Friday, 26 June 2009

Michael Jackson and The Beatles

Michael Jackson meets George Harrison (with BBC DJ David 'Kid' Jensen as middle man)

Michael Jackson passed away somewhat unexpectedly last night. In this article, we examine the bonds between the Beatles and Michael Jackson.
Jackson was initially a member of the popular family group The Jackson 5, who had the distinction of becoming the second animated saturday morning cartoon series based on living persons. Unlike the Beatles' series, the Jacksons were themselves participants in the creation. Michael, enamoured by being involved in fairy tales, was said to have given a lot of creative input. The series ran for two seasons, from September 11, 1971 until September 1, 1973. In the '80s, as Michael Jackson's popularity soared, this series was resurrected by many cable and network TV stations. In the nineties the series was dusted off again for airings on MTV and VH1.

During their six-year Motown tenure, The Jackson 5 were one of the biggest pop-music phenomena of the seventies, and the band served as the launching pad for the solo careers of their lead singers Jermaine and Michael. They were the first black teen idols to appeal equally to white audiences. In 1971, Motown began a spin-off solo career for Michael, whose first single, "Got to Be There," was a Top 5 hit. Michael also sang the title track for the 1972 motion picture "Ben", another smash hit.
The first Beatles angle came with Michael's 1979 solo album "Off The Wall", where he covered Paul McCartney's song "Girlfriend", a Wings album track from "London Town". "Off The Wall" featured the hit single "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and reached number three on the Billboard 200 albums charts.
Paul McCartney gave Michael's version of "Girlfriend" favourable mentions in interviews, and this may have lead to the phonecall from Jackson to McCartney that started their relationship as duetting composers. In 1981, Jackson and McCartney recorded "Say Say Say" and "The Man", but the two songs didn't make the track list of Paul's 1982 album "Tug of War", and were held over for eventual release on his 1983-album, "Pipes of Peace". In April 1982, Paul and Michael recorded the Jackson composition "The Girl Is Mine" together, and it was this song that ended up as their first released duet, when it became the A-side of a Michael Jackson single on October 18, 1982, one month prior to the release of Michael's new album, "Thriller", where the song was also featured. "The Girl Is Mine" achieved success in the music charts. Aside from topping the R&B singles chart, the single peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number eight in the UK. By 1985, it had sold 1.3 million copies, and was eventually certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least two million units.

The album "Thriller" was to become the stuff that dreams are made of. With the release of the second single "Billie Jean", the album topped the charts in many countries. At its peak, the album was selling a million copies a week worldwide. In just over a year, Thriller became—and currently remains—the best-selling album of all time.
A year after the release of "Thriller", the other two collaborations, "Say Say Say" and "The Man" were included on Paul McCartney's "Pipes of Peace" album, and "Say Say Say" was also released as a single. "Say Say Say" was a number one hit in the US and peaked at number two in the UK. Number one in Canada, Finland, Italy, Norway and Sweden, the single peaked within the top ten of Austria and New Zealand.

Due probably to the success of these duets, preparations were made to release their third collaboration, "The Man" as another single from the "Pipes of Peace" album, and it is rumoured that even a promotional video was made. The plans were eventually scrapped.
Following the success of "Thriller" and as the money started pouring in, McCartney adviced his new friend to invest in the music publishing business. McCartney runs a successful music publishing empire himself, his company MPL handles the music publishing rights for many well known compositions, including the musical "The Music Man" and all the Buddy Holly songs, among others. "I'm gonna buy your songs, Paul" was Jackson's cheeky reply, and he successfully managed to do just that. From Wikipedia: In one discussion, McCartney told Jackson about the millions of dollars he had made from music catalogs; he was earning approximately $40 million a year from other people's songs. Jackson then began a business career buying, selling and distributing publishing rights to music from numerous artists. Shortly afterwards, Northern Songs—a music catalog holding thousands of songs, including The Beatles' back catalog—was put up for sale.
Jackson took immediate interest in the catalog but was warned that he would face strong competition. Excited, he skipped around saying, "I don't care. I want those songs. Get me those songs Branca (his attorney)". Branca then contacted the attorney of McCartney, who clarified that his client was not interested in bidding; "It's too pricey". After Jackson had started negotiations, McCartney changed his mind and tried to persuade Yoko Ono to join him in a joint bid, she declined, so he pulled out. Jackson eventually beat the rest of the competition in negotiations that lasted 10 months, purchasing the catalog for $47.5 million. When McCartney found out he said, "I think it's dodgy to do things like that. To be someone's friend and then buy the rug they're standing on".
The two never collaborated anymore after that.

It turned out Ono had actually encouraged Jackson to buy the shares, telling the press after the sale, "I just feel like a friend has them." Yoko Ono and her son Sean were friends with Jackson at this point in time, and Sean was very into Jackson's music and style. At one point he even sported the "one glove" fashion at school, and he participated in Jackson's 1988 movie Moonwalker. One Lennon-McCartney composition, "Come Together" was also performed by Jackson in the movie and on the soundtrack album.
In 1995, Jackson merged his catalogue with Sony Music's publishing, for a reported $95 million, establishing Sony/ATV Music Publishing, in which he retained half-ownership. In April 2006 a package was proposed whereby, Jackson would borrow $300 million and reduce the interest rate payable on a loan he had, while giving Sony the future option to buy half of Jackson's stake in their jointly-owned publishing company (leaving Jackson with a 25% stake). Jackson agreed to a Sony-backed refinancing deal, although the finalised details were not made public.
In music publishing, copyright law runs for 28 years, then expires. The law states that if a writer sells his songs to another interest during his lifetime, and he dies before the right expires, his portion of the rights revert to his heirs. If the writer is still alive, he is out of luck, as far as getting the rights back. They are renewed by whoever bought them.
This means that when the rights to Beatles songs started expiring in 1990, Jackson owned 50% of Lennon/McCartney tunes, McCartney owned 25%, and Lennon’s heirs (Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon) owned 25%. As the rights on each song expired, Lennon’s heirs got back the half (25%) of the copyright that had been purchased from Lennon. That means that Lennon’s heirs currently own 50% of all Lennon/McCartney tunes, Jackson's estate (with his merged company) now own 25% and McCartney owns 25%.
The George Harrison compositions handled by Northern Songs are:
Blue Jay Way
I Need You
I Want to Tell You
If I Needed Someone
Its All Too Much
Love You To
Only a Northern Song
Think for Yourself
Within You Without You
You Like Me Too Much
as well as the songs Harrison composed for the "Wonderwall" movie, released on his "Wonderwall Music" album. Unlike Lennon, Harrison died after the rights expired, so the rights to his songs remained with Jackson/Sony.
On January 6th, reported a story from UK newspaper the Daily Mirror that "Michael Jackson intended to leave Paul McCartney the Beatles' back catalog in his will". Apparantly, the Daily Mirror quotes a Jackson insider as saying, "Michael told his lawyers he was sad he no longer talks to Sir Paul and said he wanted to make things right." This story has not been officially confirmed. As Jackson now has passed away, this issue now gains new interest. Paul McCartney has issued the following statement on his website:
"It’s so sad and shocking. I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones.
I send my deepest sympathy to his mother and the whole family and to his countless fans all around the world."

Michael Jackson Posters


Anonymous said...

There is quite a bit of misinformation in this article....Harrison's compositions were never part of the Beatles catalog that were sold, he always held those himself. So Jackson has nothing to do with Harrisons music.

Wogew said...

You should look it up. Those Harrison compositions were all published by Northern Songs, not Harrisongs. In fact, the Harrison estate sued Sony/ATV for unpaid royalties from those exact songs around 2002-2003.

Anonymous said...

The other thing is you say in your article that the songs started to revert back in 1990, when in fact they start to revert back after 50 years. In 2013 the rights will start to revert back, year by year. This article makes it sound like most have reverted already, which is incorrect.

Wogew said...

The Beatles songs were under 28-year copyright protection, like I said in my posting. So songs in
1962 had to be renewed in 1990, and so on. When they were renewed,
Lennon's ownership - which had been sold to Jackson - started going
to Yoko.
Further reading:

Anonymous said...

George and Ringo did not renew their Northern Songs contracts in 1968. So anything either of published from 1968 onward was not involved in the Northern Songs catalogue.

All of Lennon's rights reverted back from 1990 through 1998. George's will start reverting back in 2019. Now it seems under U.S. law, Paul can start reclaiming his back in 2018 under the 56 year law.

Anonymous said...

P.S: Love Me Do was not part of the Northern Songs catalogue. Neither was P.S. I Love You, Please Please Me and Ask Me Why. They were published prior to the formation of Northern Songs. Paul McCartney fully owns those through MPL.