I loved reading The Soundtrack Of My Life; co-written by Anthony DeCurtis, because I love reading books about Rock and Pop Music. I found the book self-serving and DeCurtis isn’t the best writer.
As a lawyer Davis served Columbia and Arista well. As a Manager and CEO he also served his bosses and shareholders well. He even served his artists and their fans well. But I can’t help but hold him responsible for the death of real music. No wonder everything sounds robotic now. Davis pushed his artists into a factory mode of creating music. As the book progressed, I found the music his artist made to be less and less interesting. The word Bland comes to mind.
Davis had an M.O.
- Sign an artist.
- Force them to record someone else’s songs.
- Use money and connections to promote the resulting crap.
- Once the artist pushes back, drop the artist and repeat.
Sure the artist will have hits, but they are no longer artists, they are entertainers. And the hits will dry up once Davis gets bored and moves on to the next artist. Meanwhile you don’t have time to develop your natural audience, and your old audience moves on as well. We are seeing the end result of those trends now, with nothing like real music on the pop charts.
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It’s become a cliché to say that change is good, but it is. However, it’s also incredibly difficult and typically requires very hard work. It was during this early period that I began my lifelong habit of bringing home and listening to all the major records on the charts every week, just to develop a clear sense of what’s going on. I do that to this day. You can never take your understanding of the market for granted. The market changes, and you need to absorb and comprehend the nature of those changes. You don’t necessarily need to conform to them. If you believe in something strongly enough, you can defy them. But you can’t act in ignorance of them. To break the rules creatively you have to know what the rules are. Your own taste is not the issue. At every moment you have to ask yourself, Is music changing? Is radio changing? Is the change coming, or is it here already? What was a hit five years ago might no longer be a hit today. Music is always evolving, and it’s essential to understand how and when it does, and what you need to do about it.location 931–39
If you’re lucky, there are moments in your life when you step into the outline of the person you might always have wanted to become, perhaps without even knowing it. You then feel truly comfortable for the first time. That process began for me at Monterey.location 1129–31
Going back into the studio to work on them was out of the question, needless to say. He liked to work fast in the studio, and almost to a fault never belabored anything. The notion of going back to songs he had recorded years before in order to “improve” them was nothing he was interested in. He was the furthest thing from an audiophile, and he liked the performances the way they were. If the feel was right, that was enough for him. Also, Dylan bootlegs were beginning to make the rounds, and I think he felt that if people were interested in hearing that material, he might as well be the one to put it out. location 2033–37
“They want to be with you,” he told me. “They very much like the fact that you started Arista from scratch. They know who you’ve signed and what you’ve done, and they know exactly how you’ve conducted operations there. They’ve met with a lot of people, a lot of labels, and they feel you’re head and shoulders better.” location 4039–42
Experiencing that gave me inspiration when I founded Arista in 1974 to apply the Nashville model to pop, to sign more artists who had performing and vocal skills but just didn’t write, to do A&R in the most fundamental meaning of the term: matching artists with repertoire, getting back to that nearly lost, but exciting and fulfilling, part of the record-making process. location 6185–88
So I probably was like Mr. Magoo or just plain stupid. location 6723–24 [Maybe the most true sentence in the book.]
Coincidentally, at that time we were looking for some songs to complete the soundtrack for The Bodyguard. Curtis had been doing a cover of Nick Lowe’s song “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which had famously been covered by Elvis Costello, in his live set, and we decided to have him record a studio version and submit it for the film. Curtis’s studio version did indeed make the film. It was a windfall for Lowe, whose royalty check on Bodyguard sales reportedly amounted to around £1 million, and of course for Curtis. The worldwide sales of the Bodyguard soundtrack album were so extraordinary that that one track effectively wiped out Curtis’s entire debt to the company with enough left over to buy him a new house. location 6850–55 [There is a story about Ian Gomm, who co-wrote the song. He opened his mailbox one day and there was a check for $1,000,000. It was completely unexpected. Needless to say he was flabbergasted.]
I, however, spoke to Carlos in much more direct terms about the potential ideas I had for his next studio album. I wanted him to understand fully what I had in mind, and I didn’t want any miscommunication between us. I always try to be clear and up front, and in this instance I thought it was especially necessary. I asked Carlos, “Are you hungry for your career right now?” He answered, “I am. Without question, I am dedicated to doing whatever I have to do to come back in a major way.” I then said, “What you do live is incredible, but getting on the radio is another matter entirely. Are you willing to work with contemporary artists, and have them perform with you on the album?” He didn’t hesitate for a second. He said that he would open his heart to those artists and do absolutely the best work with them that he could. So far, so good. Then I laid out my plan for him. I told him, “All right, then. Let me describe the blueprint I’ve come up with for the album I would like to make with you that I believe could be a winner. You would need to turn half the album over to me. I will come up with songs that I think are suitable candidates for singles and will do my best to make sure those songs are organic to the project and to you at this stage of your career. There will be nothing artificial and nothing that makes you uncomfortable. Ideally, they will be written by people that have been influenced by you, and whom you would enjoy having produce or perform on the track. In every instance you will always have the option of saying no. As for the other half of the album, you take control of it and come up with Santana-originated material that speaks for you and all your fans.” Carlos and his first wife, Deborah, were intently listening. Carlos immediately said, “I’m there one hundred percent.” So that became the blueprint for Supernatural. location 7028–41