Sitting behind his desk at his company, champion Entertainment, Tommy Mottola is surrounded by platinum records and hunting paraphernalia. Intricately painted duck decoys and glossy Hall and Oates photos. "I like to hunt," Mottola says. "But I always eat what I kill. I don't believe in shooting it if you're not going to eat it." Mottola smiles. He knows this sounds vaguely dangerous, and he likes the edge. "You've probably heard stories about me," he says with a certain mysterious glee. "Some of them are true. Some of them aren't."
There are Mottola stories – lots of stories – about Mottola's outrageous business dealings. Hall and Oates once wrote a song about their manager. The lyrics went, "You're a patent leather lover/With your Gucci-Pucci pointed shoes/And you're swearing on your mother/That 'all this can be yours'/Sign on the line on the line sign on the line."
Mottola loved the song – "I thought it was true, and I thought it was great" – and it fueled the myth. "We know he's crazy," says John Oates. "That's a given. But it's okay to be crazy as long as you deliver." And Mottola does deliver. At least most of the time. Occasionally, he's become too extreme. Gone too far. Like the time he was renegotiating Hall and Oates' RCA deal and suggested "as a sweetener, that RCA should throw in a couple of Rolls-Royces. I specified red Corniche convertibles." The cars never materialized, but a contract did. "I have this thing inside me," Mottola explains proudly, "that says, 'Ask for it. What's the big deal?' They had this one little hit, 'Kiss on My List,' when I went into RCA and asked for $13 million. My own lawyer was telling me I was crazy. I said, 'I don't care. We're doing it.' We sat down and I said $13 million, and they all fell off their chairs. As it turned out, it was RCA's golden opportunity. Hall and Oates are their banner artists." (They didn't get the $13 million, though.)
Mottola likes this story. He likes the Pontiac story, too, in which he makes Pontiac a sponsorship offer for the North American tour, and they tell him he's crazy, only to turn around and say, "The markets for the [Pontiac] Fiero and for Hall and Oates are almost identical . . . They fit that very important lifestyle concept." True to its demographics, Pontiac Fiero is now the official Big Bam Boom concert sponsors. "What can I say?" Mottola asks. "I think they deserve the fucking world. And I have no shyness or embarrassment about asking for it."
The insatiable approach is longstanding with Mottola. He met Hall and Oates when he was twenty-one and head of the contemporary-music division at Chappell Music. He heard their demos and went nuts. "We threw our lot in with a guy who had never managed a band," says Oates. "A guy who worked at a publishing company. A guy who was younger than us, for God's sake." But Mottola was convincing: he had contagious belief. "The first time I met them," he recalls, "I saw an amazing situation that I thought could really be developed into something special and major. From that point to now, the three of us have been relentless in trying to make it work."
Mottola, however, has always been the main strategist. It was, for instance, he who thought of the infamous chewing-gum tour, and it was he who kept the record company interested in Hall and Oates despite poor sales. "That Care-Free gum tour in '78 made me look like a genius," says Mottola. "But it was done out of necessity more than anything else. I had to create something that would bring in dollars and would also keep the band fresh and hot. We had to create some situation, and that situation fit perfectly.
"But those were hard times," Mottola continues. "We came from three Number One records and went into the toilet. And I'll tell you why. Because of journalists and the way the business and radio were structured. When Daryl and John felt the need to evolve musically, those people didn't. I think, as a result, those people became arrogant and resented us. But now people are starting to see it. If you have enough hits, everyone will see it."
This is a familiar Hall and Oates lament, but it's not accurate, just emotional. Great reviews or enthusiastic journalists don't guarantee record sales or radio hits, and bad reviews do not necessarily cause a financial slump in an artist's career. But Mottola and Hall and Oates want it all: the press, the business, the stardom and the acclaim. The notion of anything less is, well, less. Less is not a concept Tommy Mottola endorses.
"Pseudointellectual bullshit journalists," Mottola rages on, "think it's cool to make an album in your basement that doesn't sell more than 300,000 copies. They give those people praises like God walked down the street. And I don't buy it. It used to bug us to the point of making us crazy, but now we don't give a shit."
Mottola pauses, resuming his game voice. He realizes this talk is pointless. He's better off sticking to business, a point of obvious success. "I'm known to be a wild man," he says. "But lately I've taken off the boxing gloves. I don't have to fight anymore. Now I just have to keep my eye on the ball so hard. That takes up all my time. We span five radio formats – adult contemporary, dance, pop, AOR and R&B – and that's the trick. That's the modern business. And for Hall and Oates it's golden. Golden. Because they span all formats. Radio looks for a Hall and Oates. They aren't competitive without us. And now, finally, we can get some recognition.
"You know," Mottola continues, returning to the credibility refrain, "Daryl said something this summer. He said, 'You know how I'm going to be seen as an artist? It's going to be art through recognition.' And that's it. To me, that's the key. To not be recognized, to not have that on-sight recognition, and to still be considered an artist, well, I don't know. Yeah, I guess that exists, but so what? Is it more important, is it better, than art through recognition?"
Mottola glances at the platinum albums to his right and to his left. "I look at these and I see proof," he says. "And proof is enough for me."
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