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Yoko Didn’t Break up the Beatles – Allen Klein Did

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A music figure as significant as Michael Jackson just died. Many less tears will be shed and the internet will not be pushed to its limits. Allen Klein has passed at 77 from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

I once suggested to a well known rock 'n' roll critic that a book about Klein needed to be written. His response was something along the lines of, "Are you nuts? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life in litigation with Allen Klein? You don't mess with Allen Klein."

Like Don King, Klein spent a ton of time battling his clients in court and usually came away with most of the spoils.

You say that you’ve never heard of him? That’s probably the way he liked it. He was essentially the Vito Corleone of rock 'n' roll. The true genius criminals do their best to stay out of the limelight.

For years, nearly every huge rock act in the world seemed to have paid a percentage to Klein as if they were worried that he would indeed break their legs.

Gangsters are usually brought down by their accountants and that was the genius of Klein. He was an accountant! When rock 'n' roll acts like the Who, the Beatles, and the Stones all had no idea where their money was really going or coming from, he was stalking every single penny.

He had a sign on his desk that said, "Though I walk in the shadow of the valley of evil, I have no fear, as I am the biggest bastard in the valley."

The initial genius of the street-tough accountant that was Klein, he realized how corrupt record companies were in the early days of rock 'n' roll. He’d walk up to a Bobby Darin or a Sam Cooke and promise them that he could recoup $100,000 or more if they’d merely allow him to look at their books, and he usually, in fact, did so with ease.

From there Klein went on to management, beginning with Sam Cooke.

"Sam said, 'Well, what do you think?'" Klein told Sam Cooke's biographer Peter Guralnick. "I said, 'I think they're treating you like a nigger, and that's terrible – you shouldn't let them do it.'"

Klein eventually became manager of the Rolling Stones. After a time, the band wanted to be rid of Klein; he sued and wound up with the publishing rights to most of the Stones’ '60s material. Want an idea of what that was worth? You may want to ask the Verve, who wound up losing their rights to “Bittersweet Symphony,” when an arrangement to sample an orchestral version of “The Last Time” went bad. Klein’s company ABKCO eventually wound up with 100% of the hit's royalties, which has to suck if you’re a one hit wonder like them.

After the death of Beatle manager Brian Epstein, the band was filled with tons of utopian ideas and fantastical dreams. It became Apple Records (and assorted other Apple side projects) and it cost them a fortune. The band that changed everything; the band that seemed able to print money was dangerously close to going broke.

Realizing that they desperately needed someone to manage their affairs, Paul McCartney put forward the name of his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, but John Lennon was piqued by the street fighting, brawler image of Klein, and, as George and Ringo were wont to do back then, they followed Lennon. In most comparisons between John and Paul, I usually come down on John’s side, but there is little doubt that McCartney was by leagues the superior businessman and that he was right to distrust Klein.

Obviously, there is no one thing that broke up the Beatles, but the schism over Klein makes infinitely more sense than the other Beatles’ abhorrence of having Yoko Ono underfoot 24-7.

Musicians become successful because they are musicians, not because they are good businessmen (perhaps excluding Madonna and David Bowie). Playing endless nights in Hamburg doesn’t prepare you to swim with the piranhas and Klein was definitely a piranha.

There’s a reason that Keith Richards called the Klein/Stones settlement “the price of an education.”

I have no idea to what extent Klein was a lawbreaker, but he was obviously a stunning negotiator and bullying expert of the modern day lawsuit, either way, my guess is that Klein won’t be remembered as favorably on future 4th of Julys as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams have been. In the end, however, my personal guess is that his influence on the first 50 years of rock 'n' roll history is surpassed by less than a dozen other figures.

I’d still like to see someone write a book about his life. Sadly, it won’t be me because I hate accounting, reading legal contracts, and have a very small litigation budget. These three common traits made Allen Klein a very rich man.

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  • zingzing

    a lot of things broke up the beatles, and i think mccartney put it best in “you never give me your money” with “you never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper and in the middle of negotiations, you break down.” if that doesn’t scream klein v eastmen, then i dunno what does.

    truthfully, i think that by late 67/early 68, the beatles were breaking up. yoko’s a convenient scapegoat, but it really is more about 4 men growing apart and moving in different directions. the money thing exacerbated a situation (as did, perhaps, yoko’s presence,) that had long gone out of control. excepting paul, all of them (whether in private or in public) had threatened to quit the band, and it was only a matter of time before someone (paul) actually pulled the plug on what had become 4 individuals rather than a whole.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    A little research reveals The Beatles is what broke up The Beatles.

  • http://mongo.not.me Mongo

    I saw Yoko steal the bread from a recently vacated table and stuff it in her purse at the Boat House restaurant in Central Park back in 1988. I’m convinced it her restaurant antics etc just sent fastidious Paul over the edge.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Good read, Brad. It is occasionally necessary to be reminded that there are “businessmen” in the music business, and music, like every other business (to quote The World According to Garp) “is a shitty business”.

  • JC Mosquito

    Unfortunately, it seems that the most important word in the phrase “Music Business” isn’t “Music,” but “Business.”

  • HistoryAccess

    In paragraph four you say that he stayed out of the limelight. I suggest to you that this is a complete, total, 100 percent misunderstanding of Allen B. Klein.