Book Excerpt From Clive Davis' 'The Soundtrack To My Life:' Negotiating Simon & Garfunkel’s Troubled Waters
Gavin Bond

From the forthcoming book titled “The Soundtrack of My Life” by Clive Davis and Anthony DeCurtis. Copyright © 2013, by Clive Davis. To be published by Simon & Schuster. Printed by permission.

It’s a joke -- but only half a joke -- among executives in the music industry that any conversation you have with an artist is invariably about that artist. That intense focus is necessary for their art -- it helps give them the confidence to run the risks that great creativity requires. But it doesn’t easily make for the mutuality that true friendship requires. Still, Paul Simon and I had sons the same age and we became neighbors on Central Park West. My high regard for his songwriting didn’t hurt, of course -- I personally felt that as a songwriter Paul Simon was in a class with Dylan and Lennon/McCartney, and that Simon & Garfunkel were qualitatively the equivalent of the Beatles -- but we shared interests outside the music business and eventually grew close.

None of that made working with Simon & Garfunkel any easier. A notable example of how difficult it was occurred after the director Mike Nichols asked Paul if he would write new songs for his 1967 film “The Graduate.” With some obvious exceptions, soundtrack albums at the time essentially amounted to souvenirs for people who had enjoyed the movie. Their commercial success depended less on the quality of the music than the box-office success of the film. However, I thought this project had real possibilities. Nichols had become one of the most important directors in the country after being nominated for an Academy Award for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” His talent combined with Paul’s songwriting seemed like a stellar match to me, so when Embassy Motion Pictures offered Columbia the soundtrack rights, I snapped them up.

Clive Davis with Sly Stone in Los Angeles, September 1973. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The problems began when Nichols decided not to use the few new songs Paul had written for the film -- a significant exception being a snippet of “Mrs. Robinson,” named for the sultry character played by Anne Bancroft. He chose instead to use songs from previous Simon & Garfunkel albums, including versions of “The Sound of Silence” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.” Paul wasn’t happy about the whole experience of writing for the film, and when I asked him if there was enough music in it for an album, he said in no uncertain terms that there wasn’t. Then, when the film opened and it was clear that it was going to be a blockbuster hit, I again asked Paul if we could somehow assemble a soundtrack album. Again he said no. Determined, I then went to the Columbia A&R man in charge of soundtracks and asked what he thought. He agreed with Paul.

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Purely from a business standpoint, I felt Columbia was losing a major opportunity at a time when a big hit album could have really helped the company -- not to mention help me continue to move things in the progressive direction I wanted. With relatively little effort we could have a soundtrack that was virtually guaranteed to be a major success. But I also firmly believed that the soundtrack could help propel Simon & Garfunkel to a new level of stardom, and also bring Paul some of the exceptional songwriting recognition he deserved. Their albums Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme had done very well, but as “The Graduate” was being hailed as a definitive document of the era, finding a credible way to emphasize their association with it would be highly desirable. I just couldn’t let that opportunity slip.

Finally, one day, in the middle of my work, I left the office and went to see “The Graduate” myself. As I sat in the theater and watched, it became obvious that the movie was terrific and was going to be enormously successful. What also became apparent to me was the potential solution to my problem. When Paul and my A&R man Ed Kleban told me that there wasn’t enough music to put together a soundtrack album, they were thinking only of the Simon & Garfunkel songs in the film. But the composer Dave Grusin had written an instrumental soundtrack that was prominently used in the film. Vinyl albums typically contained somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes of music. We could very legitimately assemble a soundtrack for “The Graduate” that combined Grusin’s score and the Simon & Garfunkel songs.


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The only remaining problem -- and it was far from insignificant -- was convincing Paul and Artie that it was a good idea. I called Mort Lewis, who managed Simon & Garfunkel, and made my case. He was blunt: Paul did not want a soundtrack album, and Artie completely agreed with him. They were in the process of completing the Bookends album, and they didn’t want a potential soundtrack either to delay the release of Bookends or confuse fans by cluttering the marketplace. I responded that the potential audience for the soundtrack was significantly larger than their own following, and would bring their music to new fans.

To seal the deal I spoke to Paul directly. I assured him that, in its marketing, Columbia would make it clear that this was not a Simon & Garfunkel album. They would not appear on the cover -- which instead used the iconic seduction shot of a mesmerized Dustin Hoffman staring at the upraised, stocking-clad leg of Anne Bancroft. The large title on the cover would indicate that this was the official soundtrack album of “The Graduate,” and smaller type would read something like “Songs by Paul Simon” and “Performed by Simon & Garfunkel.”

Paul was adamant. “We’ve been working on Bookends a long time,” he said. “We are totally into it, and we think it’s a major creative breakthrough. We don’t want to wait six months to put it out.” He needn’t have worried. Not only did I think it made good commercial sense to release the albums back to back, but, in order to keep Columbia fresh, I was experimenting with release strategies, and this unlikely move fit perfectly with that approach. I was convinced that once the two albums were out, Simon & Garfunkel would be superstars.

However reluctantly, Paul and Artie agreed to let me release the soundtrack to “The Graduate,” which I did in January 1968. Predictably, it proved tremendously popular, hitting the top of the charts and eventually reaching more than 2 million in sales. That beautifully set the table for the April release of Bookends and its classic first single, “Mrs. Robinson.” Both the single and the album shot to No. 1, and the album also went on to sell more than 2 million copies. Indeed, Simon & Garfunkel were now superstars. They had become household names all over the world.

No good deed goes unpunished, alas, so relations between Simon & Garfunkel and Columbia, as well as with me personally, still grew tense at times. Despite the extraordinary career and financial benefits the soundtrack brought to them, Paul and Artie nursed a lingering resentment over its release. That puzzled me not only because it had worked out so well, but because I never would have done it without their agreement. There are definitely times when artists and executives don’t see eye to eye. Perspectives just don’t coincide. In this case, Paul and Artie were also upset because, in my ongoing effort to make variable pricing an accepted industry strategy, I had charged $1 more than usual for Bookends. The anticipation for the album, which included a large poster, was so considerable that I figured it was a perfect moment to try it. That clearly didn’t impede the album’s sales, but in that countercultural heyday, it struck them as a hard-nosed business, Establishment-style decision, which I suppose it was.

I understood their concern, but as the president of a major record label, I did have concerns of my own. I needed blockbuster sales to offset the major decline we’d seen in the sales of Mitch Miller and Broadway show albums, and I felt the decision was profitable for the artists as well as for Columbia. I really didn’t feel any particular need to apologize for it. Inevitably, their contract came up for renegotiation and, while I didn’t detect any gratitude for my efforts to make Paul and Artie superstars, it immediately was made extremely clear to me that they expected to be paid in a way commensurate with that status. Fair enough. But the strong feelings on both sides didn’t create an ideal environment for negotiations. Eventually I gave them a royalty appropriate to their importance, and they extended their contract with Columbia.

It’s ironic that all these tensions and difficulties were occurring while we were having nothing but success. Making it even harder, I personally liked Paul and Artie a great deal both as people and as artists, and felt that I had much in common with them. During my years at Columbia there were probably no other artists I listened to more often purely for pleasure than Simon & Garfunkel. For all those reasons I began to try to repair whatever damage had been done to our relationship. Paul and I began to have lunch together, and as we grew more comfortable, he confided in me about some of the problems he was having with Artie. In particular, Artie had agreed to a role in Mike Nichols’ movie “Catch‑22,” which was being filmed in Mexico. Shooting was taking much longer than anticipated, and Paul was eager to complete work on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. If you listen to Paul’s song “The Only Living Boy in New York” on Bridge, you can get the feel for some of the emotions he was experiencing.

 

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