Clive Davis “The Soundtrack Of Our Lives” Premiere AT Radio City Music Hall, Wednesday, April 19th, 2017, Reviewed
If I never hear Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” again it will be too soon. Anything I loved about the song, or, to be frank, Jeff Buckley’s epochal version that changed Cohen into an immortal for all the wrong reasons, is at work at the promise to be oversung forever more. Specifically by Jennifer Hudson, the American Idol winner who, along with so many other American Idol early alumni, was signed to Clive Davis’ J Records. After last night’s screening of Chris Perkel’s Clive Davis documentary “The Soundtrack Of Our Lives”,” there was a concert with A List singers from Davis long and lustrous career and it was Jennifer Hudson’s roof rattling “Hallelujah” which set the tone for Davis essence: singers and songs. It was no fun but soon Hudson took on a Whitney Houston medley and that was more like it, running through the aisles before stopping in front of Clive during “I Want To Dance With Somebody,” it was a reminder of both the power and the limitations of the man.
Clive was a Jewish boy from Brooklyn whose parents died when he was in his teens, he got a scholarship to NYU and Harvard and joined Columbia Records as head attorney and finally head man, till a scandal (he allegedly used company funds to pay for his son’s Bar Mitzvah) caused the cautious CBS -whose television airwaves could always be put in jeopardy, to fire him. He formed Artista Records and was fired for making too much money and then J Records. He made money everywhere he went and at 85 years of age, he is an elder statesman of pop with incredible ears. Put it this way, he bankrolled Sean Comb’s Bad Boy Records after hearing a demo of Notorious B.I.G. rapping.
The thing is, nobody who heard Big Brother And The Holding Company at Monterey Pop didn’t know they would be big, obviously they would be big, it is more that Clive cared more and paid more, he was smarter. He knew where to go and why. His list of artists is endless, his achievements boundless: Davis convinced Barry Manilow to cover “Brandy,” Bruce to add a hit to his debut album, Dionne Warwick to come out of retirement, gave Carlos Santana “Smooth,” insisted “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was the single, and cradled Whitney Houston through her career. And that just skims the surface.
But, he wasn’t the man he is portrayed as being here. I worked on several advertising campaigns for Arista, and while I didn’t meet him, the account executives did and he was as rude and arrogant as you might expect from a man with so much power. Not just to employees and business associates either, his rudeness to Kelly Clarkson is legendary (he was right, but so what?). All of Davis’ biggest instincts were populism, he wasn’t an artists manager as such but a mainstream pop artists manager, despite a Patti Smith and a Gil-Scott Heron. It isn’t that Davis doesn’t get the art, not really, but that he is at his best where, as the head of a recording company, he should be: releasing music that sells.
It was Clive the pop star making concert we got after the screening. This was no small concert, a full orchestra was on hand and Barry Manilow seemed to come out in mid-concert with “I Think we Made It” followed by “I Write The Songs,” Jennifer Hudson’s terrific performance was a joyful thing, Dionne Warwick is always a pleasure to see but what a pity she wasn’t performing her Bacharach-David songs and “That’s What Friends Are For,” instead though to be fair, it has improved with age. Whoopi made an interesting comment about Carly Simon’s version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (I would love to see a full Carly concert -oh, well), that it gave a beat to the song, Earth Wind And Fire performed a dynamic “Got To Get You Into My Life” before being joined by -ta-dah, Kenny G.
The end of the evening was just two songs by Aretha Franklin, one of the greatest singers of all time, and she gave us a superb “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” with a shattering emotionally piercing power than belied the warning that she had an upper respiratory infection. The evening ended with “Freeway Of Love” and there is Davis in a nutshell: it resurrected her career on the charts but really, does it compare to “Sparkle” or “RESPECT”? Right? Great to hear but…
This is Davis, nothing succeeds like success and Davis’ career speaks for itself, but he isn’t what the movie claims he is.