The story has been in the popular music circle for decades: Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, two of the biggest names in music history, were on the set of a music video and McCartney told Jackson about the idea of buying catalogs of songs.
It was a good investment opportunity, McCartney told The King of Pop. But then Jackson bought the Beatles catalog. And McCartney was pissed. But is all of this true? Is that how it happened?
Let’s investigate, okay?
The musical collaboration
It all started with the duo’s collaboration on the 1983 song, “Say Say Say”, featured on McCartney’s album, peace pipes. The two had previously collaborated on the song “The Girl Is Mine,” which was the lead single from Jackson’s seminal 1982 record. Thriller.
It was then that McCartney talked Jackson into investing in music publishing. And Jackson reportedly jokingly replied, “One day I’ll own your songs.”
Then, just two years later, on August 14, 1985, Jackson bought the publishing rights to the majority of The Beatles’ catalog – some 251 songs – for $47 million, outbidding McCartney.
Understand the business
For those who don’t know, music publishing can be a lucrative business.
Whenever a song is used in a TV show or movie or other field, the user has to pay a license fee. Part of this sum goes to the record company and another to the performer and composer. So in the end, whoever owns the song gets paid.
With the Beatles, editing originally went to McCartney and John Lennon, who wrote the majority of the tracks. The two had formed a publishing company Northern Songs Ltd. in 1964 to generate revenue from their growing catalog. So for every time “I want to hold your hand” was used in a movie, the company got paid.
But in 1969, the British company Associated TeleVision was involved in a disorderly takeover of Northern Songs, which led McCartney and Lennon to sell their shares of the company they had created.
“Very early on we found ourselves in a little situation,” McCartney said in a 1989 interview. “That meant the lion’s share of the songs we were doing were taken by somebody else.”
In 1985, however, these songs were relisted and McCartney was close to buying them (Lennon had died in 1980). But Jackson snuck in and wielded his financial power and got the lot.
McCartney, who also bids on music, felt betrayed and angry. He no longer owned his own songs and had already started buying other music, such as tracks written by Buddy Holly.
The two had forged a friendship in the 1970s, but that ended after Jackson bought the songs.
“He doesn’t even answer my letters, so we haven’t spoken and we don’t have such a good relationship,” McCartney explained in 2001. “The problem is, I wrote these songs for nothing and repurchase them at these phenomenal sums, I just can’t do it.
Jackson’s response to McCartney’s request was, “Oh Paul, it’s just business.”
songs for sale
When McCartney first gave Jackson the advice, the King of Pop contacted attorney John Branca, who helped Jackson buy the rights to the 1960s songs he loved.
Then in 1984 Branca told him that ATV was for sale and that the company had 4,000 songs, including 251 by the Beatles.
At the time, McCartney said it was out of his price bracket and Yoko Ono, who is Lennon’s surviving wife, said she was ok with Jackson owning them, rather than a huge company.
So Branca offered $30 million, but other offers brought it up to $47.5 million.
“You can’t put a price on a Picasso…you can’t put a price on these songs, they don’t have any value,” Jackson reportedly said. “These are the best songs that were ever written.”
“I think it’s shady to do something like that,” McCartney said of the Jackson purchase. “Being someone’s friend, then buying the rug they’re standing on.”
Benefit to Jackson
Jackson led an extravagant life. He had his own Neverland where he lived, to name one larger than life purchase.
And the Beatles catalog provided him with important guarantees to continue his great buying life. While worth his own fortune, one of the greatest songwriters and performers of all time, it helped him to have the Beatles tracks in his back pocket, both to generate money and as collateral for any big loan he might have had to take out.
“Both Paul and I learned business the hard way,” Jackson wrote in his 1988 autobiography, moon walk“and the importance of publishing and royalties and the dignity of songwriting.”
A decade after the original deal, Jackson sold 50% of ATV to Sony for $95 million, creating the Sony/ATV music publishing company. Today, the company owns the rights to songs by The Beatles, as well as those by artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison.
After Jackson’s death at 50, Sony Music took full control of the catalog seven years later, with Sony/ATV agreeing to pay $750 million to the late artist’s estate to buy out the remaining 50% of the company. .
The Beatles catalog alone is now estimated at over $1 billion.
McCartney said after Jackson’s death: “He was a lovely man. Extremely talented and we miss him. And during the same interview, he added that after Jackson purchased the catalog, the two “sort of broke up,” but that despite the rumors, there was “no huge collapse”.
Prior to Jackson’s death, McCartney had expressed anger over the commercial use of Beatles songs.
“It sort of spoils it. Just remove the edge. Our songs tend to be a bit commercialized now, which I’m not too crazy about,” the former Mop Top said.
Did Michael Will sing to Paul?
“Some time ago the media got the idea that Michael Jackson was going to bequeath me his share of Beatles songs in his will,” McCartney wrote in a statement posted on his website. “[It] was completely made up.
There had been speculation as to whether the King of Pop would bury the hatchet, commercially anyway, and pass the songs on to McCartney. But that was not the case.
“Don’t believe everything you read guys!” said McCartney.
Yet, following a 2017 lawsuit in a US court, McCartney eventually reached an agreement with Sony/ATV over the copyright to the Beatles catalog under US copyright law. of 1976, which stipulates that songwriters can recover copyright from music publishers 35 years after having assigned it. .
Although details have not been made public, a lawyer for the Beatles told a judge that the two parties “have resolved this matter by entering into a confidential settlement agreement.”
(PRNewsFoto/Authentic Brands Group) / The Estate of Michael Jackson