Billboard Reviews...

[Billboard Review Of Arista 25 & Future Changes At Arista]

THE BEAT: As Arista Celebrates 25th Anniversary, Reid Prepares To Helm & Davis Weighs Options (Billboard - 1119 words - April 22, 2000) BY MELINDA NEWMAN

SO MANY SONGS, SO MUCH TIME: As the April 10 taping of Arista's 25th anniversary celebration rounded its sixth hour, one thing became very clear-other than the fact that NBC could now run "Arista: The Miniseries" if it chose instead of just a two-hour special. The music released by the BMG-distributed company has provided the soundtrack for many people's lives, including mine.

I sobbed whenever Dionne Warwick's "I'll Never Love This Way Again" came on the radio after I broke up with my boyfriend in 1979 in that melodramatic way only a high school girl can; Annie Lennox's beautiful, plaintive "Why," from 1992, took me back to one of my favorite New York springs; and Barry Manilow's medley reminded me of too many junior high evening spent singing along with my girlfriends.

While many people in the audience at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium were focused on how Whitney Houston would do, I was more enthralled with Carlos Santana's fiery triptych of "Yaleo," "Maria Maria," and "Smooth," as well as Sarah McLachlan's loving rendition of "Angel."

For the record, Houston, although a little unsteady on her feet at first and seemingly unfocused at times, showed no signs of the throat problems that have reportedly plagued her recently, as she ran through a medley of her hits. However, we can't imagine that her final song, a truly odd version of J.T. Money's "Who Dat?," featuring husband Bobby Brown, will make it onto the NBC show. 

Other highlights were the video segments shown during the set changes, including clips from No. 1 hits throughout the label's 25 years. Many of them served as mini-time capsules of music and fashion. What was Taylor Dayne thinking with those bushels of mall hair in the late '80s? Did we all really think wearing floral dresses with combat boots worked? Expose apparently did.

Needless to say, Arista Records head Clive Davis was thrilled with the evening, even if some of the filler clips were from labels other than his own (note to show producer Dick Clark: Mary MacGregor's "Torn Between Two Lovers" was on Ariola America, not Arista).

"I feel incredibly good about the show," says Davis. "It went from one highlight to another. It's impossible to pick a favorite performance."

Asked if he felt as if he were watching an episode of "This Is Your Life," as performer after performer he's nurtured appeared before him, Davis replies, "I really viewed it with just marveling at the power of each of these performers and their ability to get repeated standing ovations. It wasn't a "This Is Your Life' in any kind of reminiscent form but the glow of enormity of the artists and the songs."

Although BMG Entertainment president/CEO Strauss Zelnick was not in attendance because of a board meeting in New York, according to a representative, a number of top BMG execs were in the house, including BMG Distribution head Pete Jones. BMG, which held its worldwide marketing meetings the following days in L.A., bought more than 100 tickets to the taping. Net proceeds from the event will benefit the American Foundation for AIDS Research, City of Hope, and the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer, and AIDS Research.

Additional monies for the charities will be raised by the release of an eight-song sampler made for Target, which will arrive in stores the weekend before the special's May 15 airdate. At least 50% of the sampler, which will retail for $7.99, will be composed of live songs from the taping,while the other tracks will be studio cuts from the evening's participating artists.

Additionally, Arista will release a DVD and VHS on June 6 of the NBC special, with additional footage on each format. The DVD will retail for $24.98 and the VHS for $19.98.

Arista executive VP/GM Charles Goldstuck says the label hopes to raise $750,000 for the designated charities.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Although the show was in no way positioned as a farewell concert to Davis, he certainly couldn't hope for a bigger good-bye, should he leave Arista as is expected when his contract expires June 30.

Davis has been mum on his negotiations with BMG, which plans to put LaFace Records co-founder Antonio "L.A." Reid in as president of Arista. However, Davis spokesman Howard Rubenstein confirms that the nature of Davis' talks with BMG now "focus on a new venture," not on remaining at the label he started 25 years ago.

"I'm not going to comment that Arista isn't an option," says Davis. "I've got the happiest choice of considering very substantial offers. You couldn't ask for the wonderful choices I have, and I'll be making that choice. BMG has weighed in, every other company and other people have [weighed in]. It's really just a matter of evaluating everything in the most positive light. It's all really happy options at this time."

Reports have swirled that Davis is looking for $300 million to finance the label. In addition to BMG, he is rumored to have talked with Universal and Sony, as well as some non-music entities. However, a source says that "it's not possible with the numbers he wants" to go to a company that doesn't already have a distribution system in place. The source also notes that while Davis is getting very strong offers, he will probably not get a commitment for $300 million, as well as for some artists from the label with whom he makes his new deal.

Davis declined to comment on when he would announce his plans, adding, "I'm not going to deal with it piecemeal. I'm in a very fortunate position. We're having our biggest sales, our biggest profits in history. From Santana to breaking new artists to [my] Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award to the NBC special, it's a great time for me, and I'm going to make the best decision that I can."

According to sources, BMG's buyout of the remaining portion of LaFace it did not already own has been completed, and Reid will be in place July 1.  Although sources say Reid does not want to move into Arista's existing space on New York's 57th Street, the lease on that space does not expire for sometime. Reid did not return phone calls.

Also churning is the fate of Arista/Nashville, since the departure of its head, Tim DuBois, earlier this year for Gaylord Entertainment. According to sources, the label will become part of RCA Label Group, which is expected to change its name to BLG (short for BMG Label Group), under the direction of Joe Galante.



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