Benny Allen Was A Star: A New York Music Story by Alan Lorber

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Benny Allen Was A Star: A New York Music Story by Alan Lorber

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Maurizio Valeri
Reviewed by Maurizio Valeri
Summary: Fictional but probably semi-autobiographical account of the New York music scene in the fifties and early sixties.
Buy? # Borrow? #
Pages: 130 Date: August 2010
Publisher: IMG

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Alan Lorber has written a fictional and I suspect a semi autobiographical account of his years as a top music arranger in the 1950's and early 1960's, a period of huge change in the music industry culminating with the breakthrough of the Beatles in America. Rather than simply writing a factual narrative of his involvement during this period he decided to tell the story of the fictional Benny Allen, a classically trained musician who almost by accident gets involved in the music publishing business and then goes on to produce some hugely successful orchestrations on many of the top hit records of the time.

The story begins with the rise of the music factories of New York where young talented songwriters were hot housed into producing hit songs for the leading singers contracted to the big music publishers. This was a time when the crooners were still king but also when the cult of the teenage pop star was beginning to manifest itself.

The book is populated with a mix of real life and fictitious characters and is told to a background of key historical moments like JFK's election, the Cuban missile crisis and the Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan show. Benny Allen is at the centre of the cultural and musical revolution and in the process he comes across all the leading musical figures of the time including Gene Pitney, Carol King to Jackie Wilson, Phil Spektor, Paul Anca, Neil Sedaka and many more. All this young talent was to a great extent cynically exploited by older record company moguls and every aspect of the record making business was closely controlled by these shadowy figures. The idea of the singer songwriter was not yet with us and it took the so called British invasion with the Beatles at the forefront to fully release the talents of the young songwriters and finally bring them some deserved personal fame.

The most interesting parts are the quite lengthy factual accounts regularly punctuating the flow of the fictional story telling us how the music business changed from being dominated by the big band sound of the 40's and the heartthrob singers of the 50's to give way to the new emerging post war youth culture and with it Rock n Roll. Things changed quickly from the late 50's and the music industry struggled to cope or adapt. The knowledgeable accounts of how records came to be made are fascinating to anyone who has a love of this period or who wishes to understand how the music industry as it is today came about.

However I don't see the point in telling this story in a fictional form certainly not in the way Lorber has done it. He could have and should have related his own experiences at the centre of this musical upheaval as a straight factual account rather than cloaking it in a thin and rather disjointed fictional tale. The story instead follows the fictional Benny Allen as he breaks into the music business and struggles to cope with his increasing fame. We delve into his marital problems and strained relations with the record company bosses but really there is little plot to speak of. In passing the widespread racism of the times is mentioned as is the record plugging scandal which finally ended influential DJ Alan Freed's career.

The book is very short at just over 120 pages and Benny Allen's story fails to really capture the interest of the reader. The plot is too thin and too episodic so that it is difficult to engage with Benny or to really get to know him. To be honest the fictional story of Benny Allen was more of a distraction to the real life tale of how popular music came to change forever.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestions: Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music by David N Meyer Hang the DJ: An Alternative Book of Music Lists by Angus Cargill (Editor) Wonderful Today: The Autobiography of Pattie Boyd by Pattie Boyd and Penny Junor.

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