"Fury’s case was prototypal. Huey Meaux, a long-time American hitmaker, once listed the key ingredients for a successful record, in order of importance. The song came first, then the arrangement, producer, and the studio sound. The artist trailed in fifth.
Cohn seems happy that in the age of streaming etc, the single is back and more dominant than ever.
Cohn's account of Billy Fury is a little misleading and facts-challenged (typically for him - "never mind the veracity, feel the myth" has always been his modus op as a pop writer - with fab results, don't get me wrong!). Fury approached Parnes backstage at some show or other as an aspiring songwriter - Parnes straightaway saw the looks and the potential star appeal, and immediately shoved him onstage to perform there and then, so the legend goes. The taking (or bestowing by Parnes) of a stage name is very showbiz in itself. Fury's sexed-up stage antics made him a sensation, but he also continued to write songs, including some of his own material and chart hits. Typical of the way rock'n'roll was seen on both sides of the Atlantic then - as a sort of anteroom to a proper, serious, long-lasting career in the business of show - the managerial and the record label drive was always was to turn these boy rockers into "all round entertainers", which meant singing ballads, appearing at the Palladium for the Royal Variety Show, etc etc. Which Fury duly did - the ballad bit, at least.
There's no doubt that Parnes had a contemptuous disregard for the raw material fed into his machinations:
In 1956, with John Kennedy, Parnes began to manage young rock and roll singer Tommy Hicks; he and John Kennedy approached his parents, after Steele, aged 19, had already signed another contract, which was under the legal age. Steele anglicised the name of his Swedish grandfather to become known as Tommy Steele. Steele achieved popular success, some of his songs being co-written by Parnes' friend Lionel Bart, and Parnes succeeded in presenting Steele as an "all-round entertainer". Parnes claimed in a court action that he and Kennedy took 40 per cent of Steele's "gross takings", out of which they had to pay 10 per cent to booking agents as well as the costs of Steele's accommodation, advertising and publicity, travel and other aspects "needed to keep Tommy on the road to stardom". This became the standard arrangement with Parnes' artists.
After Steele's success, Parnes looked to find other young men who he could groom to become pop stars. At Bart's suggestion, he next signed Reg Patterson (né Smith), whom he re-christened Marty Wilde, and who also rose to pop stardom in the UK. Parnes developed a network of contacts within the British recording industry and entertainment business, with leading British songwriters providing songs for his growing stable of talent, and many of his protégés achieving success in the British pop charts...... Parnes' approach was to select, and then groom, handsome young men who would be attractive to a teenage audience He also gave them new stage names, which were rumoured to reflect what he considered to be their sexual characteristics. Among those he managed with at least some degree of success were Billy Fury (originally Ron Wycherley), Vince Eager (Roy Taylor), Dickie Pride (Richard Knellar), Lance Fortune (Chris Morris), Duffy Power (Ray Howard), Johnny Gentle (John Askew), Terry Dene (Terence Williams), Nelson Keene (Malcolm Holland), and Georgie Fame (Clive Powell). He also managed Tommy Bruce, as well as Joe Brown, who he unsuccessfully tried to persuade to change his name to Elmer Twitch.
Music journalist Richie Unterberger has commented:
Parnes' performers were groomed as teen idols, rock music being a convenient way to eventually establish all-around entertainers who could also work in straight pop music, variety shows, and film. Image, more than content, was essential to the appeal of Parnes' protégés.
"Groomed" seems to be doing some work in those sentences.
Vince Eager began to wonder why he had never received any record royalties. "You're not entitled to any," Larry Parnes told him. "But it says in my contract that I am," Eager protested. "It also says I have power of attorney over you, and I've decided you're not getting any," Parnes replied.
The BBC TV programme Panorama featured Parnes as a 'beat svengali' and the press gave him the nickname "Mr Parnes, Shillings and Pence". He was bitingly satirised as the manipulative "Major Rafe Ralph" by Peter Sellers, from a script by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, on the 1959 album Songs For Swingin' Sellers.
Ah Songs For Swingin' Sellers - that was an album that was played a lot in our household when I was a kid.