Born in 1937, Mansfield landed a job at Capitol Records in Los Angeles in January 1965, as the company’s District Promotion Manager West Coast, making him one of the youngest executives with the firm.
Mansfield was promoted quickly and was one of the first young American executives the Beatles worked with since they became a world wide phenomenon. Up until then, record company officials had been of the elderly variety. Mansfield’s age made him more accessible to the Beatles, who soon made him one of their friends.
In addition to the Beatles, while at Capitol, he was also responsible for overseeing the recording careers of the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, The Band, Bobbie Gentry, Lou Rawls, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Seger, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.
In 1967 when the Beatles decided to form their own corporation, they turned to Mansfield to run their record division and named him the U.S. Manager of Apple Records, beginning in 1968. Mansfield helped set up the worldwide launch of Apple Records and the U.S. management of subsequent projects such as The White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, Let It Be and Hey Jude. In addition to the Beatles, Mansfield looked after the careers of Apple artists such as James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Badfinger and Jackie Lomax.
At the time of the Apple debut, everyone agreed that the Beatles first single on the new label had to be a smash. The group was stymied on whether to release “Hey Jude” or “Revolution” as Apple’s first single. “Hey Jude,” which clocked in at an unprecedented 7:11, was the obvious choice. However, it was still the era of the less than three-minute record and Top 40 stations gained listeners by playing the most hits in an hour. Mansfield came up with the solution by bringing an advance copy of the two songs from the UK to America and playing them to a few trusted radio station managers, who were unanimous in their decision that “Hey Jude” was the hit. They were right. When the song was released in September 1968, it topped the Billboard charts for nine weeks and became the Beatles’ best selling single of all time.
In his position as an Apple executive and personal liaison for the Beatles between the UK and US, Mansfield was among a handful of eyewitnesses to join The Beatles as they performed their legendary last-ever gig on the rooftop of their London headquarters on January 30, 1969, which was captured in the documentaries “Let It Be” and “Get Back”. Mansfield is easy to recognise as he was the only one on the roof that day wearing a white coat.
His job regularly took him back and forth from L.A. to Savile Row – and on January 30, he just happened to be there, sitting at his desk doing his job. “Mal had actually asked me, earlier on, to help scope out possible locations for the concert,” which, of course, eventually didn’t happen. “I was in the building, and Mal came in and said, ‘Hey, we’re going upstairs in 15 minutes – we’re doing the concert.”
Not wearing any real winter attire, he dashed downstairs to one of the tony Savile Row tailors and bought what appeared to be an overcoat, which happened to fit, and went up to the roof. “It turns out it was just a raincoat, and I was freezing.”
During the show, Mansfield spent his time watching, or standing and chatting with Kevin Harrington. “I do remember one thing, because George’s fingers were so cold. So before they started shooting, I lit up three or four cigarettes and put them between my fingers, so he could reach over and put the tips of his fingers close to the coals.”
He did observe something in the band members he hadn’t seen in quite some time. “Paul looked over at John, and John looked over at Paul, and they were in a groove. It was like they went, ‘Yeah. This is us. This is who we are.’ I was four feet from George, and just that look, you could see – they just turned and melted into the music.”
When the Apple empire began to crumble, Mansfield turned down an offer by Allen Klein to stay despite the promise of his salary being tripled. Mansfield saw the writing on the wall and moved over to MGM Records as its vice president in charge of marketing and artist relations. Later he was hired by Andy Williams to be the president of his CBS record company, Barnaby Records.
When Mansfield left CBS/Barnaby Records in 1973, he finally fulfilled his longtime career goal of becoming a full-time record producer. He set up Hometown Productions Inc. and went on to produce the acts that he wanted to bring to Barnaby Records – Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser and other cutting-edge and Outlaw country artists.
Mansfield also produced The Flying Burrito Brothers, David Cassidy, Don Ho, Nick Gilder Sam Neely, Byron Berline and Sundance, as well as David Geffen’s boy band OXO before closing down his Hollywood enterprise Hometown Productions Inc. and making his way to Nashville in the 1980s. In the late eighties, Mansfield became a born-again Christian.
Ken Mansfields has written a number of books, these are the ones about his tenure with the Beatles:
2000:”The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay: My Long and Winding Road”. Broadman & Holman Publishers. ISBN 0-8054-2289-7.
2007:”The White Book, The Beatles, the Bands, the Biz: An Insider’s Look at an Era”. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-1-59555-101-6.
2018: “The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert”. Post Hill Press. ISBN 978-1682617571.
Together with Eddie Degqarmo, Ken hosted a 10 episodes podcast series in November and December 2021: The Beatles, The Bible and Beyond.