Like most of the rest of us mere mortals, legendary music executive and producer Clive Davis has been quarantining at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Also like many of us, he’s been using this time of social distancing to listen to lots and lots of music.
Over six decades in the business, Davis shepherded the careers of some of the most legendary performers of the 20th century, from Whitney Houston to Aretha Franklin to Janis Joplin to Bruce Springsteen. But while most his age tend to lean on the old classics, Davis makes a concerted effort to keep up with the biggest hitmakers of today. Indeed, his quarantine playlist is a who’s-who of contemporary pop artists who have churned out some of the most inescapable songs of the past 20 years.
Davis’ playlist isn’t just a random collection of hits, however. Rather, they’re connected to a new project by Davis’ longtime friend and collaborator Barry Manilow, whom he signed to Arista Records in the mid-1970s. The two men, who have been speaking daily by phone since they entered quarantine in two neighboring Palm Springs homes, have been jointly compiling a playlist for a prospective Manilow album that would see the iconic singer recording covers of the most impactful and lasting songs of the 21st century.
“That, in effect, is the criteria,” Davis tells Billboard of choosing songs that would work for the album’s concept. “Which of these 21st century greatest hits could be standards for the future?”
Davis’ playlist, which can be found below, represents a selection of his favorites that have sprung from his friendly collaboration with Manilow — i.e. the ones he’s been listening to the most while in quarantine. All of them, he says, have the qualities that make a standard, much like Manilow’s much-beloved No. 1 hit “Mandy,” the first hit song the two worked on together.
“The songs that we worked on together, beginning with ‘Mandy’ and all the hits that we enjoyed together, are standards for today,” says Davis. “He can still play arenas all over the world…they weren’t just hits of the past that you vaguely remember.”
Though the songs are all linked with the Manilow project, they aren’t the only ones Davis has been listening to during the pandemic. He’s also been keeping up with some of the latest hip-hop releases, including Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” Post Malone’s “Circles,” The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” Lil Uzi Vert’s “Baby Pluto” and Future’s “Life Is Good” featuring Drake.
Davis has also been making time for older releases from some of the artists he’s been most associated with over the years — most notably, the late greats Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston.
Of Franklin specifically, Davis says he’s been listening heavily to her 2014 covers album Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, which he executive-produced. Speaking of standards, that album saw Franklin reinterpreting some of the greatest songs ever recorded by women, including Etta James’ “At Last,” Barbra Streisand’s “People,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Chaka Khan‘s “I’m Every Woman.”
“I think that apart from [the fact that] this is a great Aretha album, [it] shows even in her later years, that there was no one like her,” says Davis, who is serving as an executive producer on the forthcoming Aretha biopic starring Jennifer Hudson as well as Nat Geo’s eight-part miniseries Genius: Aretha starring Cynthia Erivo. “It showed how she can make classic copyrights her own.”
As for Houston, Davis — who is also involved with the forthcoming Whitney biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody being scripted by Anthony McCarten — says he’s been watching the DVD Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances, which highlights some of the singer’s most show-stopping live appearances.
“I hadn’t seen that really in a few years,” he says. “So in conversing with Anthony and with [Houston’s mother] Pat Houston, I said, ‘Whomever in the future we decide on for the director, cinematographer, unit director, whatever — in order for them to understand the magnitude and the full picture of Whitney, they would have to watch and listen to that incredible audiovisual collection of songs.’”
Davis’ full quarantine playlist track list:
Ed Sheeran, “Perfect”
Bruno Mars, “Just the Way You Are”
Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop The Feeling”
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
Harry Styles, “Sign Of The Times”
Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours”
Sam Smith and Normani, “Dancing With a Stranger”
Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
Alicia Keys, “No One”
Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music”