Throwing Stones XIV: Bad Apples

(This is Part XIV. To read Part XIII, click Throwing Stones: The Devil & Mr. Jones)

In Part XIII, founding member Brian Jones was fired from The Rolling Stones and died under mysterious circumstances a few weeks later.

Having replaced Brian Jones with Mick Taylor and scheduled their first America Tour in over three years, The Rolling Stones continued to work on the follow-up to Beggars Banquet. Business manager Allen Klein stayed busy, too.

Nationwide DickIn 1967, Klein acquired Cameo Records and its subsidiary label, Parkway. Founded in Philadelphia in 1956, Cameo had reaped huge benefits from being based in the same city as American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s nationally broadcast TV teen-dance sensation. Booking Cameo-Parkway artists on Bandstand was easy, and whenever Clark got in a pinch or needed a fill-in for a cancellation, Cameo-Parkway got the call.

Chubby TwistThough Cameo-Parkway had a number of hits, it is best known for Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist,” which topped the U.S. charts in both 1960 and 1962, inspiring a long-running nationwide dance craze.

(Cocktail party conversation starter: the first references to a dance called “the twist” appeared in American minstrel songs as early as 1844!)

Two years after “The Twist” returned to the number one slot, the British Invasion clobbered Cameo-Parkway and other American independent labels. As if that wasn’t enough, American Bandstand relocated to Los Angeles, depriving the label of its most potent launchpad. The founders sold the company, but the new owners were unable to reverse the slide, despite hitting number one with “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians. (Insert Vox Continental Organ riff here.)

ABKCO LogoMGM Records purchased Cameo-Parkway in 1967. MGM then sold the struggling label to Klein, who was a major MGM stockholder. Klein restructured his own company as ABKCO, which he jokingly claimed was an acronym for “A Better Kind of Company.”  It actually stood for “Allen & Betty Klein & Company.”  (Betty was Klein’s wife.) ABKCO obtained the master recording catalogs of MGM artists Herman’s Hermits and The Animals from producer Mickie Most. But Allen Klein was far from satisfied. He was playing the long game, and had set his sights on the biggest act in show biz: The Beatles.

Less than three months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June of ’67, Brian Epstein was found dead in the master bedroom of his London townhouse. The man famous for discovering and managing The Beatles had succumbed to a lethal combination of alcohol and prescription sleeping medication at the age of thirty-two. Epstein’s death was ruled accidental, though rumors flew that he had been driven to suicide by romantic disappointments, amphetamine addiction and a gnawing fear that The Beatles were planning to dump him. (They weren’t.)

Epstein Dead

Epstein’s sudden demise devastated The Fab Four. Years later, John Lennon said that his first thought upon learning of their manager’s death was, “We’ve had it.”  Allen Klein heard the news of Brian Epstein’s death over a car radio. Legend has it that he was overjoyed, and began shouting, “Now, I’ve got them!”

John, Paul, George and Ringo had never been well versed in the business side of their band. With Epstein gone, they found themselves overwhelmed by financial decisions. Told they needed to start a business to soften the blow of England’s brutally high income taxes, they initially backed the hot fashion collective The Fool’s retail operation.

Unfortunately, the hippie-dippy designers who comprised the Fool were far more interested in spending the Beatles money on themselves than a store. The boutique generated huge losses, and was closed in the summer of 1968.  John and Yoko deemed that the existing stock should be given away, creating a snatch-and-grab shopping event that deteriorated into a near-riot.

The Beatles also launched Apple Corps, Ltd., an entertainment company that included a film division and a record label. At one point they seriously considered a joint venture with the Rolling Stones that would have merged key aspects of the two bands’ business operations. Despite promising initial meetings and Mick Jagger telling the press that the new company would be called Pear, each band eventually decided against the idea. At some point, Mick Jagger recommended Allen Klein to Paul McCartney, but McCartney never got in touch with Klein.

Apple LogoThe Beatles had big dreams for Apple, and new divisions, including music publishing and consumer electronics, were added. Despite the success of the record division, Apple quickly became a financial sinkhole. Too many friends and hangers on were being paid too much to do too little. Every new idea, no matter how impractical, seemed to be funded ad absurdum. Ridiculous expenses like a fully stocked, in-house wine cellar and on-staff chefs were common.

By the end of 1968, Apple’s levelheaded young accountant was fed up. His resignation letter warned The Beatles that, despite their years of success, the chaos at Apple would eventually bankrupt the band members.

CircusThat same December, John and Yoko were guests on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, a star-studded TV special that remained unseen until 1996 due to music licensing issues and the Stones unhappiness with their own performance. During the taping, Klein introduced himself to Lennon, humbly describing himself as “an accountant.” Lennon responded positively, saying that he feared ending up broke like American movie star Mickey Rooney. Klein’s face lit up.

Lennon Live

In January, 1969, John Lennon went public, moaning in an interview that the Beatles would be ruined in six months if they didn’t get Apple’s house in order.  Allen Klein began calling Lennon, and a meeting was arranged. As usual, Klein had done his homework. He knew Lennon’s music inside and out, and had versed himself in Yoko’s avant-garde works as well.

Klein outlined his strategies for straightening out the Apple fiasco, and even mentioned that he could get monies from United Artists’ movie deal with the Beatles to fund Yoko’s distinctly noncommercial experimental films (!). Without consulting the other Beatles, John Lennon wrote a letter stating that Allen Klein would be handling all of his business affairs. The tough-talking orphan from New Jersey who had earned his accounting degree in night school was on his way to managing the biggest band of all time.

(This concludes Part XIV. Click now to read Throwing Stones XV: For A Song!)