"Bang!, The Bert Berns Story" Documentary Starts Streaming Today on Apple Music

Cross "Goodfellas" with the hippest Ken Burns PBS mid-sixties New York music business documentary you've never seen and then anchor it with a songwriter, producer, record label executive biography that were it not true would have been difficult for any fiction writer to invent. That's the heart of "Bang! The Bert Berns Story".

Even if you think you're familiar with Berns—you know he wrote "Here Comes the Night" for Them, produced "Brown Eyed Girl" for Van Morrison, who he'd signed to his new label Bang, which for a time also had Neil Diamond on the roster and you know that Burns also co-wrote "Twist and Shout" and that the Isley Brothers were not the first to record the song, and you know that Garnett Mimms and the Enchanters, not Janis Joplin, originally recorded in 1963 "Cry Baby" written by Berns and the late Jerry Ragovoy who also wrote for Erma Thomas "Piece of My Heart" —even if you are familiar with all of that and that The Rolling Stones covered Berns' "Cry to Me"and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"', there's probably a lot more about this unlikely r&b songwriter/producer/label executive and the turbulent music business milieux in which he navigated, that you don't know (unless you've read Joel Selvin's Berns biography "Here Comes the Night: Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues" upon which this remarkable documentary is based).

Remarkable in that the film works so well even though it contains no Berns film footage. The family was in the midst of moving to a new New Jersey home when Berns died suddenly but not unexpectedly at age 38 (he was a rheumatic fever victim) and his widow never went back to the hotel where Berns had been living to pick up the family memorabilia, which included photos and movies. The hotel ended up tossing it all.

Through the course of the movie you'll meet perhaps for the first time familiar names, among them songwriter Jerry Ragovoy,and Ellie Greenwich. Ironically one reason Berns was not better known during his life was that he often went under a pseudonym.

There are heartfelt appreciations by Solomon Burke, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and somewhat surprisingly, from Van Morrison, whose difficult relationship with Berns and Bang was well-known among Van fans. Neil Diamond never responded to the interview request, which, after you watch the movie, you won't at all find surprising.

Berns's turbulent relationship with record producer Jerry Wexler produces much of the film's drama and for those who saw Wexler only as a congenial creative genius, the movies biggest shock. Then there's the mob connection, which comes across more as comic relief than as menacing—though that's only because the interviewed-out-of-Scorsese-central-casting former mobster laughs while describing some pretty rough stuff. Steven Van Zandt narrates sharing both his enthusiasm for the music and the era from which it came, as well as his obvious wonderment and appreciation for the unlikely heart and soul brother Bert Berns.

You'll want to see this more than once. Well I do if just to hear threaded together all of the great songs for which Berns was responsible. You may find yourself exclaiming "I knew he wrote that, but that too?" Well I did. The film with extras from Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and others streams on iTunes starting Nov. 3).

marmil's picture

Very well done - some great clips & interviews, but it's an ABSOLUTE must-see for the "Wassel" clips. Not something you see everyday