Since the subject has been bandied the past few days with many misconceptions, here is a brief review of the events that took place that enabled Michael Jackson to buy the Beatles catalog. It's a very complex issue that this article can't completely begin to cover, so we've listed sources at the bottom that offer additional information.
The sale of Northern Songs had been bandied about for some time. EMI Music had considered, at one time, buying ATV Music, which included Northern Songs, but never made an offer.
Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, when they were working together, discussed investments in music copyrights. Jackson had commented to McCartney that he might one day buy his and John Lennon's songs. McCartney took it as a joke.
But in November, 1984, Jackson's representatives called with serious intentions. "When the ATV music publishing catalogue, which contains many Lennon-McCartney songs, went on sale, I decided to put up a bid. I consider myself a musician who is also a businessman and Paul and I had both learned the hard way about business and the importance of publishing and royalties and the dignity of song writing," Jackson was quoted as saying.
The book "Northern Songs" by Brian Southall says Jackson's lawyer talked individually to both Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney, suggesting they each each buy the catalog. Both said no. Ono was concerned about having copyrights of other Beatles' songs, while for McCartney, it was said the price was more than he expected to pay. There's no indication in the book that the two considered making a joint deal.
Nobody expected Jackson to pull it off. In fact, according to Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times in a lengthy article on the Beatles catalog deal in 1985, negotiators at first thought Jackson was standing in for McCartney. "It seems Paul's people once told one of the ATV officers that their client was interested in buying the copyrights, but that he didn't want to go through lengthy negotiations. They said, in effect, 'You go out and get your best offer and we'll pay 10% more,'" Hilburn quoted an unidentified person involved with the negotiations.
Jackson was said to have told McCartney he planned to buy ATV. McCartney has said he was never told.
The negotiations took time -- with another buyer entering and exiting the picture -- but Jackson persisted. In a note to his lawyer pictured in "Northern Songs," he writes, "John, Please not let's bargain. I don't want to lose the deal."
Jonathan Morrish, former CBS UK and Sony press chief and Jackson associate says in the book "Northern Songs," "He'd (Jackson) done tracks with McCartney, they used to hang out a lot, went to the BRITs together, so I can completely understand why buying Northern Songs was something he wanted to do. It was beyond money, and Michael does not feel he ever betrayed McCartney by buying Northern Songs."
The outcome, not surprisingly, irked McCartney.
"The annoying thing is I have to pay to play some of my own songs. Each time I want to sing 'Hey Jude' I have to pay," he was quoted by the UK Mirror.
(The most complete source of information on this subject is Brian Southall's "Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles Publishing Empire," also available through Amazon.co.uk. Another excellent source is the Los Angeles Times 1985 article by Robert Hilburn, "The Long and Winding Road.")
For more info:
- Los Angeles Times 1985 article by Robert Hilburn, "The Long and Winding Road"
- NPR "All Songs Considered": "The Beatles Catalog and Michael Jackson"
- Bloomberg.com: Sony/ATV Said Planning to Keep Beatles Songs Post-Jackson Death
- Link to purchase Brian Southall's "Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles Publishing Empire"
- Beatle news briefs: Report says Macca won't get chance to take back Beatles catalog
- Could Paul McCartney get back the Beatles catalog from Michael Jackson? Maybe, if and if ...
- With Michael Jackson gone, what happens to the Beatles catalog now?
- A few of Michael Jackson's greatest TV performances
- More coverage on the death of Michael Jackson: http://www.examiner.com/category-michael_jackson.html
- More coverage on the death of Farrah Fawcett: http://www.examiner.com/category-farrah_fawcett.html