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Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group

Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group

by Stan Cornyn, Paul Scanlon

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Stan Cornyn — a key creative force behind the rise of the Warner Music Group — experienced the ultimate highs and lows of the company for more than thirty years.

Now, get the inside scoop on top executive decisions, wild stories on iconic musicians, and the outrageous steps Warner took to produce a hit. Populated by celebrities like Dr. Dre, Frank


Stan Cornyn — a key creative force behind the rise of the Warner Music Group — experienced the ultimate highs and lows of the company for more than thirty years.

Now, get the inside scoop on top executive decisions, wild stories on iconic musicians, and the outrageous steps Warner took to produce a hit. Populated by celebrities like Dr. Dre, Frank Sinatra, the Grateful Dead, Madonna, Lil' Kim, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Joni Mitchell, and dozens more, Exploding reveals the music business as you've never seen it before.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“Captures well the humorous sidelights of a business that is part magic, part hucksterism.”
Miami Herald
“Terrific. . . one of the most authoritative books on the now-past golden age of the music business.”
Entertainment Weekly
“As fly-on-the-wall tomes go, Exploding rates five flies, thanks to the plethora of dish.”
“Cornyn’s dead-on history...will delight music-biz enthusiasts.”
The Barnes & Noble Review
Industry insider Stan Cornyn had pulled together material twice before to write a history of media goliath Warner Music Group, but both projects were snuffed out before they could be completed. Thankfully, he saved all his notes. Now, with the help of Rolling Stone editor Paul Scanlon, he tamps down his 34 years of experience in the company for a big blowout of a book: Exploding, an entertaining exposé of the history of Warner.

Cornyn's lifelong love affair with music is evident in this saga, and the perspective earned in his own rise through the ranks of the record industry is colored with a reverence for the artists being promoted. He entered Warner Bros. Records in its infancy, as editorial manager -- which then meant typing "everything from liner notes to order forms" -- at a time when the first big hit the company had was a comedy performance by Bob Newhart. His career led him everywhere from the early years spent following Frank Sinatra around to his emergence as a driving creative force in the company. Exploding tracks the rock-'n-roller-coaster fate of Warner -- from 1904, when Sam, Abe, and Jack Warner's father first bought them an Edison Kinetoscope, through the 1910s and early '20s, when the Warners first began making "quickies," through 1958, when the film giant gave the music business a second chance under the axiom, "Control your marketplace with your own distribution." Cornyn leads us through the industry's explosion in the '60's and '70s, when Warner merged with Elektra and Atlantic. Through conversations with the now-retired Warner legends he calls "The Montecito Book Club," Cornyn attempts to make sense of the company's decline in the '90s. Along the way, we get fascinating glimpses of Warner players who shaped the fate of the company -- and the industry as a whole -- as well as an insider's look at the rise of music legends like Al Jolson ("the Mick Jagger of his time"), Keith Richards, and Johnny Rotten.

While this book is a big history of a big player in an even bigger industry, Stan Cornyn doesn't claim to have written the whole story. He's started a web site where other insiders will, hopefully, tell it how they saw it. Nevertheless, Cornyn's own authoritative account is sure to make rock history. (Elise Vogel)

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. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Jack Warner walked briskly from his office at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, heading for lunch in the Executive Dining Room. Fresh from his personal barber's daily shave and hot towel, Warner moved past his personal steam room. He strode through the ferns-and-lawn-lined path to the private bungalow, where his personal chef prepared luncheons for Warner's favored executives, a dozen or so. Entering the room, Warner saw his men seated, suited, chatting, with water glasses, ashtrays, but no lunch. Not till Warner sat down, a steward behind, adjusting his chair for him. Then came lunch.

Warner, a swarthy sixty-five in 1957, ran his studio with decisive powers — his own. He'd been in Hollywood and Burbank now since 1918. First-generation Polish-American. He'd been born Jacob Warner, without a middle name, but Jack adopted one, “Leonard,” believing that three names made him classier. Among the four “Warner Brothers,” Jack had become the brothers' studio man — the one who made the pictures. Just one year before this lunch, his elder brothers, Harry and Albert, had sold their interests in Warner Bros. to a syndicate. Jack, too, had been expected to sell but had reneged. That ploy made Jack the Number One brother. He had power: over what movies got made, over who got hired, over women he laid, over his on-staff tennis coach, and over everyone's paycheck. He considered this land in Burbank his kingdom, and he thought that employee medical benefits were a Communist plot.

Warner liked his luncheons, where people referred to him as “J.L.” and “Chief.” The lunch menu— it's 1957, remember — was lamb chops with mint jelly, potatoes and gravy, cigars not cellophane wrapped. Before his attentive fellows at the long table, Warner sipped a Jack Daniel's and water and cracked bad jokes. When meeting Albert Einstein, for instance, Warner had commented that he, too, had a Theory of Relativity: “Don't hire 'em” was Jack's crack. Einstein didn't get it. (In the early 1960s, I spent some time with Mr. Warner, asking him about the past. “Somebody once called me a raconteur,” he told me, “and I've got the tennis court to prove it.” I, too, smiled at the raconteur's joke. I loved being in show business.)

Jack Warner looked like success, tanned to a tee, a pencil-thin mustache, his white teeth even across the bottom, looking like they'd been filed straight. After lunch, Warner lit up and introduced his topic for today: He's tired of seeing other companies, like Capitol and Columbia Records, license record rights of Warner's hit movies, then make a mint off selling records of Warner's music. Warner music should be Warner's mint. “So I'm thinking we need a record company,” Warner said.

Among all the “Good idea, Chief” replies, one dissenter spoke up. “You forgotten Brunswick?” The room went silent. Hurling turds from the past was not what these luncheons were about.

Moving his personal mustard pot to one side, Warner leaned forward. “Yeah, I remember Brunswick Records. That was thirty years ago. What's that got to do with now?” The roomful just stared back at him.

Here's why.

In 1887, as the city of Burbank, California, was being founded, the Warner family's father, Ben, had sailed alone from Poland to Baltimore, Maryland. Ben went to work, mainly as a cobbler, in the Land of Opportunity. In his horse-drawn cart, his gold watch hidden in an inner pants pocket, Ben Warner moved where jobs might be found, and he scrimped. There was, in 1887, little entertainment like records. There were no radio, no movies, no television. The idea of preserving (“recording”) a music performance was pretty much limited to player pianos, which were rare, novel, and voiceless. The phonograph, just invented, was intended to be a dictaphone. The music business, aside from live performance, had but one medium: printed sheet music to prop up on the family's piano. To make music, you had to make it with your own two hands, your own voice.

Before long, Ben Warner had scrimped enough to send for his wife, Pearl, and their two children. When Pearl got to America, apparently she was happy to reunite with Ben, because they soon started having children, one after another, ten in all. It may have been the lack of other home-entertainment devices. Of the dozen Warner kids, four of them became the Brothers of fame: Harry, Albert (they called him Abe), Sam, and Jacob (called Jack).

The Warner family eked it out with no running water in places like Youngstown, Ohio. As the family's kid brother, Jack, once characterized it, “There were no silver spoons in our mouths when we were born. If anything, there were shovels.”One of Jack's elder brothers, Sam, was the inventive Warner; he'd already introduced the first ice cream cone in Youngstown. Six-foot Sam had his deep-blue eyes focused on something new: a projector of moving images, called the Edison Kinetoscope.

Sam wanted a Kinetoscope bad. His father Ben felt it, and in 1904 he hocked his precious gold watch and chain from the old country; then he hocked Bob, the horse that pulled his meat wagon, all to buy a used projector for $150. Bundled with Sam's projector came one movie: twelve minutes long, called The Great Train Robbery.

Eldest brother Harry was the strictly business type of the clan; as a teen, Harry dated only girls within walking distance, so he didn't have to waste money on carfare. Harry had found in Youngstown a 180-seat hall (the Dome Picture Palace). Out front, the huge-handed second-eldest brother, stern-faced, barrel-chested Albert, dealt tickets for a nickel, while inside, third-eldest brother Sam projected the movie to full houses, for weeks in Youngstown, before the audience dwindled and the brothers...

Exploding. Copyright © by Stan Cornyn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Two-time Grammy Award winner Stan Cornyn began working at Warner Bros. Records at its birth in the late Fifties, writing liner notes for Frank Sinatra and hundreds of other acts on the Warner/Reprise roster. He spent thirty-four years with the Warner Music Group, developing creative marketing, dealing with industry threats, and leading its development of the CD and interactive media. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Paul Scanlon is a longtime editor of both Rolling Stone and GQ. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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