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Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business

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Copiously researched and documented, Hit Men is the highly controversial portrait of the pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America's largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley da Copiously researched and documented, Hit Men is the highly controversial portrait of the pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America's largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley days to the present day, Fredric Dannen examines in depth the often venal, sometimes illegal dealings among the assorted hustlers and kingpins who rule over this multi-billion-dollar business. 


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Copiously researched and documented, Hit Men is the highly controversial portrait of the pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America's largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley da Copiously researched and documented, Hit Men is the highly controversial portrait of the pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America's largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley days to the present day, Fredric Dannen examines in depth the often venal, sometimes illegal dealings among the assorted hustlers and kingpins who rule over this multi-billion-dollar business. 

30 review for Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    If you come into it expecting tales of rock-star debauchery, you'll be disappointed. Actually, you'll be disappointed if you're expecting anything more than passing mention of actual musicians; here, they're little more than names on Billboard charts, or clients of superstar lawyers. In fact, the juiciest "rock star" story here involves an irate Paul Simon tersely suggesting Clive Davis should read a particular book. "Backstage Passes" this is not. What you will find is an involving story about t If you come into it expecting tales of rock-star debauchery, you'll be disappointed. Actually, you'll be disappointed if you're expecting anything more than passing mention of actual musicians; here, they're little more than names on Billboard charts, or clients of superstar lawyers. In fact, the juiciest "rock star" story here involves an irate Paul Simon tersely suggesting Clive Davis should read a particular book. "Backstage Passes" this is not. What you will find is an involving story about the true power brokers of the record business - at least as far as it existed before Kurt Cobain came along and temporarily rearranged the rules of the game. Indeed, reading this made me realize that Sean Parker, in his role as the inventor of Napster, is truly one of the most consequential figure in the history of recorded music.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    In some ways, Fred Dannen's rock-industry expose HIT MEN is less compelling than Marc Eliot's similar ROCKONOMICS: it covers only the 70s and 80s (with a bit of dirt about earlier eras) while Eliot surveys the entire history of the recording industry (through the late 80s). In one way, it's better: unlike Eliot, Dannen documents his sources, leaving you feeling that events really happened as he says they did, instead of thinking (as all too often with Eliot's book) "How interesting--wonder how t In some ways, Fred Dannen's rock-industry expose HIT MEN is less compelling than Marc Eliot's similar ROCKONOMICS: it covers only the 70s and 80s (with a bit of dirt about earlier eras) while Eliot surveys the entire history of the recording industry (through the late 80s). In one way, it's better: unlike Eliot, Dannen documents his sources, leaving you feeling that events really happened as he says they did, instead of thinking (as all too often with Eliot's book) "How interesting--wonder how true it is." (Though not everything is right; Dannen gets wrong the date of the Beach Boys' signing with Columbia, for instance.) The story about the head of TK Records "giving" TK artist George MacRae a RENTED Cadillac in lieu of royalties, when MacRae had the #1 disc in the country ("Rock Your Baby") is truly sickening. And I'm sorry I saw the overrated movie RISKY BUSINESS in a theater, now that I know some of my cash went into the pocket of CBS Records sleazeball Walter Yetnikoff.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Interesting and totally slimy look at the music industry.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Byron

    You sometimes see this book atop lists of the best music books of all time, and with good reason. It's everything you always wanted to know about the music industry, including whether or not it's run by the mafia, how payola works and the many ways labels rip off artists. This was written back in the early '90s, based mostly on things that happened back in the '70s and '80s, but the version I have was updated maybe 10 years ago, i.e. after the industry fell apart but pre-Spotify, and it didn't s You sometimes see this book atop lists of the best music books of all time, and with good reason. It's everything you always wanted to know about the music industry, including whether or not it's run by the mafia, how payola works and the many ways labels rip off artists. This was written back in the early '90s, based mostly on things that happened back in the '70s and '80s, but the version I have was updated maybe 10 years ago, i.e. after the industry fell apart but pre-Spotify, and it didn't seem like things had changed much at that point.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

    (2). A terrific glimpse into the record business in the 70's and 80's. Dry as it can be, but full of all kinds of interesting information and insight into a portion of organized crime's association with the music industry. Combined with a rare inside look at how the corporate conglomerates dealt with goings on makes this an important book for true music nuts like myself. Lots of pages on CBS and Walter Yetnikoff, his associates and rivals, with a touch of David Geffen, Irving Azoff and some Larr (2). A terrific glimpse into the record business in the 70's and 80's. Dry as it can be, but full of all kinds of interesting information and insight into a portion of organized crime's association with the music industry. Combined with a rare inside look at how the corporate conglomerates dealt with goings on makes this an important book for true music nuts like myself. Lots of pages on CBS and Walter Yetnikoff, his associates and rivals, with a touch of David Geffen, Irving Azoff and some Larry Tisch at the end. Fun for me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    J

    Even though it is heavily implied to revolve around the industry’s connections to organized crime, the book mostly delivers a captivating read on petty, egomaniac man-babies and their various, often borderline or straight up hilarious common feuds. Oh, and litigation. So, so much litigation. The author does an amazing job building and describing these larger-than-life characters through research, unforgettable quotes and his own dry commentary without taking too pointed of a sympathetic stance to Even though it is heavily implied to revolve around the industry’s connections to organized crime, the book mostly delivers a captivating read on petty, egomaniac man-babies and their various, often borderline or straight up hilarious common feuds. Oh, and litigation. So, so much litigation. The author does an amazing job building and describing these larger-than-life characters through research, unforgettable quotes and his own dry commentary without taking too pointed of a sympathetic stance towards any of them.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason Dikes

    All record company executives are low-life scum. This book exposes the way record companies regularly cheat and scam their artists out of tens of thousands of dollars and the payola schemes of the 1980s. An update explain the wrecking ball effect that Napster had and why nobody shed any tears for the large companies.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sonny Dyon

    Read for research for something I’m working on Undoubtedly an exhaustive and thoroughly well researched account of a bunch of pricks who hate music. The payola stuff and reading about Walter yetnikoff’s ruin certainly did make me salivate but I’d say the other 70% was what I used to fall asleep at night

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexandria Davis

    I'm not sure how accurate all of the information is, but it was very interesting to understand how the behind the scenes of the music industry works. The most powerful people in the game aren't always the artists so it was fascinating to read about the individuals that paved the way for musicians.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Too in depth for me; this focuses on record executives over the past decades and there was just too many names and characters that I didn't really care about. Found parts of it interesting but wasn't particularly useful information. More of a history book for people who are super interested in the industry.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Lyon

    A well researched book, but it sure is depressing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jonny Brick

    The music industry was a mafia-like domain of crooks and charlatans who did anything for big bucks. Scary stuff in a seminal book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Dipietro

    I work in the music industry so I thought it was pretty interesting. Not sure anyone not in the business would care. So many names to remember throughout the book. My head was spinning!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    A super interesting read about the importance of record promoters in the 70s and 80s to drive album and singles sales. Dannen sets out to tell the story of how the industry began to turn against paying these promoters as those expenses ate up more and more of the revenue. Payola, in which cash (and drugs and women) payments were made to DJs and program directors, had been around for decades, but many had assumed that the big Federal crackdown in the early 1960s had killed it. Dannen describes ho A super interesting read about the importance of record promoters in the 70s and 80s to drive album and singles sales. Dannen sets out to tell the story of how the industry began to turn against paying these promoters as those expenses ate up more and more of the revenue. Payola, in which cash (and drugs and women) payments were made to DJs and program directors, had been around for decades, but many had assumed that the big Federal crackdown in the early 1960s had killed it. Dannen describes how the practice had just morphed into another version. Networks of promoters, many tied to the Mob, would lobby thru all means to get songs on the air and in heavy rotation. The Dannen book also becomes a tale of 2 giants of the record industry, Clive Davis and Walter Yetnikof, and how their rise and fall was tied to the tale of record promotion. Record promotion as a practice fell apart due to a combination of more Federal (and media) investigations and the now more consolidated record industry's ability to force artists to pay for the service out of their end not the labels. A couple stand out thoughts from this read are: (1) Someone needs to write a version of this book covering the market structure and practice of the music biz since 1990 and (2) It is spooky that all the iconic big name acts in this tale from 25 years ago have few new additions. Sure there were some losses like Jacko and Whitney Houston, but the inability to create many long lasting acts over the last 30 years is amazing. Try naming 5 acts in the last 30 years to attain any staying power. U2...maybe? Madonnna....not as much staying power as I would have thouhgt 10-15 years ago. People seem to like Pearl Jam still, but they are in a weird self imposed exile.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    "Despite being published 20 years ago, this paperback edition of Dannen’s explosive music industry exposé is an enthralling read. Dannen casts a wide net in detailing the shady practice of goosing record airplay and sales — going back to the payola scandal of the ’50s and earlier — but mostly the book focuses on a ring of sleazy 'independent promoters' who racked up millions in the freewheeling late ’70s and early ’80s. The book has a large cast of colorful characters (too large, to be honest), "Despite being published 20 years ago, this paperback edition of Dannen’s explosive music industry exposé is an enthralling read. Dannen casts a wide net in detailing the shady practice of goosing record airplay and sales — going back to the payola scandal of the ’50s and earlier — but mostly the book focuses on a ring of sleazy 'independent promoters' who racked up millions in the freewheeling late ’70s and early ’80s. The book has a large cast of colorful characters (too large, to be honest), and everyone from thuggish bodyguards to pampered label execs gets a vivid portrait. The main thing I got from this book is that a good old boy mentality pervades the entire industry, and even the highest of label heads have the double-dealing oiliness of mob bosses. Dannen reserves his sharpest barbs for ’80s CBS Records head Irving Azoff, who here seems like the ultimate gladhanding sleazebag. A real eye-opener, and I wonder if it would be all that different for today’s music climate. Given what currently hits the charts, payola must continue being an essential part of the biz. The chapter on disco label Casablanca alone is worth its weight in gold." - Scrubbles.net review, June 13, 2010.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Darin

    This book is an intriguing history of major players and executives in the music business. It primarily focuses on CBS records and its subsidiaries, including direct quotes and interviews with a lot of those executives. The spark that seemed to inspire the book was a resurgance of payola charges in the late 80's. The end of the book highlights some court cases that were beginning to be filed against independent promoters for payola charges. The only disappointment about the book is that the court This book is an intriguing history of major players and executives in the music business. It primarily focuses on CBS records and its subsidiaries, including direct quotes and interviews with a lot of those executives. The spark that seemed to inspire the book was a resurgance of payola charges in the late 80's. The end of the book highlights some court cases that were beginning to be filed against independent promoters for payola charges. The only disappointment about the book is that the court cases it mentions at the end did not have a conclusion at press time, so the final resolution of its topics somewhat looms.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    I wanted to like this account of corruption in the music industry more; the subject matter is really interesting. But it was a little too inside baseball for me. The book was at its best when it focused on the larger-than-life personalities of the music industry in the 1970s and '80s, but when it got into excruciating and unnecessary detail on the minutiae of the business transactions, it lost me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    What a great detailed book about the music industry. I would recommend, however, that you do not use this as your bible. Read other books (and there are many) about the same topic by insiders who were around the see it. Somewhere between this book and the others is the complete truth. This book give you a great sense of those who made the music BUSINESS what it is today.. For music junkies out there.. until you understand the history, you don’t know really know everything you need to.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a fantastic book if you really want to know the history of the senior executive machinations at CBS Records during the 70's and 80's or about the Network of indie promoters who controlled radio play during the same time. It is not a fantastic book if you wanted to know about the history of the music industry during that time more generally. It's competently but not amazingly well written and seems to suffer from a focus bias based on the author's sources.

  20. 5 out of 5

    kebya

    A little like the Bible in it's history ("Clive begot Walter who betrayed Dick. . .") but still an interesting account of the '70s-'80s music biz. I only paid attention to some of this from a distance, since I was in the small indie world at the time, but it's still fascinating today. It reminds me that the music industry has faced challenges before (though it's looking pretty bleak in 2008).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna Bond

    I would love to reread this now, in light of the major-label profit hemorrhaging of the past few years. Less gloating than there could be, though, as the indies are catching up. Amazing stories of rich, corrupt, powerful men who were responsible for all the popular music of the Woodstock generation and beyond.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    An essential read for anyone in the music business, a tale of the 20th century birth of the 'record business' which starts with shellac and ends up in the late 20th century. All the greed, drugs and corruption, all the big names and scams, deals and hustles. People being hung out windows, drug crazed bosses, sex, booze, glamour and greed. Delicious.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This book is exactly what the subtitle states. It looks at the big power brokers behind the major record labels in the 1970's and 1980's. It was published in 1991 so it is rather dated, but it does show how the record industry is dominated by personalities rather than musicians or businessmen. (and they're all men, too).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scott Fuchs

    The subtitle of course, gives credence [along with a broad smile] to the double entendre to the title. Although I read this book over 20 years ago, much of it has stayed with me, especially the 'saga' of Morris Levy, dubbed the 'Father of Payola'. All in all I recall it as a well written account of the recording business in in one of its early heydeys. My copy is the hardcover

  25. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

    I found this book very engaging. Enough so that I'm reading it again two whole years later. The behind the scenes corruption, drug use, and manipulation exposed by this book will change your view of the music industry.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Jasper

    This book was informative and helped understand what it was like to be a part of CBS Records in the 60s through 80s. It really framed the payola scandals of the 80s as a power play between labels and independent radio promoters. If that sounds interesting to you, you'll like the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lord Humungus

    Recommended by a fellow music fan, this was an absolutely fascinating look at the inner workings of the (now faded) music industry. There was stuff I'd read before, stuff I'd suspected and then whole new vistas of nepotism, corruption and general slime that I hadn't quite expected. Great read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Urban

    Whether you are in the music biz or not, this is a racy, entertaining read that, amongst other things, explains why Phil Collins had such enoumous success despite being worse than a rectal haemorrhage.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paul Harris

    Hit men is a very entertaining read bout certain aspects of teh music industry in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. Probably quite dull to anyone who couldn't care less about the music industry. But it is surprisingly impartial and not overly critical of what must have been a very fun time.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matt Ringler

    Interesting look behind the scenes of the record industry. Provides incredible insight into the behind-the-scenes dealmaking of the music industry. Only wish that this didn't end in 1991. Would have liked to see today's industry in the context of these tales.

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