Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
DAVIS, Clive(b 14 April 1933, Brooklyn NY) US record company executive. Joined Columbia Records as a lawyer in 1960; became Vice President and General Manager '66. Columbia, then owned by CBS in the USA, separate from EMI's Columbia and marketed as CBS overseas, had been the most important US major since the early '50s, relying on original cast Broadway albums, film soundtracks, mainstream artists Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams etc. Davis's first signing was folk-rocker Donovan. Surprising himself with his acumen, Davis wrote later in autobiography Clive: Inside The Record Business '74: 'It all began for me at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.' That year he signed Janis Joplin, Spirit, Blood, Sweat and Tears; in '68-9 Johnny Winter, Chicago, Santana; then John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra; broke Mott the Hoople in USA, poached Pink Floyd for the USA; parlayed Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water '70 into the best-selling Columbia LP ever; signed Neil Diamond for $4m '73 (which looked like a lot of money but paid off); ensured Bob Dylan's staying with Columbia with a new contract (insisted on releasing 'Lay Lady Lay' as single: it was a top ten hit); helped sell a million of Walter Carlos's Switched-On Bach. Not everything was perfect: during this period Columbia mishandled Thelonious Monk and blew out Tony Bennett, but Davis never claimed to be an expert on music; his instinct got Columbia a corner on the most commercially successful pop of the era. The early Bruce Springsteen excitement was mishandled after Davis left; in reaction to the era's cultural/musical changes (which many resented) and because Columbia was suddenly overextended as an economic recession loomed, he was a scapegoat in 1973, dumped and charged with fiddling expenses (later cleared).
He went to Bell in '74, the label name soon changing to Arista; he helped break Barry Manilow in the dawn of MOR, signed the Kinks and Aretha Franklin, got co-writer's credit on songs for Air Supply: his commercial acumen was still there, but he still didn't know anything about music. He mishandled English rocker Roy Hill, a writer of stark, spare, socio-sexual laments (Hill's album '78 was a grossly overproduced party record, sank without a trace) and bungled Carly Simon's comeback album '88 (it barely made the top 100). He discovered Whitney Houston and signed her to a personal contract, so that if he got fired again she could leave with him, and her albums are big hits, but the songs are no good: there is more to music than the bottom line. Davis the lawyer was not the worst of the lot, but he was an early sign of the disturbing direction the industry was taking. In 2005 he was still a kingpin at BMG, which included RCA, Columbia worldwide, Arista and a hundred others.