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The Hit Man: Tommy Mottola

The music mogul has a new memoir out this month – and lots of stories to share

 The Hitmaker: The Man and His Music

Your new autobiography, Hitmaker: The Man and His Music, due out on January 29, details your time as an influential talent manager and record company executive. Why did you decide to write this book? 

I don’t really like to talk about the stuff that I did—I think the work speaks for itself. But I wanted to document the period. The years that I’m writing about were a golden age of pop music, from Elvis to the invention of the iPod; I tell my story at the center of that. 

A lot of people might not realize that you got your start in the industry as a performer.

I wanted to be a singer and an actor, and I went at it as hard as I could. But after four or five years, I realized that it might be more productive to get into the business end of things. So I took a job [at MRC music, the publishing arm of Mercury Records], and shortly after that, I met these two guys, Daryl Hall and John Oates, who changed my life. 

Right, when you signed them as clients. Before I read the book, I didn’t realize they wrote a song, 1975’s “Gino (The Manager)” about you. Another of your acts, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, had a hit the following year with “Cherchez La Femme,” which begins with the line, “TM lives on the road.” How did it feel to hear your name on the radio five times a day? 

It was pretty wild. The first time I heard it, they were rehearsing, and they started singing it just as I was walking in, so I thought they were playing a game on me. But no, that was actually the song! I didn’t find it that flattering, but it was funny and cool, so I didn’t care. 

Yeah, it’s really not very flattering—the lyrics seem to imply that you spent your time getting loaded and having affairs. I couldn’t help but wonder what your then-wife, Lisa Clark, thought about it. 


Was that really their impression of who you were?  

No. Not at all. They were pranksters! They were being wise guys, and who ever thought that it would be such a big hit?

Nevertheless, there did seem to be a certain amount of romantic overlap between your first wife, whom you divorced in 1990, and your second, Mariah Carey. In the book, you say that at one point, while she was in the process of recording her debut, Mariah complimented your tan, saying, “You look great.” You write, “Those three words opened a door to a midlife crisis and I stepped right on through.”


It seems as though a lot of the struggle between the two of you stemmed from her desire to be a different kind of artist than you, as the head of her label, wanted her to be. You say that she didn’t want to record “Hero,” and that she was embarrassed to be putting out a Christmas album. 

Well, it wasn’t really a struggle. In the beginning, especially, it was a unified vision. But as things progressed, it got a little more cloudy, because I thought that she had the opportunity to continue to hit every demographic, as opposed to isolating herself by doing so much hip-hop and R & B.   

Of course, hip-hop has become a huge segment of the market . . .

But why wouldn’t you want to have it all, if you could?

Similarly, you were frustrated by George Michael’s refusal to promote his 1990 album, Listen Without Prejudice, in a way that might enable him to duplicate the success of his previous album, Faith. Yet you seem much more tolerant of the artistic “left turns” as you call them, that Hall and Oates made early in their career. Why?

When I started in this business, it was not uncommon for a group like them to have three or four albums before they were able to break through. You developed an artist over time. Now, an artist gets to release one single, maybe two, and if it doesn’t happen, goodbye. Consequently, there’s a lot more mediocrity; people are following, as opposed to leading.  For the most part, the public thinks American Idol is the music business. Nowadays, if you ask a kid who sings his favorite song, he might not know. That’s scary. 

You have two young children with your current wife, the Mexican singer and actress Thalia. What do they like to listen to? 

They’re into the poppy stuff. My 5-year-old likes Miley Cyrus, and my 1-year-old loves to play the drums. I tell him, “Enjoy it, but remember, this is not what you’re going to do. You’re going to have a really brilliant career in something other than music.”