In 1981, one of the most famous musical collaborations happened: Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson worked on "Say Say Say." Creating a tune wasn't hard for two of the best singer-songwriters. Both of their styles meshed for the most part, but there's a certain line that's distinctly Jackson.
Michael Jackson initiated a collaboration with Paul McCartney
In his book, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul McCartney wrote that he got a call from someone with a high voice around Christmastime. He didn't recognize the voice as it said, "Hi, Paul." The former Beatle thought some girl had somehow gotten his phone number and was quite annoyed.
Then, the voice said, "It's Michael." Suddenly, Paul knew who he was talking to, Michael Jackson. The "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" singer asked the "Yesterday" singer if he wanted to "make some hits." Paul said sure and invited him over.
Michael Jackson added something to 'Say Say Say' that Paul McCartney wouldn't have used
Jackson flew to England and met Paul at his London office. They went to the top floor to begin work on what would become "Say Say Say." Paul wrote that he let Jackson lead quite a bit. The former Beatle thinks a lot of the "sensibility" of the tune was Jackson's.
Jackson added the line, "Baptised in all my tears," a line Paul wouldn't have used. He explained, "I would help with the tune, and he'd be throwing in the lyrics. We were both quite excited to work together, and the song came together pretty quickly; we were bouncing off each other. I wrote the lyrics down, and by the time we left the office we had 'Say Say Say.' I think the first time we recorded it as a demo, it was just the two of us singing and me on guitar."
"Say Say Say" became the lead single on Paul's 1983 album Pipes of Peace, and the pair of singer-songwriters collaborated one more time on "The Girl Is Mine" the following year. That track appeared on Jackson's Thriller. However, Jackson and Paul's collaboration had severe consequences.
Paul told Jackson about music publishing
During their collaboration on "Say Say Say," Paul told Jackson about music publishing and advised him to get into it. Jackson joked, "One day, I'll own your songs." However, there was some seriousness to the comment.
In 1985, the rights to The Beatles' catalog, along with ATV's 4,000 other songs, went up for public auction. Jackson bought ATV, and all 250 tunes penned by Lennon-McCartney, for $47.5 million (per Billboard). Unsurprisingly, Paul and Jackson's relationship crumbled, especially after Paul received no answer from the singer when he wrote asking to buy him out.
Paul explained on The Howard Stern Show that he'd written Jackson many times offering to buy the catalog. "The trouble is I wrote those songs for nothing, and buying them back at these phenomenal sums, I just can't do it," Paul said.
Thankfully, Paul eventually got The Beatles' catalog back. According to American Songwriter, Jackson later sold 50% of ATV to Sony for $95 million. Sony gained complete control of The Beatles' songs at Jackson's death.
After a 2017 lawsuit, "Paul finally reached a settlement with Sony/ATV over copyright to The Beatles catalog under the US Copyright Act of 1976, which states that songwriters can reclaim copyright from music publishers 35 years after they gave them away," American Songwriter wrote.
So, Paul won the copyright battle in the end, and, surprisingly, it didn't tarnish his fond memories of working with Jackson.
Stairway to 11 is dedicated to providing news, reviews, and original content covering classic rock, oldies, and old-school music of all genres. This site also serves as a community for like-minded fans to catch up on the latest news and discuss their passion. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.