After being fired from CBS Records, Clive Davis was hired by Columbia Pictures to be a consultant for the company’s record and music operations. Assuming the presidency of this division in late 1974, Davis would fold the various Columbia legacy labels (Colpix Records, Colgems Records, and Bell Records) into a new entity named Arista Records, ultimately buying a percentage of the company from Columbia. The label was named Arista after New York City’s secondary school honor society (of which Davis was a member). In early 1975, most of the artists who had been signed to Bell were let go, including Tony Orlando and Dawn and the Fifth Dimension. Others, such as Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate, were farmed out to the Bell/Arista-distributed label, Big Tree. Several acts, such as Barry Manilow, the Bay City Rollers, and Melissa Manchester moved to Arista.
In order to stave off bankruptcy, Columbia Pictures first sold its Screen Gems-Columbia (Colgems) music publishing to EMI in 1976 and then sold Arista to German-based Ariola Records in 1979. By 1986, after Ariola purchased General Electric’s RCA Records, the combined company was renamed Bertelsmann Music Group (though Arista’s US releases did not note BMG until 1987.)
Into the 1980s, Arista continued its rocket ride of success. Over the years it acquired Northwestside Records, Deconstruction Records, First Avenue Records and Dedicated Records in the UK. In 1989, Arista entered into a joint-venture with Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Babyface in the creation of LaFace Records. In 1993, Arista also entered into a joint-venture with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs to form Bad Boy Records. It distributed Heavenly Records and fully acquired LaFace Records in 1999.
In 1989, Arista signed the West German-based duo Milli Vanilli (Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan), and released their wildly successful multi-platinum debut album (which had been previously released in Europe the year before), Girl You Know It’s True, the same year in the U.S. and Canada. The album became a success; was certified 6x platinum in America, and charted four top ten singles (three of which peaked at number one.) In 1990, the duo won two American Music Awards and a Grammy for ‘Best New Artist.’ Later in the year, Milli Vanilli’s svengali producer and manager, Frank Farian, publicly revealed that the two hadn’t performed a single note on their album.
This revelation caused a firestorm in the music industry, as recording artists (particularly slickly produced pop acts) were now under siege and subsequently forced to cut back on lip-synching to show that they were authentic. Milli Vanilli’s Grammy, meanwhile, was subsequently revoked. Clive Davis promptly dropped the duo from Arista, and deleted their album and its masters from their catalogue—making Girl You Know It’s True the largest-selling album to ever be taken out of print. A court ruling in the US allowed anyone who had bought the album to get a refund.
In response to the scandal, Arista’s position was that the company had been completely unaware of Rob and Fabrice having not themselves recorded their album. The label, however, still found itself scoffed at by industry setsiders, as the controversy left a lasting stain on the company for many years to come.
At the end of 2000, following its 25th anniversary, BMG pushed Davis out as label head and promoted L.A. Reid as its new President and CEO. Under Reid, the label continued to thrive—his extravagant spending, however, caused the company to lose money. After the corporate reconstruction of BMG in 2004, Reid was terminated. Arista, always an independently managed label at BMG, was subsequently demoted to operate under the newly formed RCA Records Group (where Davis is now, ironically, the CEO—and thus in control of Arista once more.) In August 2005, Arista’s operations were merged with that of J Records. For the time being, the Arista imprint will continue to be used for new releases. Arista reissues will continued to be released through Sony BMG’s Legacy Recordings.
Edited by MAHL3NOH3 on 22 Jun 2009, 19:30
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