The movie Horrible Bosses comes out today, and while the heinous supervisors in question all work in areas unrelated to entertainment, this shouldn't be taken to mean the music industry is free of bad managers and executives. Rocks Off knows if anything, the music biz has had more than its fair share of psychos, toolbags and shitheads, many of whom become almost as famous as the artists in their care.
The following is a small, and by no means comprehensive, sampling of some of the more notorious (in no particular order). As a side note, while putting this together, we pictured an alternative universe Breakfast Club in which Brian Wilson turns to Michael Jackson and says, "I think your old man and my old man should go bowling."
10. Col. Tom Parker
The former Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk engineered Elvis Presley's breakout success, it's true, but also severed the King's lucrative ties to writers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, locked him in to a succession of shitty movies, and took advantage of Presley's non-confrontational nature in order to isolate him from "outside influences" who might point out most artists don't sign over 50 percent of their earnings to their manager. Parker died of a stroke in 1997, outliving the man he siphoned millions of dollars from by 20 years.
9. Suge Knight
Rocks Off is sure all the allegations against Knight - that he dangled Vanilla Ice off a balcony, that he was somehow involved in the murder of Tupac Shakur, that he "disappeared" his girlfriend - are all misunderstandings or cowardly lies told by East Coast wannabes. Now, we're just going to back away slowly and see ourselves out.
8. Murry Wilson
Ugh. You can't even joke about this prick. Few people knew how much darkness lay behind the sunshiny pop of the Beach Boys, but tales of the elder Wilson's abuse of his sons ended up eclipsing the good he did for the band in pushing them to early success. We're not sure "Surfin' USA" is an adequate trade-off for a 2x4 to the head or being made to rub your face in feces.
7. Joe Jackson
Michael Jackson was more a subject for comedy routines during the last years of his career than for his musical contributions. How much of the bizarre behavior of his later life is attributable to years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father/manager will never be known, but anybody who claims a belt whipping isn't a "beating" because it doesn't involve a hard object probably isn't going to win any Father of the Year awards.
6. Tommy Mottola
Speaking of MJ, he once referred to former Sony Entertainment head Mottola as a racist devil, which seems counterproductive for a Prince of Darkness interested in expansion. What's not in dispute is Mottola's cultivated Mafioso image, his penchant for dating/marrying the talent (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez (rumored), Thalia), and his tabloid lifestyle. All of this irked his Japanese bosses, putting his head on the chopping block when record sales started plummeting in 2001.
5. James Brown
The Hardest Working Man In Show Business was also one of the Hardest Asses to his musicians, instituting a system of fines for band members who missed cues or played the wrong notes, and exacting harsh penalties for those who showed up late or wore the wrong costumes.
4. Sean "Diddy" Combs
The consummate promoter, Combs founded Bad Boy Records, changed his name to "Puff Daddy," and proceeded to release a string of his own hits that were largely straight-up rip-offs of older songs ("Come with Me"/"Kashmir," "I'll Be Missing You"/"Every Breath You Take"). Combs comes across as less an outright asshole and more a pathological opportunist who never saw a trend or tragedy he couldn't exploit for another buck.
3. L.A. Reid
Rumors of Reid's strongarm tactics have been around ever since the new head of the Epic Label Group he and Babyface founded LaFace Records, including one incident where he (allegedly) locked rapper Jessie J in a room to get her to sign with him. And if that wasn't enough, we have him to thank for Avril Lavigne.
2. The "Have a Cigar" Executive
"Oh by the way, which one's Pink?" came to represent the typical music-executive mindset in the 1970s, as the last shreds of the idealistic '60s were wiped away by a new wave of greedy industry personnel. The unnamed subject of this song from Pink Floyd's 1975 album, Wish You Were Here, was probably also responsible for signing Starland Vocal Band.
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1. Keith Brown
As with Murry Wilson, it's hard for Rocks Off to joke about the guy who was sexually abusing his daughters (the "5 Browns" piano group) even as he was managing their growing career. He pleaded guilty to felony sodomy and child abuse earlier this year. Before that, he was involved in two car accidents where he either swerved into oncoming traffic or off a cliff. A word of advice: Find a taller cliff next time.