Michael Jackson was not only arguably the best pop musician in history, but also a savvy businessman. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the day the King of Pop bought the Beatles catalog, a move that would turn two musician friends into foes.
Paul McCartney, part of the “Fab Four” that made up The Beatles, spent a lot of time in the 1980s with Jackson. The duo recorded several singles together that reached the top of the pop charts, including “Say Say Say,” and “The Girl is Mine.” Yet, in what Ultimate Classic Rock magazine calls one of the “shrewdest business moves ever,” Jackon cut off a blooming musical friendship when he bought the rights to the Beatles catalog In August, 1985, for $47.5 million.
It was a great business move by anyone’s standards, as Jackson regained the amount spent on the catalog over and over again. At the same time, however, McCartney was forced to pay money just to play songs live in concert that he wrote many years ago. While Jackson gained back way more than he invested into the catalog, he did at the expense of a close friendship.
Jackson’s friendship with McCartney started during the late 1970s, and culminated after McCartney appeared on Jackson’s 1982 Thriller album, in the lighthearted duet, “The Girl is Mine.” Jackson returned the favor by appearing on McCartney’s 1982 Pipes of Peace album, offering his vocals on “Say Say Say” and “The Man.”
McCartney began talking to Jackson about his interest in buying music catalogs, specifically his purchase of Buddy Holly’s back catalog.
“This is what I do. I bought the Buddy Holly catalogue, a Broadway catalogue. Here’s the computer printout of all the songs I own.”
Clearly intrigued by the money-making opportunity, Jackson spoke with his former attorney, John Branca, about similar catalog investments. Although Jackson’s accountants advised him to invest in real estate, he was more interested in purchasing songs. When Branca told Jackson that the Beatles catalog was for sale, the “Thriller” singer jumped at the chance to own it.
The catalog, owned by Australian corporate mogul, Robert Holmes à Court, was sold to Jackson after numerous negotiations, even after Court advised him to stick to being an artist only. Yet, Jackson had plenty of money to spare and wasted no time scooping up the catalog. He indicated in a finance committee meeting that acquiring the catalog was about art.
“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. IT’S MY CATALOGUE.”
McCartney later admitted his devastation over Jackson buying the Beatles catalog, and at a price McCartney just didn’t feel comfortable paying. The two never worked together again.
“I think it’s dodgy to do something like that. To be someone’s friend, and then buy the rug they’re standing on.”
Although McCartney was clearly hurt over what Michael Jackson did, it never stopped him from praising the King of Pop’s sensational talent. He often referred to Jackson as a “massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul.”
[Photos Courtesy of Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images & David Harris/Stringer]