Bang! The Bert Berns Story: A Necessary Documentary on a Complicated Man

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Bert Berns, a major figure in the early 1960s American pop and R&B recording scene, was certainly unsung, but it would be a stretch to call him a hero. A musical childhood lead to a fascination with Latin and Cuban music, which in turn lead him to co-write the classic “Twist and Shout,” sung first by The Top Notes and produced by a young Phil Spector in 1961. Angry at what he felt was a hack job by Spector, Berns would go on to produce the Isley Brother’s version a year later, a major hit. After a few years of freelancing, Berns wound up at Atlantic Records, and his R&B hits were frequently covered by British invasion bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. By the mid 1960s, Berns had his own label, Bang! Records. But he also had a chaotic life marred by bad business deals and associations with the mob, and after he died at age 38 in 1967, he was quickly forgotten by an industry eager for the future and often ignorant of the past.


All rock docs rely on the music to make their point, but Bang! has one of the best soundtracks of any modern documentary. Once you hear song after song after song produced by Berns, from “Tell Him” to “Under the Boardwalk” to “Here Comes the Night” to “Brown Eyed Girl,” you realize what kind of man Berns was. General info –


Bang! The Bert Berns Story was conceived of and directed by Berns’ son Brett, who has happily chosen what comes very close to a warts-and-all portrayal of his dad. There are a few excuses for Berns’ outlandish behavior peppered here and there, but it’s tempered by blunt admissions of outright criminal activity. Especially good are the moments where Berns’ widow Ilene insists that her late husband was merely friends with people who just happened to coincidentally be major players in the mafia.


Bang Bert Berns StoryBert Berns was stricken with rheumatic fever in his early teens, and the subsequent heart damage sentenced him to a short life. He lived for nearly two decades past what doctors had predicted, the documentary declares, all the while showing photo after photo of Bert drinking and smoking and partying like the proverbial rock star. He certainly didn’t look the part, his goofy grin topped with a sloppy and somewhat sparse pompadour, but his introduction of Afro-Cuban elements into American pop and R&B music made him cool. Many of the black musicians who worked with him called him a “white soul brother.”


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