An Analysis of the Book Hit Men by Frederic Dannen
Because of man’s desire for money and search for success or fame, anything will and has to be done even at the expense of others and the integrity of the industry in general. One’s effort to pursue his or her personal interest at all costs, which could be even detrimental to others, is an innate human nature. In fact, having others fail so as to advance and protect one’s interest is a manifestation of man’s survival instinct. Truly, this condition is ubiquitous; it happens in any industry, where its players are bound to make profit, expected to shine, and blinded to manipulate the whole business—whatever it may takes. One particular example wherein illegal power play and power grabbing, as well as indecent manipulation of the music business by means of bribery exist is what Frederic Dannen has successfully presented in his book “Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business.” It is a sad but a true reality that in the world of the music industry, icon Michael Jackson and the likes are faced and have endured the dirty internal works of the music industry. This is basically because such illegal practice is tolerated by the two key players of the business who are regarded as the hit men.
The music industry has two kinds of people: the record person who is the main man with a natural sense for a hit song, and the operator who has the character of a streetwise opportunist. These two types of music people have played music together for the last decades promoting their respective personal interest rather than that of the industry. Now, if one ever wonders why this business continues, it is for the reason that music is a simple business of “I’ll scratch your back and you’ll scratch mine” internal policy among the hit men—from the singers or record artists, to their promoters, and down to the bribe takers. This, in fact, is what Dannen’s Hit Men has vividly and concretely presented in an effort to expose the lingering illness of the music industry and make people realize that nothing can be done about it unless the hit men never cease to exist.
Through Dannen’s Eyes
American author Frederick Dannen was known for his crack of investigative journalism through his book “Hit Men” that looked into and unveiled what lies beyond the business dealings of the major American record companies during the 1970s. Centering on the professional careers of executives Walter Yetnikoff and Dick Asher of the leading record company at that time, CBS Records, Dannen’s “Hit Men” was able to unearth how the two and the rest of the members of the music industry illegally work behind the scenes. In the perspective of an outsider like Dannen, his book allows the readers to peek at how bribery and other illegal dealings can bring a particular record or song to the Top 40 charts in the United States from the 1970s up to the 1980s. Through the book, Dannen enabled the public to explore how large sums of money generated by phenomenal hits of recording artists are a result of laundering and bribery by industry manipulators such as Yetnikoff and Asher. “Hit Men”: An Overview and Analysis
The wonder of Hit Men lies on the manner Dannen successfully revealed who benefits from the trail of big money and how the offensive yet self-serving power play works within the music business. The book starts with a general presentation of how the music industry works. Then, by the end of the __ chapter, it evolves into a ranting written piece aimed against the likes of Yetnikoff and Asher. Hit Men depicts the real but disturbing conversion of the record industry from what used to be only an improvised circle of free and self-sustaining businessmen such as record promoters, talent recruiters or managers, and people who have a penchant for a hit music, to a cheating, self-serving, back-scratching and bribing business.
The book is a well-organized but painful manifestation of the dangerous nature of the pop genre of music and how can this evolve as a lucrative and influential business. It sums up the nitty-gritty politics and mechanisms of how the popular songs of the equally famous record artists that the public listen to on Top 40 actually reach the top and why they strike the charts. The book proves that the 1970s is an era where the greedy players of the music industry, in the person of the promoters, the people behind the radio stations and even the recording artists themselves, do whatever they can as well as pay and earn for big sum of money just to make it to the Top 40 ratings. Moreover, the book reveals the stories behind small players with limited finances and how they battled it out with the big business’ players who manipulate and dictate the trend of the music industry. As Dannen wrote, “Top 40 stations lived and died on ratings” (Dannen 6). The author added “…This was deliberate, since the Network was the means to deprive small labels of access to the Top 40 airwaves and increase the market share of the large labels” (Dannen 14).
Hit Men is also an obvious narration of Dannen’s resistance against anomalous business practices of reported greedy industry players. This is because the author was all fed up with Yetnikoff’s profitable yet dirty dealings. His alleged vicious ways, as portrayed in the book, made him an apparent and perfect picture of a back scratcher of the back scratcher. Hence, it is only a justifiable effort on the part of Dannen and his book to pin down Yetnikoff. The latter’s use of evil ways in brokering the sale of CBS and Columbia to Sony during the 1980s involved the phenomenal fame of the Thriller album of the King of Pop Michael Jackson. Efforts to put down an investigation into the bribery and other anomalies of the radio industry during the 1980s warrant the book’s regard of him as an unrefined and offensive person worthy of public contempt and criticism.
How the “Indies” work for money
The book’s powerful and convincing portrayal of the anomaly within the music industry is through its mention of one of the 1980s hottest bands—the English rock band Pink Floyd. Although the Pink Floyd had remarkable record sales and consistent sold out concerts, the band had a hard time getting an airplay at first. However, this was only until the book has exposed how the group got the services of the then emerging group of independent pluggers known as the “Indies.” The book has exemplified how the illegal and anomalous mechanics by the Indies who also have suspected syndicate connections have shown a fresh approach of the payola or bribery system. Dannen said that “the independent promoters were freelance record pluggers with an uncanny knack for getting Top 40 radio stations to play a certain song. They sold their services to any company that could afford them. A few independent promoters were so effective that record companies kept them on retainer and paid them bonuses whenever they scored a station (Dannen 5). This illegal practice was proven by the book during the era of Asher and Yetnikoff when the big record companies or what were called the major labels were paying top indies a huge sum of money. Dannen was even brave enough to blatantly disclose that CBS Records, which is the largest labels, outspent other big companies in this “bribery” service.
It’s all in the family
In the same critical study of the music business, Hit Men has also accused that the industry’s tolerance and acceptance of the anomaly within the system, as well as the illegal practices of the Indies, likewise revealed the refutable techniques used in this kind of high adventure bribery field. The book was correct after all, regarding its disclosure of the existing pay-off practice in the music business. This is because aside from the significant role played by the Indies and recording artists. The bribery is also an imminent nature among the disc jockeys who are directly playing the songs that are targeted to reach the Top 40 charts. In fact, as early as in 1959, a US Congressional subcommittee investigated the reported anomalous practice within the industry. The probe ended empty handed but not the job of Alan Freed, the disc-jockey turned con man famous for creating the fresh music genre which was then popularly called as rock and roll (Dannen 11, 29 & 39). Although Freed did not enter the business originally as a crook, Dannen’s book reports that the industry’s apparent glorification of con artists has not stopped. This is evident with anomalous personalities in the likes of known power-brokers Morris Levy of the 1950s who bragged of becoming rich because of bribery. It also includes the Mafia which infiltrated the music industry, and of course Yetnikoff, who just continued the business within the familiar circle (Dannen 29, 31 & 54).
Dannen fostered the above concept when he stated that “the (rock music) business reveres only two types of people. One is the “record man,”’ the person with an innate sense of a hit record, and the other is the colorful “character,” the streetwise hustler” (16). Dannen’s attribution of Yetnikoff’s unscrupulous business style to industry pioneers Freed and Levy has proven that such irregularities are commonly happening in the music industry. As the author wrote, “…These men established the shaky moral foundation on which the modern record industry is built” (Dannen 25).
Conclusion: An Aftermath of “Hit Men”
The group of independent promoters also known as Indies and who are likewise acclaimed members of the “Network” (Dannen 9, 10) have eventually bowed out and left the limelight. This is basically for reasons ranging from criminal prosecution and death. While there are still a number of record companies that employ the service of the Network, it has gradually disappeared. The mafia-like business of Yetnikoff and others in the group was beset by boycott and succeeding court trials. As a result, the music industry has eventually witnessed the downfall not just of the recording icons but most importantly of those who made themselves rich from the business such as the players whom Dannen’s book has tagged as the Hit Men (Dannen 331-341). However, it is critically worthy to note that, despite solid pieces of evidence of violations of crimes, a lot of industry insiders still tend to belittle the issue. This is after they have pointed out that not all in the business are corrupt or bribe takers. While this may be correct, it is still essential not to be left unguarded especially for someone who still perceives that pay-off or bribery should not and never be used as a determining factor for a record to reach the top.
Dannen, Frederic. Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business. New York: Random House, 1991.