cover image The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun

The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun

Robert Greenfield. Simon & Schuster, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-4165-5838-5

The eternal music-biz question—what exactly do record-label executives do?—is explored in this sprightly bio of the legendary Atlantic Records cofounder. Journalist Greenfield (S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones) finds Mephistophelian traits in the Turkish-American impresario—a preternaturally suave, persuasive schmoozer, Ertegun commits his share of cheats, betrayals and payola—but Greenfield credits him with creative midwifery of the rock ’n’ roll revolution. We see Ertegun scouting R&B pioneers, spotting potential hits amid the dross, singing backup on the pathbreaking “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” matchmaking super-group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and introducing Bianca and Mick. Despite Ertegun’s dapper suits, tireless partying, and groupie-squiring, make him the Dionysian soul of rock; he was still hanging out with Kid Rock even after a hip replacement. Greenfield overhypes his subject—“as great a star as any artist who had ever recorded for his label”—and his accounts of Ertegun’s postmerger boardroom duels with Jerry Wexler, David Geffen, and others in the Warner entertainment conglomerate are, like most corporate turf battles, uninteresting. Still, he gives us a vivid saga of the an industry in its salad days, and of the unholy but fertile union of money and music. Photos. (Nov.)