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It is probably easy to see why two musical legends, Sir Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, would have had a close friendship. One was a member of what it considered one of the most influential bands of all time. The other was also part of a historical music group, but used that group to spring board himself into a whirlwind of success that many try to emulate to this day. Together, McCartney and Jackson, who are both in the news this week (one for an illness that has cancelled an Asia based tour; the other for his second posthumous album being at the top of the charts, among other stories), would go on to create some memorable duets and clash over a lucrative business deal that would add to the success of one, and yet allow harsh feelings for the other. In the end, the friendship that once was one that seemed to make the most sense in the celebrity world, would dissolve without a definitive compromise or reconciliation.
According to Moonwalk, the autobiography of and written by Michael Jackson, he and the Beatles vocalist originally met in the 1970s. He, along with producer Quincy Jones, met with McCartney to obtain a song that was written for him by McCartney. That track, Girlfriend, would find its way to albums released by both men: London Town, by McCartney’s band, Wings in 1978 and Jackson’s solo breakthrough, Off The Wall, in 1979. The two would go back and forth recording songs for future releases. The most well known of their collaborations; Say, Say, Say, and another song, The Man would appear on the solo McCartney release, Pipes of Piece, in 1983. Another popular duet between the two, The Girl Is Mine, was recorded for Jackson’s massive hit album, Thriller, in 1982 (all three songs were recorded in 1982. The McCartney album was not released until the following year).
Jackson, while creating what would become The Girl Is Mine, bonded with McCartney by allowing their inner children to thrive while they recorded the song.
“We just literally had fun,” Jackson said about recording the track. “It was like lots of kibitzing and playing, and throwing stuff at each other, and making jokes.”
When Thriller was unleashed to massive success, Jackson, then 24, asked McCartney, then 40, about how to better manage the high amounts of money he was obtaining. McCartney shared with Jackson that putting his money into music publishing was a good way to go. Unfortunately, McCartney did not have luck on his side when it came to what Jackson would ultimately accomplish. Because of that, the friendship between Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney would soon sour and end completely.
McCartney had managed to obtain a great deal of wealth through owning the rights of music by other artists, but the one thing he did not own was the rights of his own songs with his legendary band, The Beatles. The company that owned the music, Northern Songs, had passed through many hands of ownership following the end of the group in 1970. At some point, McCartney and fellow Beatle, John Lennon, did have a stake in the company and their songs. However, with two of their partners; Dick James and Brian Epstein, selling their shares to the high powered ATV (Associated Television) in 1969, McCartney and Lennon were both bought out, without any notice or warning. McCartney had many unsuccessful attempts to buy back the rights after that time.
During the recording of Say, Say, Say, McCartney and Jackson had their conversation regarding music publishing rights. When McCartney shared what songs he owned and just how much he had made because of them, Jackson made a surprising claim: he would put in his own bid to own The Beatles catalog. McCartney initially believed the young singer was joking about the acquisition, but in 1985, Jackson did just that. He bought a 50 percent stake in Northern Songs from ATV Publishing. McCartney was hurt over what he considered a betrayal from a close friend.
“I think it’s dodgy to do something like that,” he once said of the buyout. “To be someone’s friend and then, buy the rug they’re standing on.” The two would never speak or collaborate again following the initial buyout. Things continued that way until the untimely death of Jackson in 2009.
The songs would make their way to commercials and other advertisements, all by the hands of Jackson. In 1995, Northern Songs folded completely and Jackson merged his ownership of the catalog with Sony Entertainment. Following his passing, there were rumors that Jackson had truly felt disheartened over the situation and planned to rectify the situation the best way he knew how: by leaving the rights of the songs to McCartney in his will. When it was revealed that he actually had not, McCartney was said to have been devastated. However, in a blog post on his official site, McCartney refuted those claims. He even went a step further in expressing that he held no ill will for the man he had once considered a close and personal friend.
“Though Michael and I drifted apart over the years,” he stated, “we never really fell out.” He also shared that he had “fond memories” of Jackson over time.
McCartney has since managed to obtain the rights to a few of the songs he performed with The Beatles. However, there are many others that he has to pay for to perform. He does earn royalties of the music and splits them halfway with the estate of John Lennon, but nothing can ever amount to the friendship he once had with the King of Pop.
Although he is said to be one of the highest paid musicians in the world, with earnings of around $57 million, the one thing that can not be bought is a proper resolution. The friendship that once was of Sir Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson was quite a powerful and productive one. It is also, sadly, one that never had a peaceful ending. To this day, McCartney, now 71, still considers Jackson, “a massively talented boy with a gentle soul.”
By Jonathan Brown
“I think it’s dodgy to do things like that,” was McCartney’s surprisingly measured response, “to be someone’s friend and then buy the rug they’re standing on.”
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