Clive’s Cringes

on Jul 20 in Music by

Clive Davis could spot gold in a song.

The Arista Records chief–whose tenure ran from 1975-2000–was responsible for signing huge acts like Air SupplyAnnie LennoxAretha Franklin, and Ace of Base. His biggest discovery was the late Whitney Houston, who became one of the best selling artists in music history.


Bob Weir, of The Grateful Dead, even changed the lyrics of the Dead staple, “Jack Straw”, in concert from “we used to play for silver, now we play for life,” to “we used to play for silver, now we play for Clive.”

Davis’s ear transformed the fledgling company into a treasure trove, although many music purists cringed at the sounds emanating from Arista during this period. Plus, the record company incited numerous music critics to write words of vitriolic vulgarity.

The list below describes some of the worst signings/albums ever by the man who bleeds success. The countdown is not all failures. Several successful musicians made the cut because they rile the blood of anyone who enjoys quality music.

Call it nauseating nostalgia.


Milli Vanilli



The duo set the bar for the most humiliating experience in music, and, perhaps, human history.

Arista signed the German-based band of Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan in 1989. Their debut, “Girl You Know It’s True”, lit up the radiowaves and every teen’s heart in the country.

No one forgot their number when this track hit #1 in July, 1989:

Six million copies sold. Five singles hit the top 10, three of which hit number one. In 1990, the duo won two American Music Awards and one Grammy Awards for Best New Artist.

Then, the rumors began.

Their manager, Frank Farian, admitted to orchestrating the whole Milli Vanilli look and sound. Farian hired studio musicians and fronted the whole thing with two attractive (Pilatus and Morvan) dancers. Farian then admitted that the duo never sang a note.

The fall-out was brutal. Over-dubbing and lip syncing became moral sacrilege. Milli Vanilli had their Grammy revoked. Clive Davis released the group from Arista and then deleted the album and its masters from the catalog. The final insult came when a court ruled that anyone who bought Milli Vanilli’s album would get a partial refund.

“What would you have done,” Morvan retorted in a post-aftermath article. “Before Milli Vanilli, I was working at McDonald’s.”

Here’s some lip-sync mastery at the (gasp) Grammy’s:


Up next…New drugs or ghosts?  Huey Lewis and Ray Parker Jr. duke it out over which came first. 

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