Author: Clive Davis

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 19, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1476714789

ISBN-13: 978-1476714783

Anyone who knows anything about the entertainment business knows about the never-ending duels between performers versus the corporate "suits." On one side, actors, artists, musicians, and producers believe they should have the final word about their endeavors; on the other hand, company executives whose eyes are on the bottom line are certain they should be the ultimate judges of what we, the buying public, will accept and buy.

These positions, of course, are oversimplifications of a much more complex and nuanced reality. In the music industry, for example, "suits like Barry Gordy (Motown), Ahmet Ertegan (Atlantic), Mo Ostin (Warner Brothers), and Clive Davis of Columbia, Arista, and J Records unquestionably made it possible for countless artists to make their musical marks. As Davis recounts in his new autobiography, it takes a suit with "ears" to know where the hits and hitmakers are and how to nurture long and successful careers—even when the artists aren't sure that suit knows what he's talking about. For decades, Davis was more than the exception to the accepted rules.

I read Davis' first memoir, Clive: Inside the Record Business back in 1975. It chronicled how a corporate lawyer went to the Monterey Pop Festival, saw Janis Joplin, and discovered he had those extraordinary ears. He described how he built on the work of Columbia A&R men like John Hammond to sign a new generation of rock stars like Donovan, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Santana, Chicago, and Bruce Springsteen. The book was written in the wake of his firing from Columbia by "suits" who didn't really get what made their business tick. This was before Davis took over Bell Records, converted it into Arista, and went on to be the suit with the longest and most productive career of them all.

While he's not interested in retirement just yet, Soundtrack of My Life reads much like a victory lap where Davis provides page after page of the details of how and why he signed the likes of Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Areatha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Kenny G., Alicia Keys, Luther Vandross, and, well, seemingly nearly every major figure in pop. While each story is different, several themes come through.

First, without question, Davis had that indefinable knack for seeing talent in the rough or seeing established performers needing a second wind and knowing how to groom them for success. Always keeping his eye on creating hits, he pressured his artists to find that certain song that would get them radio airplay that would break them out to a wide, mainstream audience. This lead to conflicts with some performers who didn't want potential hot songs from outside writers but instead wanted to earn songwriting royalties even though their own compositional gifts didn't lead to those elusive chart-toppers. In addition, creative temperaments often resulted in dynamic entrances in sales before egos, drugs, or other entanglements derailed many a promising career.

Davis also demonstrated that to be a major player in the music business, a company had to diversify and keep attuned to changing trends and styles. That's why he built country, hip-hop, and rap divisions inside Arista and J based on specialty labels where up and coming producers could create their own rosters within the corporate umbrellas.

Naturally, Davis spends most of his time accounting for the big hits and the most promising artists with only occasional hit-and-run stories about those who fell by the wayside. One wonders, in the current climate where radio airplay isn't the end-all and be-all it once was, if the Davis formula still has the potency it once held. Davis certainly keeps his fingers in the game, discussing the impact American Idol has had, and doesn't have, on the current pop culture environment.

We learn little about Davis himself until the final pages where he admits to discovering his late-life bi-sexuality. But not much else. This makes sense for a man who lived and breathed the music business to, apparently, the loss of much of a personal life. For most readers, this won't be a problem. It's the episode after episode of all those stars and the trajectory of how the business has changed that will interest most music lovers. Because of its organization, it's easy to skim over the sections on performers not to the reader's taste. If, for example, Melissa Manchester isn't your cup of tea, on to the next story. But because of the scope of Davis' contributions to our listening habits, there's something in his soundtrack for everybody. For many, his soundtrack could be yours as well.

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