him since.
Goodman puts this all together like the master story teller he is. You won’t be able to put it down. I sure didn’t.