The Entertainment Issue: Long play – the charmed lives of Paul McCartney

I never remembered the story of why The Beatles split.

This portrait of McCartney, through Fred Goodman’s book “Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll.” shows that all biographies of pop artists, to a first approximation, seem to end up being studies in the music-publishing business.

The story is always the same:

A young pop star eager for fame and money makes a deal for a few promising beans with a grizzled music manager-publisher he meets on the road to town; the youngster climbs the beanstalk that grows up, and fights the giant at the top, only to find, on his descent, that the grizzled vet has made off with most of the fortune that fell from the clouds.

The problem with Allen Klein is not that he was a thief but that he worked in a business where thieving, of one kind or another, was the business. He pioneered several different ways of doing this; most of them involved manipulating the copyrights of music-publishing businesses that now made their money on royalties from record sales and radio play and covers.

Goodman’s book is a kind of hair-raising, greatest-hits catalogue of how to screw a pop musician.

“Control the entire flow of money, in other words, and, even if you give the artist the biggest chunk, you can still make sure that the true and permanent owner of the musical beans is you.”

With the Beatles, Klein increased their royalties while trying, at least, to insinuate himself into the ownership of their songs. McCartney became dubious and consulted his in-laws Lee and John Eastman. New York lawyers, they warned him off Klein and won out, making him an unequaled fortune. They launched a lawsuit in 1970 to break up the Beatles partnership. That became the trigger for John Lennon’s toxic onslaughts against his former partner.

That lawsuit was a long shot as the law and the facts were very strongly with Klein: a contractual four-way partnership can’t normally be sundered by one partner’s discontent. Shrewdly, the Eastmans understood the judge’s prejudices; they raised, somewhat unfairly, an unrelated tax suit that Klein was involved in in America, and in general painted such an unpleasant picture of him that the court ruled in favor of placing the Beatles in receivership.

The rise of The Beatles is accounted in Peter Watkin’s satirical movie “Privilege”

With the Rolling Stones, the maneuver was more complicated: Klein bought the Stones’ management contract from their original discoverer, giving himself 20% of the Stones’ royalties, paid out of the original discoverer’s share in everything the Stones recorded through 1970. He also negotiated a deal to manufacture the music itself

Young artists always asked for the money but the right thing to ask for was ownership.

The business has traversed an improbable arc where careers were once assumed to be short-lived and records to be minimally profitable, through the Golconda era of almost unbelievable wealth, to the new era where careers are once again assumed to be precarious and recordings minimally profitable.