10 Things We Learned From Clive Davis' Tribeca Documentary
Last night, your favorite neighborhood managing editor was on-hand to see living legends, music history and captivating performances at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Why, you ask? It was opening night for the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and cinephiles from all over were present to pay their respects to Clive Davis, the architect of audio adventure, whose documentary, Soundtrack of Our Lives, is wholly apropos.
Based on Davis’ 2013 best-selling autobiography that chronicles the life and influences of “The Man with the Golden Ears,” viewers were treated to a masterclass of one of the music industry’s most iconic figure. From his masterful signings of Janis Joplin, Aerosmith and others to seeing how he crafted their careers to the top of the charts — Soundtrack marked a period in time when the business was fueled by chutzpah, ingenuity and imagination.
Directed by Chris Perkel, it is no secret that Clive’s story has been told many times, but there were still some really cool things to learn about the 85-year-old music man. From Kenny G to the Notorious B.I.G. — Clive Davis has woven the fabric of music for almost five decades, so given a chance to see his life unfold on the silver screen, I learned a few things about the man behind the myth that I’d like to share with you all.
Without no further ado, here are 10 things about Clive Davis we’ve learned from watching the Tribeca opening night film, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, which you can read below.
Left Law + Was Handpicked For Greatness
Like any Jewish boy from a family with no money, it was professed by Clive Davis that his parents wanted him to become a lawyer. After the untimely passing that was exactly what he did, earning his law degree from Harvard Law School. A chance opportunity opened up for him to advance into the music industry at Columbia Records. Knowing nothing about music, Columbia’s president Goddard Lieberson, promoted Clive to president after being with the company for only five years.
Thank Lou Adler For “Kidnapping” Clive Davis
Now as president of an internationally recognized music label, knowing nothing about music, Clive took a chance on faith and we have Lou Adler to thank for it. The iconic record producer urged, damn near dragged Clive to the Monterey Pop Festival. It was there, dressed in his best country club chic, where he immediately signed Big Brother and the Holding Company (led by vocalist Janis Joplin) and would go on to help introduce rock-and-roll into the mainstream.
Competition With Ahmet Ertegun Led To A Record Signing Boon
Clive was coming in and delivering unprecedented homers in both sales and artistry. From signing The Electric Flag, Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, Billy Joel and Aerosmith — Clive quickly became a name recognized in the music business. With that comes competition, and while names like Doug Morris (Sony) and Jimmy Iovine (Interscope) battled with him from time to time, it was Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic Records) who had his most fiery disposition towards Clive Davis. The two would go on to have legendary signing wars, coveting artist, convincing them why they should with them and not the other. Oh, what a time to be alive.
Clive Davis Financed Your Favorite Record Labels
Bankrolling the next wave of popular sound is probably what earned Clive Davis the nickname “The Man with the Golden Ears”. Not only could he pick a hit, he could see the future for the talent crafting it. So, when he stumbled upon the likes of a Leon Huff, a Kenny Gamble, a Sean Combs, a L.A. Reid or a Kenneth Edmonds — all he saw was the evolution revolution of sound. As Clive admits in his documentary, The Soundtrack of My Life, he wanted to also use this as an opportunity to gain a foothold on the next wave of music that would be big after rock-and-roll. With that in mind, Clive has struck gold multiple times by being the financier behind Philadelphia International Records, LaFace and Bad Boy Records.
Carlos Santana Only Wanted To Work With Clive Davis
A hotshot guitarist who couldn’t sing a note was how Ahmet Ertegun described Carlos Santana when talking about how great Clive Davis is. The innovator behind fusing rock with Latin American music was IT during the 1960s and 1970s, so when it came time to make the next step in his own career, Carlos already had a name in mind, but there would be obstacles in the way. Ahmet wanted to sign Carlos, but Carlos wanted to work with Clive, so during a performance where the former was in attendance, he played “like shit,” according to the multiple Grammy Award winner. He performed so bad that Atlantic Records wanted nothing to do with him. The following night, he would perform while Clive was there and had a spiritual connection to his music that enabled him to be signed and the two have worked together with great success ever since.
Clive Could Pick A Hit Better Than Anyone Else In The Biz
From “Smooth” with Rob Thomas on vocals from Carlos Santana’s legendary Supernatural album to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” for Simon + Garfunkel — Clive Davis knew how to pick a hit and create a sustainable career for an artist from just being able to know what the people want to hear on the airwaves. Barry Manilow was a great receiver of much success from this process, as Clive would find the best songs and insist that he would perform them. Manilow, a man who wanted to be known more for composing and arranging than being a pop star, would hedge a bit, but realized quickly that Clive knew what he was doing.
Fear Fueled The Focus + Drive To Succeed
The death of Clive Davis’ parents was an immense shock to him and proved that the life we live is ultimately short. He professed to having a deep-seeded fear of not death, per se, but of leaving life incomplete. It is with that worry that keeps him up at all hours of the night (even at age 85) and incessant on getting things right with his insanely rigorous and fine-toothed combing quality control sessions. It is said that that sort of madness drives one toward success, but if you look over the life of Clive Davis, he was meant to be successful right out the gate.
Arista Has The Only Saturday Night Live Comedy Record In Existence
Clive Davis’ time at Arista, a label he founded, was a boon period for him. With Barry Manilow writing the songs that the whole world sang, Gil Scott-Heron making the label rooted in New York grit and reinvigorating the careers of Dionne Warwick + Aretha Franklin — Arista was Big Apple to its core. How deep did that go? Well, Arista recorded not just the only Saturday Night Live record, but an LP for Lily Tomlin when she performed her stand-up on Broadway. True legends.
Picked The Grateful Dead’s Only Number One Hit
The Dead had fans the world over since the ’70s, but a new generation was arising with no idea who this experimental, psychadelic, space rock band from Palo Alto, California was. While working on their 1987 effort, In The Dark, the band was working on a song and wasn’t believing that it should make the album. Clive, the “Man with the Golden Ears,” in his infinite wisdom, heard the song and said, “That’s the one.” Choosing to listen to this wise sage, the song, which was “Touch of Grey,” would go on to be top 10 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 9, and would reach number 1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. This marked the only time the Grateful Dead would chart as high, and the song’s video would endear them to a whole new generation of fans.
The “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” Demo Was Originally For Olivia Newton-John
Despite public and professional opinion being that “I Wanna Dance” was reminiscent of “How Will I Know” by Cyndi Lauper, Clive Davis knew he had something, just had to figure out what it was. Originally, George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam tried to pass the demo to Clive, who wasn’t a fan at first. “It sounded like it would be a hit for Olivia Newton-John. I love her, and I think this would be a great hit for her, but it didn’t have that real heat,” he said in the documentary. “The song needed someone who could really deliver that feeling meant to make the song be genuine.” Enter: Whitney Houston. The song would be the first single from her second studio album, and since then has gone on to be a classic standard for any pop, R&B star to learn note for note. Sorry, Olivia!
Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives has been purchased by Apple Music.