The notorious and pugnacious manager of artists including The Rolling Stones and Sam Cooke, Allen Klein took control of The Beatles’ business affairs in 1969, following the death of Brian Epstein.
Born in America on 18 December 1931, Klein was the son of Jewish immigrants from Budapest. As a teenager he excelled at mental arithmetic. After graduating from Upsala College, New Jersey in 1956, he began auditing for record companies and bookkeeping for a number of showbusiness names.
In 1957 he began a business partnership with his wife Betty. Two years later he met singer Bobby Darin at a wedding, and offered to make him $100,000. Darin asked what he needed to do, and Klein reportedly said: “Nothing. Just let me go over your accounts.”
Klein pursued Darin’s record company for money he regarded as owed to the singer. Darin gave Klein free rein to audit his accounts, and duly received the cheque Klein had promised.
The hostile approach became Klein’s trademark. He picked up further celebrity clients, and record labels began to fear his methods.
In 1963 Klein became Sam Cooke’s business manager, negotiating an unprecedented agreement between the star and the music industry: Cooke ended up with the rights to all his future recordings, gate receipts for concert, 10% of all record sales and back royalties.
The deal had a huge effect on the music industry, though it’s worth remembering that he was far from the only management svengali around at the time. Andrew Loog Oldham, for example, secured ownership of all The Rolling Stones’ master tapes, which he then leased to Decca; a method he picked up from Phil Spector.
When Oldham fell victim to drugs in 1965, Klein took over management of the Stones’ affairs. Jagger, initially impressed by Klein’s business skills, recommended him to Paul McCartney, who was looking for someone to take over The Beatles’ business matters. Klein met John Lennon on the set of the Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus, but they didn’t discuss business and little came of the meeting.
The Rolling Stones soon began to doubt the trustworthiness of Klein. They decided to fire him in the late 1960s, and in 1970 set up their own business. However, a legal settlement left Klein the rights to most of their songs recorded before 1971.
With The Beatles
Shortly after the recording of Rock And Roll Circus, Allen Klein read a comment by John Lennon that financial problems at Apple Corps would leave them “broke in six months”.
The Beatles had been without a manager since Epstein died in August 1967. Although NEMS, headed by Brian’s brother Clive, had looked after the day-to-day running, and Paul McCartney was mostly steering the band’s artistic direction, there was little grasp of the bigger picture. There were, crucially, few people trusted to sort out the practicalities of business as Epstein had done.
By 1969 it was clear that Apple’s finances needed to be addressed urgently. McCartney favoured his father-in-law Lee Eastman, but the others – led by Lennon, who on 28 January had appointed Klein his personal advisor on the spot after a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel in London – objected. They felt that Eastman would put McCartney’s interests ahead of the rest of the group.
Klein offered to take a commission only on The Beatles’ increased business, a change in his normal method of operating. If Apple continued losing money, he said, he would take nothing.
With Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr united, Paul McCartney agreed to pose for photographs with Klein as a sign of unity. However, although he pretended to sign a new contract, he never put his signature to it. The subsequent fall-out over the management of the group was one of the key factors in their break-up.
Allen Klein swiftly renegotiated their EMI contract, obtaining them the highest royalties ever paid to an artist at the time. EMI, in return, were allowed to release Beatles compilations, which Brian Epstein had always resisted.
The single Something/Come Together was released on 31 October 1969. Until then, The Beatles had never lifted a single from one of their albums; they had either been stand-alone, or released on the same day as their parent album. The release illustrated the band’s shifting attitudes towards money-making and artistry.
Klein’s action gave The Beatles a hit and some much-needed income. He also helped resurrect the abandoned Get Back project, which became Let It Be. Klein brought Phil Spector to England to work on it, a move which led to years of resentment from Paul McCartney.
Apple Corps was overhauled, and Klein drastically cut expenditure, cancelled charge accounts for many staff and friends of the band. Although in many ways necessary, Klein’s business ethos was in stark contrast to the anything-goes attitude with which Apple was set up. He alienated many of those who had previously been part of the band’s circle, and fired Epstein’s long-standing assistant Alistair Taylor.
He also closed the loss-making experimental and spoken word imprint Zapple, which only released two albums: Lennon and Yoko Ono‘s Unfinished Music No 2: Life With The Lions; and Harrison’s Electronic Sound, which carried the liner note, “There are a lot of people around, making a lot of noise; here’s some more.”
Although McCartney deeply distrusted Klein, he admitted to him, “If you are screwing us, I don’t see how.” McCartney went on to sue the other Beatles in order to dissolve The Beatles’ business partnership.
The solo years
After The Beatles split up, Allen Klein assisted John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the making of the Imagine film, and helped George Harrison organise the Concert for Bangladesh. The concert’s financial arrangements led to a breakdown in relations with the former Beatles.
Rather than arrange payment and agree amounts with UNICEF beforehand, Klein had waited until after the concert, which led to questions about the amounts raised and a US tax investigation. Although some funds went to UNICEF at the time, additional amounts were frozen until the 1980s. Klein was also accused of keeping money from the live album.
Klein had also agreed with Harrison that Ono shouldn’t perform at the concert, which led to a breakdown in Klein’s relationship with Lennon. Klein was fired, but sued Lennon, Harrison and Starr for $19 million. In 1977 he settled for $4.2 million.
My Sweet Lord
An interesting footnote concerns George Harrison’s 1971 hit My Sweet Lord. Harrison was sued by Bright Tunes Music due to the song’s similarity to The Chiffons’ 1963 song He’s So Fine. Although he said he “wasn’t consciously aware of the similarity”, he was later found to have “unintentionally copied” elements from the song.
Allen Klein supported Harrison during the early stages of the lawsuit, and following the judgement advised him to offer to buy Bright Tunes as part of the settlement negotiations. When The Beatles collectively sued Klein, however, ABKCO chose to outbid Harrison for Bright Tunes.
In 1978 Klein paid $587,000 for the copyright of He’s So Fine. Therefore, Klein became Harrison’s legal opponent; in effect, he was attempting to buy the lawsuit in order to get damages he knew Harrison would have to pay.
Judge Owen later ruled that Klein had unfairly switched sides, and that he shouldn’t profit from the judgement against Harrison or from the purchase of the song rights. Klein was awarded $587,000, to be payable by Harrison to ABCKO. In return, Harrison got the rights to He’s So Fine.
Watch out now,
beware of soft shoe shufflers,
Dancing down the sidewalks.
Pushing you in puddles
in the dead of night,
Beware of ABKCO.
Allen Klein died on Saturday 4 July 2009 of Alzheimer’s disease, at his home in New York City. He was 77.