Rant ‘N’ Roll: King Clive Mike Greenblatt April 3, 2013 Columns 32 pages into his 586-page memoir, The SoundTrack Of My Life (Simon & Schuster), legendary record man Clive Davis admits he never really liked rock ‘n’ roll that much, preferring the music of Dinah Shore, Kay Starr, Bing Crosby and Broadway show albums. He thought of rock ‘n’ roll in the same league as other teenaged fad trends like hula-hoops and Davy Crockett coonskin caps, writing that it seemed “inconceivable that an ambitious married New York lawyer would seriously discuss the latest records by Elvis Presley, Little Richard or Buddy Holly.” But once introduced to the music industry by way of becoming a lawyer at Columbia Records, he was quickly thrust into the culture wars and one of his first orders of business was censoring Bob Dylan. Dylan wanted to include “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia thought the song libelous. It was Clive’s job to convince Dylan to delete the offensive song. And he did. Moving into A&R, he signs Donovan. He institutes “variable pricing” to the industry, making millions for his company by charging more for “Greatest Hits” packages. He effectively ends the mono era for LPs, promoting stereo and becoming, in the process, a hero to retailers who hate having to stock two formats of every album. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival changes his life. He signs Big Brother & The Holding Company after witnessing an incendiary performance by Janis Joplin. The band flies from San Francisco to New York to meet with Clive at Black Rock, the hallowed building of the star-making machinery. Clive notices at the long conference table that one of the male members of the band is without a shirt. Only when the band member stands up does Clive realize the musician is totally naked! After the meeting, the group’s manager tells Clive that Janis would like to seal the deal by having sex with him. Clive politely demurs. The stories fly fast and furious, Clive seems to be the hero of each tale. He tricks Allen Klein into not signing Dylan to MGM so Columbia can resign him. He convinces the Chicago Transit Authority to shorten their name to Chicago. (He is not successful, though, in convincing Simon & Garfunkel to change their name because he thinks it sounds too much like a law firm.) He convinces Miles Davis to add some new sounds because, at the dawn of the rock era, the trumpeter’s sales were slipping. Miles listens to him, adds some electric guitar and—voila!—jazz-rock fusion is born—all because of Clive. Clive even puts together the Mahavishnu Orchestra by telling John McLaughlin what musicians to hire. He teaches Springsteen how to move on stage. After hearing Bruce’s debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., he tells Bruce to go home and write two hit singles. Bruce dutifully listens, goes home, and writes “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirit In The Night.” All because of Clive. Do you see a pattern developing? After being fired from Columbia for misuse of label funds, which he emphatically denies, he starts Arista and tells an up-and-comer who he’s thinking of signing not to use his own songs but to use songs which he, Clive, finds for him. The artist is Barry Manilow who sees himself as a James Taylor/Billy Joel type of singer-songwriter. Barry dutifully listens to Clive and, of course, only the songs Clive picks become huge hits. Artist after artist wants to write their own songs. Every single one lets Clive pick a song or two for the albums. In each case, only the songs Clive picks become huge hits. Sure there’s missteps along the way. He had to pick whether to sign Tom Petty or Dwight Twilley. He signs Twilley. He does good work with Patti Smith and Lou Reed but is responsible for some of the Grateful Dead’s worst albums. He also takes a promising sax player from The Jeff Lorber Fusion, Kenny Gorelick, and makes him into Kenny G, thus foisting more bad music into the marketplace. After a while, the stories of his successes become numbing and unending. It’s one thing to thrill to the success of Janis, Aretha, Santana, the Dead, Miles, Paul Simon and Chicago, it’s quite another to have to read and read page after page about the chart successes of such crap as Air Supply, Milli Vanilli, Taylor Dayne, Kelly Clarkson, on and on and on where in each case, he is always right. Enough already. The chapter on Whitney Houston is great, and he was understandably devastated by her death. But he also worked with another beautiful and troubled addict, soul singer Phyllis Hyman. Hyman wound up killing herself. Clive, shockingly, doesn’t even mention this. All he says is “I always wished there was a better solution to the Phyllis Hyman situation.” What? Didn’t she sell enough records for you to go into a little greater depth as to her profound descent into addiction and suicide? How cold! At the tail end of the book, Clive comes out of the closet sexually. In 1959, Norman Mailer’s Advertisements For Myself came out. It’s too bad the title was already used because it would have been a perfect title for this book. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.