Although the sub-title of Fred Goodman’s new Allen Klein biography refers to the legendary music-biz wheeler and dealer as – among other things – “the man who bailed out the Beatles,” even now, many of Klein’s most outspoken critics continue to maintain he was actually the man who broke them up.
The truth is, convincing arguments could be made supporting either side of that contentious debate. To his credit, Goodman’s even-handed, well-researched account of the man long regarded as one of rock history’s most polarizing figures works best by threading a fine line.
Recounting the facts behind Klein’s handling of the business affairs of the Beatles (as well as those of the Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, The Animals, Donovan and others), Goodman recalls the legal maneuvering that eventually led up to rock’s most historic breakup in an objective manner, lending credible evidence that supports both opposing sides of that famous split. Although Goodman’s book was written with the support of Klein’s family – and specifically Allen’s son Jody, who approached him to do it – the author pulls no punches detailing how Klein’s litigious, abrasive approach to “negotiating the deal” served to widen the already existing rift between Paul McCartney and the other three Beatles.
Specifically, Goodman details how Klein developed a close relationship with John Lennon – a friendship he clearly cherished, but also used to his advantage by exploiting Lennon’s growing differences with McCartney. At the same time, Goodman’s book makes an open-and-shut case that the Beatles desperately needed Klein, and that he is in fact the man who “bailed them out” from the financial debacle left behind after Brian Epstein’s death and the subsequent gross mismanagement of their Apple Corps operation.
Like most of Klein’s relationships – both in business, and on a personal level – his dynamic with Lennon is a complex one. There seems to be both mutual respect, and even some degree of genuine affection between the two men (particularly on Klein’s part). But there also seems to be an underlying question of trust, which grew to become more pronounced during the decades of litigation following the Beatles breakup.
In his earlier dealings with the Rolling Stones, Klein followed a similar pattern. Initially impressing the band with his uncanny ability to find “lost money” (a Klein specialty that endeared him to artists, even as it infuriated their record companies), Klein got the Stones a better deal with their label, more publishing money, and opened new tax advantages by creating their own company (Nanker-Phelge).
Following a pattern he would later repeat with the Beatles, Klein also forged an early bond with Keith Richards (just as he did with Lennon), even as Mick Jagger viewed him far more suspiciously (although the rift there developed more gradually than it did with McCartney in the Beatles).
There is little doubt that Klein gained advantages for the artists in his stead, unheard of up until that time – a legacy which forever tilted the traditional balance of power more equitably toward the artist, and away from the labels they recorded for. As a fierce advocate for the musicians he represented, Klein really had few equals at the time.
Even so, it is every bit as clear that with the same sweet deals he so ferociously negotiated for the Beatles, the Stones and others, Klein saw to it he was getting a piece of the action that often lasted decades after his charges sought to free themselves from his grip. Perhaps the most notorious example is how Klein’s company ABKCO snatched up the rights to all the classic Rolling Stones songs written up through 1971, resulting in decades of legal wrangling between the two parties, and escalating Mick Jagger’s initial suspicion into a more outright distrust.
In one of the more fascinating chapters of this book, Goodman also details how Klein played both sides of the plagiarism suit over George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” attempting to secure both the rights to that song and the one Harrison was alleged to have nicked (“He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons).
The final picture of Allen Klein that emerges here will likely do little to dissuade his critics. But Fred Goodman deserves credit for approaching his subject in such an objective manner, given Klein’s reputation as one of rock’s more historically vilified figures. This is a fascinating character study of a man whose taste for self-interest and tactical nastiness – particularly in a courtroom – is balanced by his genuine passion to get his artists the financial rewards they so rightfully deserved.
In that respect, Allen Klein forever changed the way the game is played. At least, before this whole internet thing came along. But that’s another story…[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0547896867]