A few of the characters—Clive Davis, Tommy Mottola, and Allen Grubman—are household names in the entertainment industry. However, Dannen sets the tone of the book by leading with the inter-industry confrontation between the major record labels and a loosely knit group of independent promoters known as The Network. The Network had a stranglehold on radio and demanded large fees from the record labels for airplay. The players in this showdown included record executives like Dick Asher, an Ivy League-trained attorney; Fred Disipio, a Network member with alleged ties to the Gambino crime family; and the late Frankie Crooker, a well-known New York City radio personality and program director at WBLS. Complete with courtroom battles, physical altercations, a NBC expose, and clandestine "Mafia Meetings," the fight over "payola" had the makings of an Oscar-worthy cliffhanger. The climax of this in-fighting would reshape how radio promotion is carried out and financed to this day.
In subsequent chapters, Dannen paints vivid pictures of the real-life characters that guided the industry out of its infancy. He starts with Morris Levy, who started out in the '50s in the New York City Jazz scene as a nightclub owner and promoter for acts like Charlie Parker. He was a tough kid from the Bronx who by the '70s was a multi-millionaire, mostly by virtue of swindling recording artists like Frankie Lymon (famous for singing "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?") out of their copyright ownership. In the '80s, life caught up with Levy when he was convicted for extortion after many brushes with the law. A fictional character based on Levy has had a recurring role in the HBO series "The Sopranos."
Then, of course, there are the well-known music moguls like current J Records/RCA boss Clive Davis. Hit Men
chronicles the rise and fall and rise again of the former lawyer from Brooklyn, turned flamboyant (if not arrogant) "Record Man." Davis started out as a Harvard Law-trained associate at Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petshek & Freund, now known as KMZ Rosenman. He initially entered the entertainment industry as an in-house attorney
at CBS Records, the largest label in the country at the time, and later led them into the rock 'n' roll era by signing acts like Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, and Santana. Dannen gives a blow-by-blow account from Davis' humble beginnings at CBS to his tumultuous firing to his re-coronation at Arista Records, where he was responsible for giving the world Whitney Houston.
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