I just read a terrific book, The Rhino Records Story – Revenge of the Music Nerds by Harold Bronson (full disclaimer: I designed the original Rocky Rhino logo character for Rhino Records and several of their record covers back in the day). If you have any interest whatsoever in the music business, this is the book for you. It’s the fascinating tale of how two passionate music lovers (Bronson and Richard Foos) who ran a quirky record store started their own record label with practically nothing but humor and imagination and quickly built it into the finest reissue label in the world. Besides reissues, they also ended up releasing a number one hit. The Rhino “brand” became so strong and trusted that they became one of those extremely rare record companies whose product often sold just because Rhino’s name was on it (“Not since Motown has a music label forged a meaningful brand identity” – Brandweek magazine).
The Rhino story also functions as a quite contemporary rise-and-fall allegory. Bronson goes into delicious detail after detail about just what it takes to be successful in the mercurial music world. Partly, it was that very attention to detail that helped make Rhino so successful. It’s sad and more than a little ironic that the Warner Music Group eventually acquired Rhino and then killed it off — despite the fact that Rhino was the most profitable branch of their record company. Reading this book gives you an insider’s front row seat as to how this could (and did) happen.
The book also gives the reader an up-close-and-personal chronicle of the many huge changes that swept over the music business in the past few decades and why (the main reason being that the people now in charge of the music business don’t really give a damn about music).
Because of the author’s passion for The Turtles, The Knack and The Monkees and those bands’ subsequent relationships with Rhino, there is a chapter on each band. There is a riveting chapter on Tommy James and James’ involvement with a mob-connected record company head that brought back scary memories of some of my own work in the entertainment business.
Harold’s honesty is refreshing. He doesn’t hesitate to point out who screwed up and how (even when it’s himself; he predicted no one would want to watch The Sopranos), as well as who came through like a champ and went out of their way to be thoughtful and helpful in this tough business.
Rhino also branched out and produced films (and 14 books as well). Budding filmmakers will love learning the ins and outs of making Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Daydream Believers: The Monkees’ Story and Why Do Fools Fall in Love.
Valentine’s Day is less than a month away. If you know someone who is passionate about music or film and loves knowing the insider behind-the-scenes stories of these worlds, then pick up this fascinating book immediately. You can get it here: