Allen B. Klein died of Alzheimers in New York, the Times says. The description of him in the headlineâ€””managed music legends”â€”is a joke. He ripped off music legends. He was the biggest crook pop music has ever seen.
Among other things he pulled off the crime of the centuryâ€”stealing the Rolling Stones’ music from the band.
You don’t hear about this much; it’s just one of the ways the music press sucks.
Basically, Klein went to the Stones in 1966. The band was frustrated; it was selling millions of records, but not getting any money. The band members were essentially broke. Klein told them he could pry money out of Decca, and, after an impressively profane and confrontational meeting with the company’s lawyers, succeeding in vastly improving the band’s deals with the label.
Sounds great, right? That was just the setup. The band’s company was called Nanker Phelge Music. Klein created a new company, Nanker Phelge Music USA. In the band’s new contracts, the band’s money and control of its creative output was vested in Klein’s company.
Now, it must be said, one assumes this set-up was all there in black and white in the contracts the band signed. On one level it’s their fault. But from the record that remains (I’m basing all of this on the accounts in the numerous histories of the band and what coverage Rolling Stone provided, back in the day, of the group’s subsequent lawsuits with Klein), it seems as if the band would have had to have the presence of mind and suspicions to initiate a pretty sophisticated financial and legal review of the documents that their own manager was putting before them. (For example, even if they noticed the slight change in the name of the operative company, they would have had to figure out that Klein had incorporated it.)
It’s unlikely that Klein was in any way operating at the band’s direction (“Hey Allen, we want to give you control of all our master recordings. We won’t take no for an answer. We want you to have control of our masters and make all the money off of them. Not just temporarily. Forever”) or with its financial interests in mind.
According to my namesake‘s meticulous history of these years, Stone Alone, once the band tried to untangle itself from Klein it found their options extremely limited. Wyman says the band’s lawyers thought they were owed $17 million; in the event, they settled for $2 million, half of which went to Jagger and Richards for their songwriting. To this day Klein owns the band’s pre-1970 masters outright, and administers the Jagger-Richards publishing as well.
(That’s why you see Klein’s company name, ABKco, on the classic 1960s-era Stones CDs. There’s even some evidence he has his fingers in some post-1970 work by the band as well. A sense of his control over the band’s output is that his company released the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus CD and DVD in recent years. I can’t confirm it right now and I’m open to being corrected, but my understanding is that for some reason he also controls the rights to the band’s unnervingly powerful 1972 concert film, Ladies and Gentlemen the Rolling Stones, which has never been released on VHS or DVD.)
That’s just part of his grimy history*, of course, and again, he did operate as a singular force in rectifying some of the unfair label-band contracts of the era. All that said, he stole one of the most valuable artistic treasure troves of the second half of the 20th century. He was a crook and should have died in jail.
* His interactions with the Beatles were similarly rococo. One amusing footnote to rock history I found in a 1969 Rolling Stone: Klein’s extended explanation of why Lennon and McCartney didn’t need to buy back control of their publishing operation, Northern Songs, from the larger company that controlled it. The name of that bigger company? ATV Music. Had that happened at least one extravagant musical career would have been much different.