Among the dozens of musical luminaries referenced in record man Clive Davis’ new autobiography, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” are a number of wild cards and surprises.
Yes, Davis devotes pages to his close affiliations with Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Sly Stone, Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin, Santana, Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. But fans of rock history will be equally transfixed by some of the little details.
Davis’ success over 50 years as an executive with the Columbia, Arista, BMG, J Records and Sony record labels has made him the face of the recording establishment. A smart, shrewd businessman whose ear for hits is legendary, Davis in “The Soundtrack of My Life” rolls through his career, artist by artist, deal by deal, classic album by classic album. He’s got some stories.
For example, Davis’ first job was as a lawyer at Columbia Records, home to a young Bob Dylan, who had wanted to include a song called “Talking John Birch Society Blues” on his 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” The song was a critique of a then-thriving right wing political group, and contained lines that Davis as Columbia counsel felt were libelous. He had to inform an infuriated young Dylan that the song wouldn’t make it onto the record.
“‘What is this?’” Davis recalls Dylan saying. “‘What do you mean I can’t come out with this song. You can’t edit or censor me!’”
Throughout “The Soundtrack of My Life,” Davis writes with calm openness, aided by longtime Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis, of his illustrious career as a hit maker.
He also gets personal, publicly revealing that he’s bisexual, and has over the past two decades been in two long-term relationships with men, as well as other sorts of relationships.
“There were married couples, gay couples, and single men and women, both straight and gay,” he says.