My new Nation column is The Power of Piketty's ‘Capital’.
It is described as follows: “A brilliant book has named the problem of our time. But will anything change?”
I’ll be at Jazzfest this weekend, weather-permitting. Feel free to email me your NOLA dining suggestions. For those of you in the city, check out the schedule for Harlem Jazz Shrines. It looks pretty fun (and cheap). It’s also got some intellectual meat to it; one more reason I live in the Greatest City…
Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues by Joel Selvin
Review by Danny Goldberg
Anyone fascinated with the history of rock and roll should check out Joel Selvin’s new book Here Comes The Night, The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and The Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues. It’s a deceptively down-beat title because Selvin’s opus is an exhaustively researched love letter to an era of R&B and rock and roll in the early nineteen sixties that created classic music, helped facilitate racial integration on a cultural level and directly inspired the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and decades of subsequent rock and roll artists.
Bert Berns, a brainy and charming street kid from a Jewish family in the Bronx, was a songwriter and producer, who worked closely with The Drifters, Solomon Burke, and the Isely Brothers among others and later an indie label head (Bang Records) who signed Van Morrison, Neil Diamond and The McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy,” also written by Berns).
Berns is known for injecting a Latin music influence into R&B (he’d been a fan of the mambo growing up), for lyrics full of angst, and for uncanny commercial clarity in synthesizing the rapidly changing pop, sounds du jour. (There was a dizzying series of musical trends that had seemingly overnight been injected into the pop music charts in 1963. Selvin writes, “The twist, the bossa nova and surf music all in a year. Who knew anything?”)
Because R&B was shunned by major labels, a number of independently owned companies run by music business outcasts had sprung up in the years after rock and roll burst onto America’s pop scene in 1954. Three major labels, Columbia, RCA Victor and Decca had controlled more than ninety percent of the Top Ten. By the time Berns entered the business in 1960 the power of the majors had collapsed and the indies represented more than two-thirds of the top ten.
While using Berns as its centerpiece, Here Comes The Night is really a far broader history of the era in New York’s R&B business featuring songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Carol King and Jerry Goffin, and Dom Pomus and Mort Schuman, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, genius producer (and later killer) Phil Spector and Atlantic Records partners Ahmet and Nesui Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. Atlantic, for whom Ray Charles made his first hits, was the most prestigious of the indies and the company where Berns did most of his work. Selvin quotes Ben E. King fondly referring to the Atlantic partners Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler as “a better class of thieves.” Wexler was Berns’s mentor until they had a bitter falling out the year before Berns’s untimely death in 1967 from congestive heart failure at the age of thirty-eight.