Paul McCartney fell out with ‘dodgy’ Michael Jackson over deal

Glastonbury: Paul McCartney virtually duets with John Lennon

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As two of the biggest pop stars on the planet, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson united millions of fans around the world when they built up a strong friendship in the 1970s. They hung out, worked on music together in a studio, and released a hit single – Say Say Say – that hit number one in ten countries, including Canada, France, and the USA. However, their relationship came crashing down in 1985, and it all boiled down to money and music. Things got so bad, Jackson wouldn’t even answer McCartney’s letters.

In the late 1980s, The Beatles’ songs were up for grabs after the rights to their music lapsed. McCartney later recalled how the band got into a “little situation” with how their music was managed. Eventually, before they could sort it out themselves, Jackson swooped in and bought the songs, leaving the Hey Jude singer furious.

Looking back on how The Beatles’ music was managed in the early days, McCartney said: “[The rights] meant that whatever the lion’s share of the songs we did were taken by someone else.”

Just before McCartney could reclaim what was rightfully his, however, Jackson launched an unexpected financial manoeuvre and grabbed the rights to the music for himself before the Beatle could.

In 2001, McCartney revealed: “[Jackson] won’t even answer my letters, so we haven’t talked and we don’t have that great a relationship.”

He also revealed that he couldn’t stomach the thought of buying back the songs he painstakingly penned alongside his writing partner, John Lennon. He said: “The trouble is I wrote those songs for nothing and buying them back at these phenomenal sums, I just can’t do it.”

Meanwhile, Jackson only had a simple response to McCartney’s stress and anguish over these lost songs. He reportedly said: “Oh Paul, that’s just business.”

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McCartney was furious with Jackson. He said of the American star: “I think it’s dodgy to do something like that. To be someone’s friend, and then buy the rug they’re standing on.”

Jackson felt like it was all fair game, however. He simply saw The Beatles’ tracks as an investment that he was aiming to capitalise on.

Jackson said: “You can’t put a price on a Picasso… you can’t put a price on these songs, there’s no value on them. They’re the best songs that have ever been written.”

He also spoke candidly about it in his autobiography, Moonwalk. He mused: “Paul and I both learned the hard way about business … [and the] importance of publishing and royalties and the dignity of songwriting.”

Jackson’s purchase of the songs allegedly began once he started working with McCartney on their collaboration Say Say Say.

During their time together, McCartney told Jackson how lucrative song publishing was, and that he ought to think about getting into it.

Shortly thereafter, ATV went up for sale – the company owned 4,000 songs, 251 of which were by The Beatles.

McCartney said it was “out of his price range”, and Yoko Ono – the widow of Lennon – didn’t mind the songs being released to Jackson.

So, Jackson bought the company up for a reported $47.5 million.

When Jackson died in 2009, the rights to the songs were up for grabs once again.

However, McCartney ultimately won his music back, legally. After a 2017 lawsuit, McCartney reached a settlement with ATV over the copyrights to the Beatles catalogue under the US Copyright Act of 1976.

This act “allows songwriters to reclaim copyright from music publishers 35 years after they gave them away”, so McCartney reclaimed the tracks that he played for decades. 


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