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Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group Hardcover – February 5, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
When did the money become more important than the music? Cornyn, a veteran of Warner Bros. Records from its birth in the late 1950s, fondly recalls when it was about the music (and the dames and drunken fun didn't hurt), a time before such terms as "units," "product," "industry" entered the vernacular. He's frank about the people and circumstances that have forever changed the business. Also realistic, he knows changes will continue (which is why he urges readers to turn this into a "living book" by contributing their own observations online). Having spent 34 years with the company in its many incarnations, Cornyn could've chosen the route of raunchy expose, but instead he delivers good gossip with high humor and class. He describes the unknowns who stepped in and rescued Warner during down times, like Bob Newhart with his comedy album in 1962, and later Madonna. Snappy stories of artists itching to break contracts Sinatra did so with "laryngitis," the Sex Pistols with urine, Jackson Browne with tears. But even juicier, as the company history unfolds, are the insider takes on the men (and the occasional women) behind the music, the boardroom brawls, midnight calls, hush-hush deals, and talks with Teamsters. Endearingly, he freeze-frames the grander moments, when someone makes the perfect quip or sings a line just right. This music narrative has all the elements drama, mystery, comedy, a course in business (royalties, payola, severance pay), debauchery (Queen's outrageous party in New Orleans) and history.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
A creative executive at Warner Bros. Records for 30 years, Cornyn presents a provocative, witty, and engrossing insider's story of that label and the cutthroat machinations of the record industry. Beginning with the takeover of Warner Bros. Pictures by the despicable Jack Warner, he charts the rise of Warner Records in the late 1950s with Mike Maitland, who first brought success to the label. He then moves to the merger of Warner Bros. Records with Frank Sinatra's Reprise label, its absorption of successful independents Atlantic and Elektra, and the buyout of Warner by Steve Ross of Kinney National, who created Warner Communications. Cornyn continues with Warner's assimilation of Asylum Records, its merger with Time, and its eventual union with Ted Turner's communications empire. Giving little emphasis to the artists except as fleeting commodities, the author graphically reveals the transition of Warner from a fledgling record company dedicated to unearthing the newest music trends to a corporate conglomerate obsessed with greater market share and escalating profits. Fans of record mogul tell-alls will enjoy this. Highly recommended for popular music collections. Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
In a way, the "record business" was almost too successful, in that the songs seemed to appear before you out of nowhere, and just as miraculously, the record would be in the bins to be purchased; the work of hundreds of people, the big organizations, the payola, the agents and the deals all hidden away, unnoticed.
Stan Cornyn was uniquely positioned as one of the original employees of Warner Brothers Music from its founding in the Fifties, through its heyday as the world's biggest music label group in the Seventies and Eighties, to its later decline. Not only that, but he became a major executive within the company but was a creative, music person and not a 'Suit". I first noticed him as a writer of Frank Sinatra's liner notes (for which he won Grammy awards) and also of delightfully over-the-top notes for Petula Clark's LP's. He went on as head of Warner's advertising and promotion to be a major creator of a label whose atmosphere appealed to the new crowd of singer-songwriters and rock stars who wanted to sign with this label and not its stodgy competitors.
Warner-Atlantic and later Asylum and others of the group became so big largely because of this perceived hipness during a period when almost all the other labels were completely out to sea about what was going on in music and often survived only because of a lucky signing of a Bob Dylan (Columbia) or Beatles (Capitol). And Cornyn was there it the thick of it, observing everything from the days when it was smaller than some of the independents to the Time-Warner merger and beyond. This is what makes the book so vital; that he found himself in the middle of the most signifigant label of the era, and not some also ran like RCA or Capitol.
It's telling that the early part of the book is focused on artists and creative, music-involved executives like the Erteguns and Mo Ostin and that the later part reads like a history of the Borgias as corporate suits take over and launch plots and counter plots against each other. Throughout it all Cornyn presents a keenly observed story in a witty and enjoyable way.
Let's deal with the problem that readers like reviewer Terry Saundry had. If you're looking for a book about the lives of rock stars full of stories and interviews, this is not it. Nor is it a work of aesthetic criticism of the music or a cultural history of the rock revolution of the mid Twentieth Century. It is indeed, a business history, but an important and vital one if one is looking to understand that era and what happened to subsequently change it: like Sallust says of Rome, it got too big and rich for its own good, and then the money-men moved in.
It might have been advisable to include a mention of the business nature of the book in the title because Mr. Saundry's complaint is a valid one. Also, as one gets later on in the book when the cast of corporate characters are not exactly well known music-associated names like David Geffen, a glossary of names and who they were would have been helpful. As it was, I took notes to remember just who these names were. Otherwise we are very lucky that Mr. Cornyn was where he was for so long, and had the talent to produce such an excellent and necessary book.
They gradually ratcheted down the price over the last year and a half and now they're back to under $20 for a like new copy---$10 or so for a good-condition. Buy it.
Cornyn worked his way from an anonymous liner-note jockey in the '50s, during Warner's formative years, to its Communications Director in the '70s and '80s, to head of the Warner New Media division in the '90s. He was there when Jack Warner nearly pulled the plug; there when Mo Ostin got the big chair, there when Atlantic, then Elektra came into the WEA fold. He saw it all firsthand, and as a talented writer should, weaves a tale that any rock music fan, record collector or follower of the Hollywood machine will find absolutely spellbinding.
I guarantee: when you're done with this, you'll want more. Luckily, you can cruise over to the Rhino Records website and get it, where Stan is now writing a twice-weekly column that fills in the gaps and gives many, many personal recollections of everyone from Dick & Dee Dee to Neil Young.
Recommended highly for music lovers - vinyl lovers especially - and anyone who looks back with fondness on the days when you could happily spend an afternoon of discovery pawing through the bins at your local record store, staring at cover art and reading liner notes, charting your own path through the universe of pop music. A+++. An easy 5 stars.
The turning point in the book is when after an exhaustive 8-10 hr meeting about sales units, how to change the corporate structure Cornyn got into this car to drive home and realized that during the whole 8 - 10 hr meeting, no one mentioned music. These guys were from the streets and got into the industry because of their passion for music.
The pace of the book is terrific, starts at the biginning of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Studio, builds up to the peak, then the reader is slowly let down when Cornyn starts talking numbers instead of artists.
It's a fun ride thru the "inside track"....enjoy!
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