The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group.
Stan Cornyn and Paul Scanlon. William Morrow & Co. 480 pages.
here or on the cover image to purchase this book.)
published on Monday, January 21, 2002 in The Miami Herald.
If you've ever read
histories of companies penned by insiders, you quickly discovered
that they either glossed over or omitted huge chunks of potentially
actionable material, or the author wielded and ground such a colossal
axe that the reminiscences were worthless.
Such is not the case with Stan Cornyn's terrific history of Warner
Brothers Records and the Warner Music Group. One would expect no
less from the man who wrote such dynamic and irreverent advertisements
and album-liner notes in the '60s and '70s that they are recalled
with alacrity and fondness to this day.
But deft copy writing is no guarantee of anything, although Cornyn's
memory, aided by surprisingly revealing interviews with key (and
bit) players makes for one of the most authoritative books on the
now-past golden age of the music business.
Hard to believe today, as the world's few remaining companies cling
to their existence in the wake of the digital music suicide-massacre,
but Warner Music was once a nimble, fertile enterprise run intuitively
by hardheaded businessmen.
Now, like most labels swallowed up by successively larger corporate
fish, the Warner Music Group is but an appendage of a many-tentacled
conglomerate, with AOL at its head. But once it was a key component
of a smaller, though formidable corporate enterprise headed by Steve
Ross, who parlayed his marriage into a family who ran funeral parlors
in New York City into the CEO-ship of a company that owned everything
from parking lots to DC Comics.
Then he acquired the Warner Brothers film studio, with its afterthought
of a record company, and was astounded to discover the huge gobs
of cash generated by the music entity. So he got into it with a
vengeance, adding Atlantic and Elektra Records to the mix, creating
a music monster that dominated the industry for decades.
Cornyn and Scanlon accurately evoke many of the casual excesses
of the industry as it grew like mad in the '60s and '70s, cooled
in the '80s and achieved nova status in the '90s. The book works
on many levels: For business people, it's a fascinating view of
the inner workings of one of the country's most interesting, celebrated
and imitated companies and its blindingly colorful cadre of executives,
including Steve Ross, Mo Ostin, Joe Smith, Ahmet Ertegun, Robert
Morgado, Doug Morris, Richard Parsons and the rest.
For music fans, it's
a trip through the history of popular (and unpopular but influential)
music of the last half century: Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Frank
Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Madonna, Debbie Boone and everyone in
For music industry personnel, Exploding is the very best attempt
yet to make sense of a time when what used to be called ``the record
business'' was an irresistible magnet for creative people - before
the hegemonic destruction of the domestic radio and concert businesses,
when bands sometimes didn't take off until their third albums -
or fourth tours, when promotion was in still in motion . . . back
in the day.