By Roy Trakin.
Fred Goodman, Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock ‘n’ Roll (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Another misunderstood behind-the-scenes mover and shaker, accountant-turned-manager Allen Klein — gets the revisionist treatment in the third of noted author Goodman’s trilogy exploring important figures in the evolution of rock into a multi-national business – following Mansion on the Hill, which focused on David Geffen and Jon Landau, and Fortune’s Fool, the story of Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s odyssey acquiring Universal and then Warner Music Group. Like those two books, Goodman is very non-judgmental and even-handed toward his subject, and while he never did manage to talk to him while alive, he was privy to literally thousands of papers and documents by the family.
Considered a villain who took advantage of a client roster that started with Bobby Vinton and Sam Cooke, but eventually graduated to several major British Invasion acts, including, at one point, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Klein is now seen in the light of latter-day admirers like Irving Azoff, who fight tirelessly for their clients’ rights, even, and especially if it means ruffling the feathers at fat-cat record labels and music publishers.
Klein, raised in an orphanage after being abandoned by his parents, fought all his life for acceptance, and wielded his ever-expanding wallet like Cupid’s Arrow, bestowing largesse on his friends and choking off his enemies. Sure, there are anecdotes – especially juicy tales about his twisted, lifelong, love-hate relationship with former Stones manager Andrew Loog-Oldham, as well as his bonding with both John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
And while Klein may have been the man who most hastened the end of the Beatles by helping dismantle the partnership, and ended up with the Stones’ pre-1971 publishing and recording rights, it is clear his own combativeness ended up as his undoing.
Rock and business are often uneasy bedfellows – look no farther than the relationship between N.W.A. and Jerry Heller for that – but it is also true Allen Klein helped take the Stones in particular, and the Beatles for that matter, to unimaginable heights of wealth after their original managers, Oldham and Brian Epstein, woefully undersold their charges by signing grossly unfair recording and publishing deals.
A frustrated artist who didn’t realize his skill was even more important when it came to the bottom line, Allen Klein was a man of contradictions, someone who craved his clients’ love, but was both petty and revengeful when betrayed. As always, Goodman makes arcane business transactions such as Klein acquiring the music publishing company that controlled the rights to “She’s So Fine” in the middle of negotiating a copyright infringement settlement for client George Harrison, who was accused of plagiarizing the song with “My Sweet Lord,” seem fascinating, interspersing it with the kind of backroom anecdotes that are needed to sell a specialized book to a general audience.
Don’t know if Fred managed to redeem Klein’s reputation – his son Jody asking him to do the book was in part to defray the nasty tone of the newspaper obituaries after his dad’s death July 4, 2009 – but he has managed to make human someone who was too often portrayed as a cartoonish gargoyle. And you can’t ask more from a biographer than that.