Looking for the Magic
By: Mitchell Cohen - Trouser Press Books, $20.00
Description: Looking for the Magic is a cultural-historical remix, a fresh perspective on how Arista Records reflected its place and time, New York in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Through interviews with dozens of artists and executives, music journalist Mitchell Cohen goes inside the business of making and marketing music during this vibrant and diverse period.
Under Clive Davis, rock, pop, punk, jazz, R&B, disco, cabaret and Broadway were all represented on Arista. The label sounded like the city it was at the geographical center of.
Verdict: As author Mitchell Cohen himself freely admits, “This is a story about the music business in New York City, and specifically how Arista Records evolved from the direction of Larry Uttal at Bell Records into Clive Davis’ creative vision for a multi-faceted label.”
“Beyond that, what compelled me to write this was the opportunity to discuss the mechanics of being a successful independently-distributed record company, and to direct the spotlight beyond the usual musical suspects to some less-heralded Arista artists that I’d hope readers would check out.”
Chock full of all of those promises along with a whole smorgasbord more of quite wondrous stories, tales and heightened bouts of flashback reminiscing, we quickly learn that from its inception as a new entity built on the pop and soul foundation of Bell Records, to groundbreaking artists like Gil Scott-Heron and Patti Smith, to revitalized legends like the Kinks and Aretha Franklin, up to its launching of its biggest star, Whitney Houston, Arista Records’ story has never been told quite like this ever before.
Thus, Looking for the Magic: New York City, the ’70s and the Rise of Arista Records covers the wide scope of the label’s roster: its giant pop successes (Barry Manilow), its dedication to cutting-edge jazz (Anthony Braxton) and its embrace of rock royalty (Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead), and trust me when I say, nearly everything in-between.
Looking for the Magic (named after a song by Arista group the Dwight Twilley Band) takes the reader behind the scenes, to the Kinks’ backstage fights, Lou Reed’s on-stage diatribes, and to CBGB’s, Kenny’s Castaways and the Continental Baths.
We find out how “Because the Night” made its way from Bruce Springsteen to Patti Smith; how Barry Manilow went from obscurity to stardom; how MTV ushered in a second British Invasion for bands like the Thompson Twins and Haircut One Hundred; and how Arista formed alliances with adventurous labels like Stiff and Ze Records.
As for author Mitchell Cohen himself, well, he has written about music and film for Creem, High Fidelity, Film Comment, the Village Voice, Musician and Phonograph Record. He actually began working at Arista Records in the late ’70s as a publicity and advertising copywriter and then as one of the label’s A&R executives.
Furthermore, he himself was also nominated for a Grammy, won a Clio Award and is the co-author of All These Things That I’ve Done (with Matt Pinfield) and The White Label Promo Preservation Society (with Sal Maida).
In summary, if you are a genuine, bonafide lover of all-things music, especially from the ’70s through to the mid-’80s and you have always, and willingly opened your ears, heart and record player up to any kind of music that your soul felt like listening to, then the aforementioned smorgasbord of musical talent Arista put out in that time period must have not only filled your bedroom with joy, but also your record collections!
For that alone, this magnificently cultured, and wholly heartfelt new publication Looking for the Magic: New York City, the ’70s and the Rise of Arista Records by Mitchell Cohen is a veritable must-have for you now, my friends, as it not only contains a slew of lovely of-the-day photos, but will also not only make you realize just how much great Arista music you have in your collection, but perhaps also make you aware of one or two sounds that escaped your attention back in the day!
About the Author - Mitchell Cohen is a well-known music journalist who has served as an A&R executive at Arista and other record labels.
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