Hit Men by Fredric Dannen


Although I enjoyed it myself and it granted me the inside info I was looking for, I really can’t say I would suggest reading this book to everyone.  It’s a rather dry, almost legal report of the inner workings of the music business from the 50’s to the 80’s.

Don’t get me wrong, Dannen did a respectable job trying to make it interesting, but the subject matter just got the better of him.  Granted if you are a bitter musician or a waspy business guy, you might think this book is a page turner.  Personally, I was trying to fill in some gaps in my musical knowledge, sort of get the who’s who on the music business side of things.

Basically the book outlines documented (and some not so-documented) crooked dealings in the Music Industry.  Focusing mainly on payola and the group of promotors who were the record companies agents of payola after it was outlawed in 1959 who were referred to as “The Network”.  Instead of giving you a synopsis of the “story” that the author cobbles together or give you any more detail, I will try to acomplish for you what I originally sought by reading this book.  I will do this by giving you a quick overview on the cast of characters covered in the book.  Keep in mind the book doesn’t cover every important higher-up in the music industry during those years,  it focuses mainly on the more corrupt individuals or the ones directly involved in Payola or “The Network”.


Alan Freed:  Internationally renown “Rock and Roll” DJ and all around important figure in rise of Rock N Roll, also known as Moondog.  Not only did he heavily promote the music, he is considered the one who coined the term.  Even though it was common practice at the time Freed was accused of taking Payola in 1959 which pretty much ended his career.

Morris Levy:  One of the longest running and possibly most crooked music executives in America.  Spent 30 years as a music business insider from the 50’s straight into the 80’s.  Best known for creating Roulette Records, he had his hands in many different aspects of the business.  He was convicted (as a conspiritor) in a federal Extortion case in 1986, he died shortly after.  A close friend to Walter Yetnikoff – see below.
William Paley:  CEO of CBS and the man who is probably responsible for turning the company into a media powerhouse.  Paley purchased a struggling radio company in 1928 and renamed it CBS, from there he successfully expanded into television broadcasting, and record companies (mainly Columbia Records among others) until he stepped down in 1977 and named Thomas Wyman the new president of CBS. 
LIEBERSON_Goddard_phE Goddard Lieberson:  The sharp dressed, sophisticated president of Columbia records from 1956 to 1967, then again in 1973 to 1975.  Under Leiberson’s leadership the label produced and released mainly classical music and Original Cast Recordings. 
Clive Davis:  A protege of Goddard Leiberson, Davis took his place as President of Columbia Records in 1967.  Davis had a hipper sensibility and was able to land a large group of new and emerging Rock N Roll artists.  Ousted from Columbia in 1973 for allegedly using company funds to pay for his son’s bar mitzvah, he went on to found Arista Records and land even more big talent as president there until 2000.  Davis is currently president of Sony Music Entertainment which has now absorbed all of the record companies that Davis had previously worked for.
Walter Yetnikoff:  President of Columbia Records from 1975 to 1990.  Infamous for his outlandish behavior and some-times abrasive style, Yetnikoff helmed Columbia during one of its most successful & profitable periods.  The book focuses quite a bit on Yetnikoff mainly because of his colorful style and his insistance on using the outside promotion power of “The Network”.
DickAsher Dick Asher:  Served as deputy president under Walter Yetnikoff.  He is another main focus of the book, as counterpoint to Yetnikoff.  Asher was a military man, straight-laced and sensible.  He was the first to challenge the use of “The Network”, although his attempts were unsuccessful.  He was fired from CBS by Yetnikoff in 1983 for vague reasons.  He later served as president of Polygram Records.
09WYMA Thomas Wyman:  Took over as CEO of CBS from founder William Paley in 1977 until being ousted by Paley and majority stock holder Laurence Tisch in 1986.
Allen+Grubman Allen Grubman:  The Lawyer to the stars and good friend of Walter Yetnikoff, he has represented the music industries biggest stars including Madonna, Elton John, and Mariah Carey.  His unconventional practice of “not sueing” and representing both the artists and the record companies has made him highly desirable for both sides.  
Mo_Ostin-c Mo Ostin:  Started ou at Verve Records and then was hired as president of Reprise Records by Frank Sinatra.  In 1963 he became the president and later the CEO of Warner Bros. Records where he worked until 1994.
  Ahmet Ertegun: He co-founded (w/ Jerry Wexler) and became president of Atlantic Records in 1947.  He continued to be involved in the company all the way until his death in 2006.  Atlantic Records was sold to the Kinney Conglomerate in 1967 which later became part of Time Warner. 
FDisipio Fred DiSipio:  One of the head promotors in “The Network” suspected of paying radio stations to play songs.  In 1986 was seen having a meeting with members of the Gambino crime family and mob boss John Gotti.  
ad9fea4b-f6c4-5e2e-a3b8-1e8e2e7cf86f.preview-300 Joseph Isgro:  Another member of “The Network”, the group of independant promotors that the major labels were making rich to administer payola to radio stations and get records played.  Isgro repeatedly got in trouble with the law throughout the 80’s and 90’s
.   Frank Dileo:  Hired as the VP of National Promotion for Epic Records (Owned by CBS) in 1979 by Walter Yetnikoff.  Took over as Michael Jackson’s Manager in 1984 after the huge success of Thriller.  Also known to have connection with the Gambino Crime family.
  Neil Bogart:  Best known as the president of the party-minded and drug fueled Casablanca RecordsDied in 1982 of Cancer which was probably brought on by his wild lifestyle. 
  David Geffen:  Mentioned along with Tommy Mottola (See below) as music industry up and comers in the 70’s and 80’s.  Founded Asylum Records in 1970 which merged with Elektra Records two years later.  In 1980 he founded Geffen Records which eventually became known as DGC, was eventually sold and reabsorbed into other companies a bunch of times. 
  Tommy Mottola:  Another up-and-comer Mottola rose quick to become the head of Sony Music Entertainment in 1990.  Most well known as the Ex-husband of Mariah Carey. 
 TischLaurence Laurence Tisch:  Self made billionaire and Wall Street investor became president and CEO of all of CBS in 1986.  Along with Walter Yetnikoff, helmed the sale of Columbia (CBS) Records to Sony for $2 billion in 1991.

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