Clive Davis, Chief Creative Officer for Sony Music Entertainment, describes an interesting story about Fleetwood Mac in his new book The Soundtrack of My Life. In the following excerpt, Davis recounts how Fleetwood Mac almost signed with Arista Records in 1975, being unhappy with album promotion efforts at Warner Bros. Records. But “bad timing” spoiled the deal.
“Well, the right artists did come along but, unfortunately in some cases, not at the right time. Fleetwood Mac were very unhappy at Warner Bros. Their album sales were stuck in the range of around 200,000, a less than respectable figure for a band of their stature. In 1975, I saw them at the Beacon Theatre, and was very impressed by the new lineup, which had only recently released an album, titled Fleetwood Mac as if to assert that while the band had the same name, it had a completely new identity. Joining the original rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and the exceptional singer, keyboard player, and songwriter Christine McVie were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. There was such a depth in the band, such chemistry and chrisma. Though the good offices of their attorney, Mickey Shapiro, I personally met with them, and did learn that they felt they weren’t being given the attention they warranted at the label. They thought the infusion of new energy with the attention of Lindsey and Stevie was going unnoticed at Warners. The album was released in the summer with little fanfare, a single, “Over My Head,” was just coming out, and at the time, it didn’t seem to the band that the label was 100 percent behind them. We made a deal, and all went out to lunch at a great New York restaurant of the era, Maxwell’s Plum, to celebrate. I still have the contract, ready for signatures, in my files.”
“A similar scenario played out with Jefferson Starship. I’d always been a fan of Jefferson Airplane, and thought there was a lot of life left in the spin-off band. They were feeling unloved at RCA Records, and we came to terms with them as well. Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Starship: pretty impressive signing coups. Each of those bands still owed two albums to its label, and the albums that were released while we were in talks with them exploded. Fleetwood Mac took the refurbished group from a 1974 album that didn’t even go gold to one that went five times platinum. The Starship’s Red Octopus, propelled by the hit “Miracles,” sold more than 2 million copies (up from gold on their 1974 album). Good news for the bands, but not for us. Needless to say, once those album sales racked up, Warners and RCA didn’t want to lose them. They made offers that, in pure dollar terms, were equal to ours, but made those deals retrospective to the current smash albums. Based on what those albums sold, the bands were in a position to clear $2 million or more just from that aspect of their deals, and we couldn’t possibly compete with that. We weren’t the ones making the income (and dramatic profits) on those records. What bad timing for us, and how it stung when I saw the sales of the next Fleetwood Mac album, Rumours. If their albums hadn’t broken wide open when they did, there’s no question Arista would have had both of those bands. And I should add that we were also in talks with Electric Light Orchestra, and came close to signing them. All three of these major bands were on the verge of coming to Arista within a six-month period.”