The Soundtrack of My Life
by Clive Davis
(Simon & Schuster)
There is no argument that Clive Davis the most famous record company executive of all-time. The former head of Columbia, Arista and J Records, Davis has been in the industry over 50 years and at age 80 he shows no sign of slowing down. His just released memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life” (Simon & Schuster), coming in at nearly 600 pages, exemplifies both his energy and sharp mind.
This is Davis’s second autobiography. In 1974, roughly a year after being shockingly dismissed as Columbia Records president by then CBS head Arthur Taylor, Davis wrote “Clive: Inside The Record Business.” On the advice of his attorneys at the time Davis avoided writing about the reasons for his ouster because of a ton of pending litigation between CBS, the US Attorney’s office, and himself.
The passage of time has freed Clive to reveal what happened at Columbia. He points the finger of blame at David Wynshaw, a trusted high-ranking executive who unbeknownst to him was involved with organized crime and was handing in fraudulent expense reports. He debunks the claim that he attempted to bill CBS $94,000 for his son Fred’s bar mitzvah but he infers that Wynshaw may have tried to do that without his consent.
Ironically the dollars involved with any corporate reimbursements were still chump change compared with the profits that Davis’s division was bringing into CBS. Back in 1973 the record business was still viewed with suspicion in the white shoe corporate world. The days of the payola scandals between record companies and radio stations were not that far back in the rear view mirror. Rock music was also synonymous with drugs. According to Clive, CBS executives feared that the Federal Communications Commission might try to strip the company of its broadcast license unless it did something dramatic. Davis sees himself as a sacrificial lamb.
While he was clearly stung and humiliated by the Columbia Records debacle, Davis seems far more hurt and angry when in 1999 a pair of high-ranking Bertelsmann executives informed him that he would be out at Arista Records, a label that he headed from its start, because he was 67, seven years above the company’s mandatory retirement age. Davis got the last laugh when the Bertelsmann CEO got cold feet and gave him a higher level post in the company and watched his tormentors tender their resignations.
Davis has special affection for Barry Manilow, Forest Hills High School alum Paul Simon, and the late Whitney Houston with whom he constantly butted heads but whose talents he deeply respected. He is less than euphoric writing about his dealings with the first-ever “American Idol” winner, Kelly Clarkson. Like a lot of performers, Clarkson believes that her songwriting talents are better than what they really are. Davis details his fight with her to get her to record “Since U Been Gone” which became one of the biggest hits of her career.
Clive is a bit of musical snob himself here and a historical revisionist as well. He spends a great deal of pages lauding both Bob Dylan and the late Janis Joplin during his tenure at Columbia but fails to mention either Gary Puckett and the Union Gap or the Buckinghams. The latter two greatly outsold the former two in terms of record sales. That is unconscionable.
To Clive’s credit, he doesn’t forget where he came from as he talks about his childhood in Brooklyn and his days living in Bayside while he was attending New York University.
“The Soundtrack of My Life” should please both casual and obsessive fans of pop culture.