Legendary record man Walter Yetnikoff has died

Walter Yetnikoff, the old-school, hard-living record executive that helped make Michael Jackson a superstar, has died at 87. Yetnikoff ran CBS Records between 1975 and 1990, guiding the careers of not only Michael Jackson, but Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney. We’re not sure why he died, but he had been sick for the last few years.

A lawyer by training, he first worked for the US Army before finding his way to CBS where was hired as an in-house attorney in 1961. Together with Clive Davis (another legendary record man), he helped build CBS Records into a powerhouse. He was put in charge of the label’s international division in 1971 and made full president/CEO in 1975.

One of the many anecdotes from Yetnikoff’s career was his threat to MTV in 1983. If the channel wouldn’t play Michael Jackson’s videos, he’d pull every other video by CBS artists from the network. MTV caved.

Artists that developed until his watch included Cyndi Lauper, Weird Al, and Gloria Estefan.

Yetnikoff was eventually ousted in a boardroom powerplay by one-time protegee, Tommy Mottola, in 1990.

If you want to learn more about the way the record industry used to run, check out both Hit Men: Power and Brokers and Fast Money in the Music Business and Yetnikoff’s autobiography, Howling at the Moon. They don’t make ’em like Walter anymore.

More at Variety.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Legendary record man Walter Yetnikoff has died

  • August 10, 2021 at 10:26 am

    If you haven’t read the book Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business, I highly recommend it! Not only a lot about Yetnikoff, but other high ranking label execs from back in the day. Yetnikoff was a raging MAD MAN!!!! However, the book really dives into how some d-bag in New Jersey invited payola.

    Solid fun music industry read! Shit, I think I just talked myself into reading it again.


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