Clive Davis' Book: a Cheat Sheet
31. Davis hates the initial rushes of The Bodyguard and exacerbates a rift among the film team. “I got extremely concerned. Whitney was a natural beauty, but she was not a natural actress.” He wrote a letter to Houston and the filmmakers, saying that she needed to sing in a more bravura way before the finale to establish the character’s stardom. “Kevin Costner completely agreed with my suggestions, and that contributed to his falling-out with [director] Mick Jackson.”
32. He gets in a blowout fight with David Foster over “I Will Always Love You.” Costner wanted the song to have an a cappella beginning and slow build. Foster hated that idea and “deliberately sent me a version that he regarded as outrageously under-produced, ‘substandard’ in his own description of it.” To Foster’s chagrin, Davis thought it was brilliant as-is. Foster said he’d already erased that “rough mix” -- but Davis still had the DAT copy and went ahead and had it mastered and released. “Without notice, David immediately heard it on the radio, and he called me up and laced me with every obscenity known to mankind.”
33. After she blows her chance at singing at the 2000 Oscars, Davis invites Houston to his weekend home and tells her she needs to go to rehab. “She didn’t storm out of the room. Then she told me point-blank -- politely, but in no uncertain terms -- that whatever was going on with her was a personal matter and she had it under control … She was in complete denial.”
34. He takes his one co-writing credit ever on Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.” The original lyrics were terrible and needed to be revised in a hurry, so he took on the task himself. “As I recall, one of the lines was ‘I’m all out of love, I want to arrest you.’”
35. He and Kenny G have a bitter breakup. Davis kept the sax player’s career going through what he called “concept albums” with easily sellable angles. But “after more holiday albums, an album of originals, a duets album, and a covers album of romantic melodies, my relationship with Kenny became a little contentious … He had an eagerness to return to the charts with his own material, but it was my job to tell him that could no longer happen … You try to keep it warm and cordial … but nearly all endings are sad endings.”
36. He makes a deal with Jive Records, future home to Britney Spears and NSync, in the early 1980s “thinking that Clive Calder’s label would give us a boost in the rock world.” Irony alert.
37. Taylor Dayne: another failed auteur. “Taylor fell victim to her ambition to be a songwriter.” Many years later, “she wrote me a long letter, saying how deeply she regretted not listening to me years ago,” but he felt sad, knowing that “too much time, too many years had elapsed for Top 40 to be a realistic goal.”
38. Milli Vanilli: He knew nothing. Davis was offended that anyone could think of him as a “co-conspirator” and imagined him “stroking a cat in my lap like Dr. Evil.” But he says it was a pickup deal and no one from Arista in the United States even met singers Fab and Rob until five months after the album had come out and it was already two-times platinum. Even then, “it never would have entered my mind to take Rob or Fab aside and say, ‘Honestly, between us, is that really you singing?’” Davis doesn’t think it reaches Watergate-like proportions. “Even if [people] think, Those were the guys who didn’t really sing on the records, they can’t deny that the songs hooked them.”
39. Michael Jackson broke into his parents’ house to confront Jermaine over “Word to the Badd.” The bad blood between the brothers stemmed mostly to a dispute over the services of L.A. Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Jermaine was working with the writer-producers on his first album for the Arista-distributed LaFace, but then Michael offered them more money and all that material was diverted to him. Soon after, there was a leak to radio “Word to the Badd,” Jermaine’s “bitter excoriation of his brother.” Michael called Davis to complain and lobby to get it taken off his brother’s upcoming album, saying, “How could you let my brother do this?” Davis said it was not under his control, and Michael lamented that his brother was avoiding him and was nowhere to be found. Davis told Michael that he had just gotten a call from Jermaine at their parents’ house. Hours later, Jermaine called Davis from the house and said, “Michael went around to the back, climbed up and went through a window, and came down the stairs and confronted me.” Eventually Jermaine rewrote the lyrics to make it about “a lovers’ quarrel” instead of including the original lines about skin-whitening and such.
40. TLC come to Davis’ office to demand money they think they have coming … and post their own security guard outside the door so no one else can enter. “Later, rumors circulated that they were armed, but I never saw any weapons.”
41. Toni Braxton doesn’t like “Un-Break My Heart” and balks at recording it. Of course, Davis prevails … unlike later, when Braxton co-writes seven of 12 songs on her third album, “which didn’t make nearly the impact, either culturally or commercially, of her first two albums.” Davis also points to her “overspending, grandiose productions and videos, ultraexpensive touring costs, and a desire to write her own material” as factors in her downhill slide.
42. Davis never brings any security with him when he’s hanging out with the new generation of hip-hop stars, like his protégé Sean "Puffy" Combs. “One time I was at a party, and the next day I heard there was a shooting after I left. So I probably was like Mr. Magoo or just plain stupid.”
43. He and certain rappers are birds of a materialistic feather. “My relationship with Puffy also highlighted certain elements of my lifestyle that played well in the hip-hop world. In the rock world … you present yourself in jeans and vintage shirts … I very much enjoy good clothes and some of the finer things in life. Rappers do, too, and perhaps it’s one of the reasons I’ve been welcomed so warmly into their world.”
44. Ace of Base have one of the biggest selling albums of all time -- something that is inexplicable even to Davis, almost. He says it was certified diamond, and although the RIAA site says it has actually only gone nine-times-platinum, most people today would be startled to know that The Sign even sold 2 million. “As quickly as they appeared, they were gone. They just couldn’t pull it off a second time … You can’t schedule a charisma implant.”
45. Carlos Santana is advised by an angel to meet with Davis. The veteran guitarist invites the mogul to a show and shares the desire to work together for the first time in decades. “When I asked Carlos what he wanted to do with his music, he told me that his goal was to connect ‘the molecules with the light.’ Being on the radio would be his means of accomplishing that.” The source of this mysticism? The angel Metatron, who must have been onto something, since after not going gold for years, Santana managed to go 15-times-platinum with Supernatural.
46. Davis was never a fan of former BMG chairman Michael Dornemann. “He had been an efficiency expert and was definitely not a music man. It was well known within the industry that when you met with Dornemann you were there to listen.” This may sound like the pot calling the kettle black, but Davis makes a good case for Dornemann’s ineptness. At one point, the BMG chief tells him, “Well, you are an employee, not a partner,” even though Davis’ phantom equity interest in Arista spelled things out very differently. When a meeting is scheduled for Davis to re-up his deal, with pen in hand, Davis looked at Dornemann’s boss, Bertelsmann chief Mark Woessner, and asked, “Before I sign … am I your partner or your employee?” Davis got the answer he wanted, in front of his adversary.
47. The dinner where Dornemann and Strauss Zelnick told Davis he’d have to retire as head of Arista, and be replaced by L.A. Reid, does not last long. “I was 67 at the time, and believed that I was at the height of my powers … I got up and walked out of the restaurant.” The timing couldn’t have been worse for Davis’ corporate overseers, since the Santana album was just beginning to blow up and turn into the year’s pop phenomenon.
48. As Bertelsmann rushes to reverse the blunder, with top artists threatening to bolt the label group, Davis gets $150 million in startup money for J Records. That’s “roughly three times what any major-label start-up had previously cost.”
49. Around the same time, as the result of a bad deal made years earlier, the corporation is contractually obligated to buy out the “other” Clive, Clive Calder, for $2.7 billion. Oy.
50. Other people balk at promoting Maroon 5 as a pop act, thinking the band needs to be pushed as “modern rock.” But Davis thinks “the jig will be up when we release ‘This Love’ and ‘She Will Be Loved’ as singles … Ultimately to me the band had far greater potential in the pop genre than in rock.” He prevailed. But when it was time to renew the deal with Maroon 5’s label before the second album, Davis bailed. “We crunched the numbers and projected that J was likely to earn somewhere between $20 and $25 million if the next three Maroon 5 albums were successful, while Octone would have to pay us $38 million if it moved to another label.” It was nice to know you, Adam Levine, and while otherwise laudatory, Davis doesn’t mind pointing out the follow-up albums didn’t do nearly as well.
51. Rod Stewart is resurrected … as long as he agrees never to cut a song people haven’t heard a billion times before. The Great American Songbook series wasn’t Davis’ idea, originally, though it sounds like one of his. Davis admits he would never have signed Stewart to rock material this late in his career. But when Stewart and his producer Richard Perry brought him a nearly completed orchestral standards album that had been self-financed, Davis liked the idea, but insisted on throwing out all but a couple of tunes, saying he didn’t want them doing anything remotely unknown to the mass audience. “They chose a few obscure personal favorites … In one sense, they began thinking like critics … They somehow thought the best-known songs were too obvious.” Once they agreed to go with the lowest-common-denominator choices, they ended up releasing five standards albums.
52. X Factor U.K. winner Leona Lewis, too, falls victim to the “I want to write” curse. Davis couldn’t be prouder of breaking Lewis as a multi-platinum act in the States, but for her follow-up, “Leona ended up co-writing nine of the album’s 13 songs. As usual in the case of pop artists, this unexpected turn was ill-advised.” The resulting sophomore effort, he rues, did not even go gold.
53. When Sony BMG tries to bump him upstairs again in 2008, as “chief creative officer” of the label group, this time he accepts. Davis traces his acceptance of the move to reading the self-help book Who Moved My Cheese?
54. At one point he was making $80 million a year. That was one reason Sony BMG wanted to make a change, he admits. But in the years 2004 to 2006, he says he made that much money largely as a result of the end of a five-year buyout deal with a 50 percent ownership in J Records. In 2007-08, after the buyout was complete, he was making a mere $30 million or so. But he says Andy Lack and others didn’t take the buyout into consideration when they were considering his high compensation.
55. Somebody has a pretty bad memory when it comes to tearful outbursts. Whether it’s Davis or American Idol season one winner Kelly Clarkson isn’t altogether clear. He writes that Clarkson hated the experience of working with writer-producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke on the songs “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” and that she cried for minutes when he told her they had already been enthusiastically received at BMG’s international sales conference and would have to stay on her third album. She eventually had to leave the room to compose herself, by his account. Clarkson has said, in turn, that she did cry in front of Davis once, and only once -- when he insulted her song “Because of You” and called her a “shitty writer.” Davis insists in the book that he loved that song and only thought that it should be saved for a third single. As Clive’s pal Aretha once said … who’s zoomin’ who?
56. Kelly is no Bob or Bruce, as far as Davis concerned. When he told her that she was wrong to co-write the entirety of her My December album -- which he characterizes as primarily “dreary” material about her breakup with former Evanescence member David Hodges -- she must have brought up the Boss. “I want to add here that I made it abundantly clear to Kelly in our conversation the difference between My December and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album … My December is a pure pop album about breaking up with your boyfriend. We’re not dealing with ‘The answer is blowing in the wind.’”
57. And she’s no Carrie Underwood, either, necessarily, in his mind. Davis writes that he “can’t honestly say one way or the other” whether he would have signed Clarkson if he hadn’t been mandated to as an American Idol winner. Now, that’s a diss.
58. Neither he nor Clarkson is unassailable at math. In the book Davis says that none of the three follow-up singles that were released after “Never Again” from the My December album cracked the Hot 100. In her retort, Clarkson said there weren’t any follow-up singles off that album at all. They’re both wrong: There was one, “Sober.” Davis and his co-writer might have gotten confused by looking at her Wikipedia discography, but the two other singles listed there were released in place of “Sober” in foreign territories.
59. But Clarkson might be slightly worse than Davis at arithmetic, after all. “Kelly explained to a reporter that she told me, ‘I get you don’t like the album. You’re eighty -- you’re not supposed to like my album.’ And there I was, a mere seventy-four at the time!”
60. Yep, he’s bi. But you knew that.