By Fred Goodman
ALLEN KLEIN: THE MAN WHO BAILED OUT THE BEATLES, MADE THE STONES, AND TRANSFORMED ROCK & ROLL by Fred Goodman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), $35 cloth, 302 pages. Rating: NNNN
History does not look kindly on Allen Klein, but no one can dispute that he was the best at what he did.
Combative, shrewd and unapologetically profit-driven, he took on a roster of rising stars that included Donovan, Bobby Vinton, Sam Cooke and the Kinks and turned them into millionaires. He sold the Rolling Stones to the United States and made them international superstars. Most importantly, he took the financially floundering Beatles and lifted them to a level of success never before seen in the pop world.
In his densely plotted and gossipy bio, Fred Goodman argues that Klein was more a misunderstood outsider than a villain, a hard-nosed New Yorker brought up in a Jewish orphanage. He raised the stakes in an industry mired in waffling, hippie posing and corruption, and his aggressive tactics won his artists financial victories they didn’t believe were possible.
Klein excelled at breaking down complex royalty deals into language artists could parse. At the same time, he commandeered his own private deals with record companies, buying out rights and royalties at rates that made him richer than his clients.
He’s the man allegedly responsible for the split between McCartney and the other Beatles. The savvy Klein had drawn up his financial agreement with the Beatles in such a way that McCartney’s only legal recourse was to sue his bandmates. McCartney called Klein’s manoeuvre “the shittiest thing anyone has ever done to me.”
Though driven and rapacious, Klein was gregarious and generous to a fault. His anxieties, insecurities and contradictions kept him perpetually hunting for new networks and deals. Along with his talent for connecting with artists and finding money, he had an outsider’s hunger for approval.
Goodman demonstrates how Klein, by marrying two utterly mismatched phenomena – New York chutzpah and British rock cool – changed the course of rock history.