Tyrant. Terrorist. Thief. These are some of the most common terms that emerge when one brings up the late Allen Klein, the legendary music mogul who started out managing Sam Cooke and went on to become the business manager for both the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Now the storied music journalist Fred Goodman (Fortune’s Fool, 2010, etc.) tackles a difficult subject in Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll, which Kirkus calls a “balanced, fascinating and well-written biography” in a starred review.
Goodman was approached by Klein’s son Jody, now the chairman of ABKCO Music & Records, with a no-holds-barred offer to examine all of his late father’s papers including letters, litigation documents, and the contracts that dictated how and when Klein’s rock stars got paid.
“He’s been portrayed as a two-dimensional villain for too long,” says Goodman from his home in New York. “He is portrayed as the man who broke up the Beatles and robbed The Rolling Stones. That’s fan fiction that is driven by the fans’ passion for the music and isn’t based on what really happened. When you have this kind of access, you really get a sense for what members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are saying when the door is closed.”
This isn’t to say that Klein was an angel. He was sentenced to prison for tax evasion in 1979, earned the ire of Paul McCartney, and was a central figure in the lawsuit against George Harrison over his song “My Sweet Lord.” He even ended up owning the copyrights to every Stones album prior to Sticky Fingers, prompting Keith Richards to famously label their relationship with Klein as “the price of an education.” It was a wild ride for a kid who grew up in an orphanage and started his career as an accountant.
“On some level when you step back and look at him, you realize that Allen Klein was really a Charles Foster Kane type,” Goodman explains. “He’s this guy who has an early bruise. His father is distant, and he’s put into an orphanage for five years. He’s an outcast who is desperate to control the world and prove his worth. These are the forces that are driving this guy, which makes it a very human story.”
Goodman thinks that Klein’s street-smart style is what attracted musicians like John Lennon and Keith Richards, and turned off more refined players like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.
“Allen Klein had a chip on his shoulder, which is the key to his relationship with John Lennon,” Goodman says. “They were flying the same flag—they were underdogs who became top dogs. The Beatles were his white whale. As soon as he gets the Beatles, he stops paying attention to the Rolling Stones. At the same time, Mick Jagger is becoming a more and more sophisticated guy and he’s asking the kinds of questions that Allen would rather not answer.”
Goodman even ferreted out a story about the Beatles breakup that didn’t make into the book.
“I tracked down Harold Seider, who became John and Yoko’s attorney,” says Goodman. “He was involved in the Beatles settlement. He told me that they were originally supposed to sign the Beatles settlement agreement at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. They famously get this phone call where Yoko says the stars aren’t aligned. A month later, Harold was with John in the Bahamas and he asks what was up with the stars. John says, ‘I formed the Beatles. I say when they break up.’ Klein thought he was going to manage the Beatles. He didn’t realize he was there to be John’s regent in a divorce.”
At the same time, Goodman shows a lot of respect not only for Klein’s business acumen but also his principles.
“One thing you can say in ABKCO’s favor is that they never creamed the Rolling Stones catalogue,” he explains. “The classic example is the movie The Big Chill. The song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is in the film but it isn’t in the movie soundtrack. They would license it for the movie but if you want the song, you have to go buy a copy of Let It Bleed. They always preserved the sanctity of the Stones catalogue.”
Goodman interviewed a host of primary sources and much of the material comes from Klein himself, based on interviews with music historian Bill Flanagan, made available by ABKCO. But Goodman also spoke with primaries like Marianne Faithfull and other sources that were close to Klein.
“He was farsighted,” says Goodman of Klein. “I spoke with Irving Azoff, who manages the Eagles, and who knew Klein. He said, ‘Maybe the guy took too big a piece. I don’t know. But back then everybody took too big a piece. As far as I could tell, he was no more mercenary than Ahmet Ertegun or any of those guys.’”
For Goodman’s part, he ended up with a grudging respect for his subject.
“It’s sort of a deal with the devil that you make,” he says. “At the time you make the deal, you feel good about it. Later on when you’re one of the biggest rock bands in the world, you wonder why you gave that guy so much power and influence. I would rather have had Allen Klein as a friend than a business manager. But this notion that everyone hated him is not true. I spoke with (former Rolling Stones manager) Andrew Oldham, who was the only one to speak at Andrew’s memorial service. At the same time, every time I talked to Andrew, he couldn’t stop calling him ‘Allen Crime.’ It’s complicated.”
Clayton Moore is a freelance writer, journalist, book critic, and prolific interviewer of other writers. His work appears in numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and other media. He is based in Boulder, Colorado.