ENTER MICHAEL JACKSON
'I'm going to buy your songs . . .'
Michael Jackson was not born when Paul McCartney travelled by bus from his home in Allerton, Liverpool, to meet John Lennon for the first time at a church garden fete on 6 July 1957.
Born on 29 August 1958, Jackson was aged six in the year when the Beatles gripped America. He was then beginning his career as lead singer in his brothers' group the Jackson Five. By the time Jackson began his solo career in 1971, John Lennon had emigrated to the US, never to return. And the Beatles had split.
The prospect of Paul McCartney eventually collaborating musically with Michael Jackson, if predicted in the early 1970s, would have been met with derision. Sixteen years older, Paul was even then a universally acclaimed elder statesman of music. Though he would later mature his talent, Jackson was essentially a teen idol.
The end of the Beatles, however, left Paul feeling bereft. For although he has an iron determination and decisiveness to contrast with his charm, the insecurity that sits inside every artist is more present in Paul than in many of his kindred spirits. Despite the reality that many of the Beatles' most celebrated songs were written by him alone, Paul was wounded by the group's break-up and the void left by Lennon's departure was to be felt for several years. 'There was always the competitive thing with John,' Paul says, 'which I know was very good for me and I think he appreciated it, too.'
Paul's need for a collaborator partly to succeed John always seemed totally unnecessary, reflecting an odd lack of self-esteem. The fact that McCartney had assumed the mantle of a modern Cole Porter, George Gershwin or Lorenz Hart seemed utterly lost on him. Aside from the truth that his alchemy with Lennon was and is irreplaceable, Paul had proved his solo genius in and out of the Beatles. Any man who could write 'Yesterday' and 'Here, There And Everywhere' alone, followed by such powerful ballads as 'Waterfalls' and 'My Love' when the Beatles ended, does not need a co-writer. McCartney's is a self-contained talent when he wants it to be. He is a musician, lyricist and singer. Thousands boast of their abilities in just one of those compartments. McCartney, however, never seemed entirely satisfied or confident in his songwriting when his magical union with Lennon ended.
Feeling exposed and bruised at the break-up of the Beatles and the bitter war of words that followed, Paul decided to look for a songwriting mate from time to time. Eventually he settled for a working relationship with people less accomplished than himself, but sufficiently established to give him a fresh credibility. He linked with people who, just as Lennon had done, could assist him both in songwriting and vocally. There were to be liaisons with Eric Stewart, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder . . . and Michael Jackson.
One of the uglier sights of the early 1970s was of two geniuses of popular music, whose contribution to the world's pleasure would remain immeasurable, sniping at each other in the world's media across the Atlantic. John, feeling detached about the Beatles, wanted to build a new world, mentally as well as geographically. He denigrated many of his former colleagues in and around the Beatles; later, he would admit apologetically to George Martin that he had been 'out of his head' when he gave such interviews. Paul dealt with the end of the Beatles resolutely. Always more of the traditional show-business trouper than Lennon, he knew there was but one solution. After two solo albums, McCartney and Ram, he formed a new band, Wings, controversially featuring his wife, Linda. And he did what he loves best and could not persuade the Beatles to do during their battling final years. He went back on the road.
Working and writing prolifically with Wings, Paul continued to blend tough rock 'n' roll songs like 'Jet' with romanticism in song. And on Wings' sixth album, recorded in 1978 in the Virgin Islands, he wrote and sang an attractive song called 'Girlfriend'.
This was to mark the start of his creative link with Michael Jackson, not surprisingly, since McCartney sang the song in a falsetto style.
Asked later if he had written 'Girlfriend' with the American singer in mind, Paul said no, but he wondered what Michael might make of it.* The following year, Paul was surprised when Jackson's album Off the Wall included a cover version of the song. Issued as a single in July 1980, it reached number forty-one in the British chart. Michael Jackson arranged for Paul to receive a presentation disc to mark the fact that one of his compositions was on the album. People speculated on whether two giant songwriters representing different eras might one day work together.
To millions of pop watchers, the partnership of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson was an exciting 'dream ticket'. Two different generations with unique talents, combining for occasional works, seemed to offer real potential. Michael Jackson must have thought so, because on Christmas Day 1981 Paul remembers, 'Michael rang me and said he wanted to come over and make some hits.' Initially, Paul did not believe it really was Jackson on the phone. When identities were firmly established and Michael reiterated his wish to collaborate, Paul told him he would ponder the idea. Later, he decided: 'Why not? I really liked his singing, dancing and acting abilities.'
In May 1981 Michael Jackson travelled to Britain, meeting Paul for the first time at his London office. Paul began strumming a guitar and the pair quickly came up with the basis for a song called 'Say Say Say'. Michael then went back to his hotel room and wrote most of the words for it, returning next day to Paul with his efforts. They were on the way to completing their first joint composition. Michael was invited to Paul's home in Sussex, where Linda took photographs of the pair at the McCartney stables, Michael riding a horse.
* - Michael Jackson relates the history of 'Girlfriend', and his first meeting with Paul, differently. He says they first met at a party on the Queen Mary, which is docked at Long Beach, California. 'We shook hands amid a huge crowd of people and he said: "You know, I've written a song for you,"' Jackson writes in his autobiography, Moonwalk. 'I was very surprised and thanked him. And he started singing 'Girlfriend' to me at this party.' Jackson says they exchanged phone numbers but 'didn't talk again for a couple of years. He [Paul] ended up putting the song on his own album London Town' Jackson adds.
On that same visit, Paul played to Michael on the piano an introduction for a song he had yet to complete, suggesting how it could continue. Michael completed the lyric for what turned out to be a song called 'The Man'. It was, therefore, a true joint effort, Paul writing the music and Jackson supplying most, if not all, of the words.
Those two songs were then recorded during the remainder of Jackson's stay in London, with George Martin producing. Paul's new album, Tug of War, had already been completed (and was to be released in March 1982), so the two new songs were planned for Paul's follow-up, entitled Pipes of Peace. This became delayed until October 1983, allowing Paul and Michael time to refine the recordings in the intervening period. Horns were overdubbed on to 'Say Say Say' and 'The Man' at Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles, in April 1982. Their friendship was growing. During that visit, another Jackson solo composition, 'The Girl Is Mine', was recorded, Paul duetting with Michael on vocals.
With 'Say Say Say' and 'The Man' held in abeyance, 'in the can', the first McCartney-Jackson collaboration released was therefore 'The Girl Is Mine', which came out on Jackson's Thriller album in November 1982. Released as a single, this peaked at number two in the US and number eight in Britain. It was considered by many to be the oustanding track on Jackson's album. With sales topping 40 million, that was to become the biggest-selling album in history and Michael Jackson was, at the start of the 1980s, the hottest property in the music world since Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Just as Thriller was starting to take off, Jackson returned to Britain in early February 1983. He worked with Paul on the completion of 'Say Say Say' and 'The Man' in sessions produced by George Martin. Jackson again stayed with the McCartneys at their home, and went with Paul, Linda, George Martin and long-time Beatles and McCartney studio engineer Geoff Emerick to the annual British Phonographic Industry (BPI) dinner at the Dorchester Hotel on 10 February 1983, where Paul was presented with two major awards as 'Best British Artist' (1982) and representing the Beatles who were acclaimed for their 'Outstanding Contribution to Music'.
At that time, Paul was shooting his feature film Give My Regards to Broad Street, in which one sequence found him playing 'Yesterday' as a busker outside Leicester Square underground station. Explaining the origin of the sequence, Paul said that when he and John Lennon were teenagers, 'if you had to go to somebody's house you always had your guitar with you because you were going to practise together'. When planning the movie he told film director Peter Webb that 'we would wander along singing songs and showing off to the girls on our way to John's house or mine'.
The busking scene in the film stemmed from that recollection by Paul. 'The crew took me to Leicester Square one night, grotted me up with mud from the car-park, ripped my jeans and stood me on a corner. So there I was, standing there, plunking chords, doing a lousy honky-tonk version of "Yesterday''. No one wants to look a busker in the eye so no one noticed it was me.' He wore dark glasses and a battered guitar case at his feet collected the coins.
'So money was thrown at me by an unsuspecting public. I'd be going: "Yesterday/all my troubles/oh, thank you, Sir/seemed so far away.' The money I made went straight to the Seamen's Mission. An old Scottish drunk unloaded all his small change at my feet, put his arm around me and said: "Awright, son, yer doing greet!'" A few punks clad in studs and leather passed him by and started dancing, not realizing he was Paul McCartney.
To preserve Paul's anonymity, the film crew shot the scene from the inside of a darkened van parked across the street. Paul described the short busking experience enthusiastically as 'the ultimate theatre for a guitar player'. He was not to know that when the time came to negotiate with the publisher for the performance rights for the song, he would be dealing with . .. Michael Jackson.
'I always felt like an older brother to Michael, that was my relationship with him,' says Paul, remembering precisely how 'Yesterday' and his other songs began their journey into the ownership of the man he considered an artistic partner and friend. During Jackson's visit to London, Paul and Linda were invited for lunch to the home of British actor Adam Faith and his wife, Jackie. 'I said: "Can I bring a friend along?" Adam's jaw dropped as in walked Michael Jackson, but he's not easily thrown, Adam: "All right, mate?" he said. So we were sitting around chatting. We had a lovely lunch and afterwards Michael just pulled me aside in the corridor. He said: "Can I have a word with you? I'd like to talk to you for some personal advice you might give me." I said: "Sure."'
It seemed such an innocent aside in that atmosphere of bonhomie. But the 'fateful five minutes', as Paul described what ensued in the corridor at Adam Faith's house, were to cause the ex-Beatle great emotional anguish in the years ahead. Rich from Thriller, twenty-four-year-old Michael Jackson listened to business advice from a forty-year-old artist who had been round the track a few times and had emerged battle-scarred but shrewd.
Paul remembers: 'I said: "You are now earning a lot of money. You are really hot. First of all, get someone watching the money that you trust. Make sure of that first - because it can all go out of the window and you won't ever know about it. That's an old show-business story". Next, I said, make videos of your stuff now, and own them. You're so hot; in ten years time you will own the rights to these videos. And I said: think about getting into music publishing. Those were my three things: make sure who controls the money flow; make some videos; get into music publishing.'
Michael Jackson returned to America and changed his manager. 'He went and made the Thriller video. And then,' Paul says, 'when I saw him again, he started joking. He said: "I'm going to buy your songs." I went: Pfffrffff! Elder brother, get outta here! Good joke, though!'
Paul's album Pipes of Peace, including 'Say Say Say', finally came out on 31 October 1983. 'Say Say Say' was the lead single. Paul and Michael joined forces to shoot a highly acclaimed video from 4 to 6 October in Los Alamos, California. Two years after beginning their collaborations, this was the first time Paul and Michael had been seen together beyond still photographs.
'Say Say Say' entered the US chart on 15 October 1983 at number twenty-six in Billboard's Hot Hundred. It was the highest new entry since John Lennon's 'Imagine' had debuted at number twenty on 23 October 1971. Eight weeks later, 'Say Say Say' romped to number one on 10 December, and it stayed there for six weeks. In Britain it reached number two.
At Christmas 1983, the harmony between the two men was palpable. In Paul's news magazine to his fans, Club Sandwich, in which all the material is endorsed by Paul, a gushing article by a staff writer declared:
Michael's collaboration with Paul stems both from mutual professional admiration and a true friendship which has grown between them. Both are legends in popular music, both have felt the strengths and limitations this imposes. Beyond that, they share much in their lifestyles and attitudes. Neither lives the life of the successful superstar, preferring family life and close friendships. They share a passion for cartoons - both are avid collectors - and an interest in art and drawing . . . Observing them together in the brilliant 'Say Say Say' promotional film one can only describe the combination as pure dynamite!
All this should have presaged a warm and fruitful association between two creative artists who even had vegetarianism in common. But Paul's free advice to Michael Jackson to buy songs as assets was to have a cataclysmic effect on Paul's wish to repossess 'Yesterday' and a couple of hundred other compositions which he had written with and without John Lennon.
'I thought no more about it,' Paul says of that first mention by Michael of buying the Beatles catalogue, 'but then he said it once or twice later and I thought the joke was now not quite so funny. But he was still joking: "I'm gonna buy your songs." I said [Paul laughs]: "Yeah, great, well, that's good. . .' ' because it was the third piece of advice I'd given him.' The mere notion that a fellow artist and friend might be serious in a statement about purchasing Beatle songs was too fanciful to be taken seriously.
In 1981, just as Paul's friendship with Michael began, ATV had been re-named ACC (Associated Communications Corporation). Meanwhile, in November of that year, in the midst of the takeover battle, it was revealed that Lord Grade was seeking a buyer for ATV Music, which contained Northern Songs. This was surely the news Paul McCartney was waiting for.
At the age of seventy-five, Lord Grade was head of one of the world's most successful entertainment organizations. As chairman and chief executive of ACC, he controlled a company which had a turnover in 1980 of £167 million and profits of £14 million. With nearly 6,000 employees, it had massive international interests including cinemas (a chain of eighty Classic cinemas), Ansafone telephone answering equipment, control of the London Palladium and seven other major London theatres, and even the theatrical costumiers Bermans and Nathans. (Bermans provided the Beatles with their uniforms for the Sgt Pepper project.) In the music area, ACC owned Pye Records and RCA Records as well as Northern Songs. Lew Grade had a penchant for activities in the cinema and in recent years had become the most significant movie maker in the world outside Hollywood, with The Pink Panther and The Muppet Movie among his successes.
A resourceful expansionist, Grade announced in 1981 an extraordinary film-making programme, investing $120 million. This included a controversial plan to make a film entitled Raise the Titanic, a subject which fascinated Grade. That project alone was expected to cost his company some $33 million. Experts forecast that with that conservative estimate of its level of investment, the Titanic project was aptly named and could only lose money. And it did.
'I went to see Lew that year, when he was in trouble,' Paul McCartney says, noting the Titanic cash-drain that faced Grade. 'Lew was very good in the end; I got to know him quite well and went to lunch with him a few times. I like Lew Grade. Linda and I went to see him; he liked Linda and he'd do his Charleston routine - he used to be a hoofer. He was great. He was a lovely guy and we got to like him. I said: "Hey, Lew, these are my babies, these songs. I wrote them for nothing! And the price of them now is scandalous!" I said: "If you ever do want to sell it, would you please ring me and let me know, because I'd love to do it. And if you'd ever consider separating off Northern Songs from it (ATV), that would be incredible.
'I don't think Lew was very hip to publishing. He actually, I think, wanted to have it because he has so many TV shows for which he was always having to pay music publishing fees. He thought: "If I have an in-house publishing organization, I can use all those songs in my incidental music in the films." He wasn't a music publisher so he didn't quite understand, perhaps, just quite how valuable they were.'
Paul remembers his delight and amazement when Grade phoned him in Sussex to offer to sell his songs back to him. 'It was very nice of him, in the end when he was selling it, to ring me. "Lew Grade on the phone." "Hey, Lew, how are you doing?" He said: "Look, Paul, finally I'm selling it and I want to give you first offer of it all." I said: "Wow, that's fantastic." Against everyone's advice, he was willing to extract them from ATV. He was willing to take Northern, the jewel in the crown, out. Everyone had told him: "Don't! You'll never sell ATV unless it's got that in it. That's what everyone wants!" Everyone was getting wise to it.
'Lew said: "I'll pull it out for you. I'll sell it separately. Only to you." And he said: "The price is going to be £20 million."
'I gulped, thinking: Oh my God, I wrote them for nothing! Your own children are going to be sold back to you for a price. It's like buying your postcards back from Sotheby's. A bit of an indignity.' McCartney says he understood the reality of the business scenario and asked Grade for time to consider his situation.
He remembers swallowing hard. 'I thought: "Well, that's the ball game and, having spent so much for them, he can't give them away. So I said: let me get back to you on that. That's very nice of you to ring me and let me know. How long have I got on this? He said: "Well, I'll give you a week or so." He was really nice about it. He didn't need to ring me at all. He could have just gone, like everybody else, behind our backs.'
Paul phoned New York to discuss Grade's offer with his lawyers, his father-in-law Lee Eastman and Lee's son John. They said that maybe something could be put together to meet Grade's figure, but they added what Paul guessed, that 'It's an awful lot of cash to raise, even if you're doing fantastically well.'
'I thought immediately: well, I have two choices. I can either try to find £20 million and it is not easy to find. I thought: well, I can't buy it all. Because John is involved. And John had died by now. And I thought: even so, it would just look terrible if I suddenly buy the Lennon-McCartney songs and bypass Yoko, and Sean and Julian and all the other various interested parties. My morals wouldn't let me do that. There was no way I was going to be seen as the guy who had stolen John's songs.
'I had had enough of this flak with Northern Songs and the Beatles case and the Klein stuff. There had been a lot going on that had been separating the three against one. I had been the baddie who had taken them all to court.' (Paul is referring to his High Court action in 1971 which formally dissolved the Beatles partnership.) Paul reflects: 'That was a very, very difficult situation to find yourself in, to be suing your best friends. I wanted to sue Klein but he wasn't a party to the agreements. They said the only people you can sue could be the guys. Phew. I spent a month up in Scotland walking round in the clouds trying to work that one out. In the end, they said: 'Well, it's a simple thing. You either lose everything or you do this. It's the only chance. I got grey hairs over that.'
Paul decided to take what he believed was the second choice facing him. 'So (after Lew Grade's call) I said to myself: 'what I've got to do is ring Yoko, and we should split it. That would be the ideal coming home of the babies, the songs. You have John's half, I have half and that will be fine. The two of us will own the company; and that's the way it should be.'
Paul's version of what happened next is, he says, disputed by Yoko. A few years have passed, and memories differ, but Paul contends: 'I rang her up and I said: "Lew Grade has just offered me the company. He said it's £20 million. We should do it. You'll have half of it, I'll have half of it. That will feel good to me. John will have his half back. It's ten to me and ten to you. I don't know how easy it's going to be to find it. But that's the deal."
'And she said: "No, no. Twenty is way too high a price."
'I said: "Well, you may be right. Certainly as I wrote 'Yesterday' for nothing! It certainly seems a little expensive for me, but that's the ball game and we can't ignore it."
'And she actually did say to me: "No, we can get it for five." From twenty to five? I said: "Well, I'm not sure that's right. I've spoken to the man who's selling them. He says £20 million. But you'd better get back to me."
'She said: "No, let me talk to a few people. I can do something here."
'And of course, it fell through, obviously. We couldn't get it for five.'
Grade was reported to have received five different offers, from giant entertainment corporations including Warner Communications, CBS Records and Paramount. But none reached the figure he was apparently seeking. 'I would like Paul McCartney to have his songs back but he must come up with the right offer,' Grade was quoted as saying.
The warm relationship Paul enjoyed with Lew Grade would, sadly, have no bearing on the future ownership of 'Yesterday' and all those songs which Paul sought. In 1982, after a protracted takeover battle for Associated Communications Corporation, the Australian businessman Robert Holmes a Court won control of ACC's shares. Paul says he went to see Holmes a Court 'but the price had gone up', and part of the deal was that Paul would have had to visit Perth to appear on a telethon on Channel Nine, the television station owned by Holmes a Court. 'That was the final clincher for the deal if I was going to do it. But it was all too much money so I couldn't do it.'
Shortly afterwards, the ATV Music catalogue featuring 263 Beatles songs and other catalogue properties was withdrawn from sale. For three years, there was no activity and Paul assumed the situation was deadlocked. And then, on 10 August 1985, the bombshell news hit Paul; Michael Jackson had implemented the priceless advice he had been given. On that date, Jackson bought ATV Music for $53 million.
McCartney was especially hurt that an artist with whom he had a firm relationship had not phoned him to forewarn him of such a plan. Paul says: 'This is where our friendship suffered a bit of a blow. He didn't ring me. I was rung by someone who said: "Michael Jackson has just paid $53 million for Northern Songs." I've hardly spoken to Michael Jackson since then except to say, er Michael you're the man who could give me a deal now, then. Will you give me a deal? Talk about stonewalling! He's worse than all of them. At least Dick James said: "I'm sorry, lads, I can't do anything."
'Michael Jackson told me: "I let somebody else deal with that." Of course, he's made himself just the latest in a line of people who won't talk to me about it. Which is to his discredit.
'I went to see him once when he was doing 'Black and White', off his last album. He was doing the video with John Landis in Los Angeles and I made a special appointment to go and see him. He said: "Hi, it's so great to see you." I said: Michael, I hope you'll understand, I'm under a slave agreement. Really, you could be the historical person who could actually put things right. I said: it's not like you're aching for money. You're doing all right. I think you should do this, morally . . .
'He said: "You know, I've cried so much about this, Paul." I'm going: Well yeah, OK, Michael, but please, will you see your people? Give me a promise that you will talk to your people about this. He said: "I've cried. I have told them . . .' "
Paul also told Michael that he was unhappy about the commercialization of his compositions, the licensing of them for advertising purposes. 'I said: let me explain why. We were very smart not to let them be used for Coca-Cola acts, all the songs, because it kept the integrity of the songs. The songs will last longer, Michael, if they're not cheapened. ['All You Need Is Love', 'Revolution' and 'Good Day Sunshine' have been licensed for those purposes.] Michael said: "I've cried over this, Paul. I've cried." So I thought: I'm getting nowhere fast, here. And I've not heard from him since. I've written him three handwritten letters and he has not even answered me. I'm a thirty-year employee of this company, on a slave deal, and the guy won't even answer my letters.'
McCartney might be less vexed about the matter if he received a message saying: 'Dear Paul, got your letter, thanks. Sorry, I've handed it over to my business manager.'
'He's stonewalling the only living writer of that company. He will not deal. It was on my advice that he bought it, the fact that he stepped into publishing at all, and I've got only myself to blame really. But I'm not going to give up. They're my babies.'*
Ten years after his purchase, in 1995, Michael Jackson has proved to be the longest-serving owner of Northern Songs. He tenders its administration to an outside company. At the time of writing, it is EMI in Britain. Needing permission to reproduce the lyrics of 'Yesterday' in this book, I could not secure these from Paul McCartney, but did so from the administrator representing Michael Jackson's organization in London. Paul, of course, owns the copyright in his own handwriting and could approve the reproduction of that; but the actual song lyrics and music are not his to license.
Theoretically, 'Yesterday' could be licensed for any commercial
* - Michael Jackson's office in California was asked by this author in May 1995 if he might consider negotiating with Paul McCartney in the future on the sale of Northern Songs. There was no reply to the question.
use at any time. And Paul McCartney would have no recourse legally. It should be stressed that, with the exception of the Northern catalogue's first fifty-six songs, which were sold by Lenmac into Northern, both McCartney and the Lennon estate do continue to receive songwriting royalties from Michael Jackson. They still profit from the songs' performances. They just don't own them, so that the complete exploitation of Beatles songs is outside the control of Paul and Yoko. When 'Yesterday' is performed by someone else, Paul receives half of the writer's 50 per cent royalty (i.e. 25 per cent) for the world outside the USA and half of the 33 1/3 royalty (i.e. 16 2/3 per cent) for the USA.
While Paul is upset with Michael Jackson's continued ownership of the catalogue, and the secret manner in which he did the deal, he remains disappointed with Brian Epstein for negotiating what he considers were weak contracts in the first instance, and livid over what he still describes as the 'betrayal' by Dick James of the Beatles, and his parsimony in not reviewing the writers' terms when their bandwagon was making so much money for them.
Hindsight is a wonderful science: the story of the Beatles, particularly this dramatic, exhausting, tantalizing saga of how Paul and John lost control of their material, and in particular 'Yesterday', is littered with hypotheses: 'perhaps . . .' and 'what if. . .' Perhaps Dick James felt he had been overly generous, in the first instance, by suggesting a shared company with 'the boys'. He may well have thought he could 'score brownie points' with the brilliant new writers and their manager by forming a company for them, rather than 'hiring' them. But he certainly did not need to break the publisher's mould in 1963 by launching a dedicated publishing company. He could undoubtedly have encouraged Paul and John to sign a deal with Dick James Music, although it is George Martin's view that had he done so, he would 'probably have lost them after a year'. However, if Paul and John were as naive as Paul says, that might not have happened. They were so industrious as songwriters and performers that they might have left their songs to Dick James to run, and there might never have been a public flotation of shares.
But should they have asked James to go to Apple for that provocative confrontation, which he found embarrassing and degrading? Would he have sold his shares if they had not, in his view, rounded on him? Was James's lack of consultation truly prompted by the need for secrecy, his claimed responsibilities to Northern's shareholders? Or did he sell because of selfishness? Or in anger and frustration at their lambasting of his refusal to budge on their royalties? Had Paul and John simply struck a raw nerve?
Perhaps it was a mistake to commit the copyrights to Northern for ever. A fixed-term deal might have given Lennon and McCartney less money in the first place but the songs would have returned to their ownership long ago. What if Northern had not been floated into a public company in 1965? Then ATV's aggressive takeover could never have happened. Dick James could still have sold his 50 per cent, but the remaining half would have remained safe. The decision to put Northern on the Stock Exchange had the advantage of turning McCartney's, Lennon's, Epstein's and James's assets into cash. They obviously felt the need for it, but what was their motivation? The Beatles were fully aware of the plan to 'go public'. If this had not been their apparent priority decision, the flotation would not have occurred and the ship would have been easier to control.
Perhaps Paul, John and Epstein should have challenged the appointment of Charles Silver as chairman, and such a major shareholder, in Northern. Historically, he was Dick James's accountant and confidant and worked in tandem with James without any particular affinity with the Beatles or the music industry. Paul told me he could not recall ever having met Silver, an utterly fantastic piece of news, even in 1995. How could a chairman not ensure that he had at least an acquaintance with a songwriter who was responsible for making him and his company a fortune? Paul and John might have insisted on an independent chairman, or a non-shareholder, or an alternating chairman. This would have radically changed the power base. When James and Silver decided to sell off to Grade, they owned 35 per cent of Northern between them and this was a huge body blow to Paul and John. Operating alone, James could have mustered only about half this amount and an 18 per cent holding would have been of such little interest to ATV that they probably would not have bothered to buy.
What if Paul and John had never sold Lenmac Enterprises back to Northern Songs? Though they may have been badly advised, it was still their decision. They were foolish to grab the £365,000 (a pittance compared with the revenue since raised by those fifty-six songs) instead of hanging on to the rights, but Paul points out that they trusted the business sense of their advisers at that time, who included the highly respected lawyer Lord Goodman. Perhaps Paul should have made Lew Grade an offer for all of ATV Music, not just the Northern Songs element, when in 1981 it was known that Grade was seeking to sell. McCartney could simply have kept Northern and sold the unwanted parts later, or even kept them, for the catalogue included plenty of other valuable copyrights among its 5,000 titles.
Did Paul really need to consult Yoko? His ethics in doing so were magnanimous. But she did not write the songs and could never assert Paul's emotional attachment to them and to the entire Beatles story. Yoko did not meet John until 9 November 1966, by which time many of these songs had been written. Valuable time was lost when Paul quoted her the price of £20 million and she responded that the figure could be reduced to £5 million. Should Paul, who surely knew instinctively that such a counter-offer would scupper the deal, have waited at all? Should he not have moved immediately and independently, with Lennon dead, to buy back his babies?
What if the Beatles' internecine battles had not wrecked their chances of mounting forceful opposition to Lew Grade's takeover designs in the pivotal year of 1969? Paul and John, though united on this issue, were divided on most others at that time. They even had different representatives, Paul choosing Lee and John Eastman, John opting for Allen Klein. Better united, these elements might have forged a deal to hold on to Northern. Divided, they lost it. 'What happened,' in the view of song-writing expert Roger Greenaway, 'is that Paul let pride get in the way . . . and he probably regrets that more than ever now. It's a pity he let them out of his grasp, but that's so easy to say now.'
If Paul had written 'Yesterday' today, he would be infinitely richer from it, as would he and John from all their songs. And that has no bearing on the sale of Northern. From the start, their deal with a publisher would be far more in their favour. 'They were on 50-50, as I was,' says Roger Greenaway, 'but if only they'd lived in these times they would be on a 90-10 in their favour after that first hit record. Writers today don't understand how good they've got it by comparison with the 1960s. You never hear of an artist getting less than 70 or 75 per cent, or of them giving more than 25 per cent of their royalties away - at source, too.' His own royalties with his co-writer were 50-50 on the publisher's receipts, not at the source. 'That word 'source' never came into it. The publisher knew about it, but he would never put it in a document. It meant they sold your stuff abroad and they had to pay us 50 per cent. They wanted to keep their 50 per cent overseas, send 50 per cent back to Britain, and pay us half of it. So actually it became 25 per cent at source! That's all we got from abroad in those years. They all did it. It was called business practice then. It was not regarded as cheating. But as the judge said in the famous Elton John case, accepted business practice does not make something right.'
It seems faintly ironic that Michael Jackson should dedicate his autobiography, Moonwalk published in 1988, to Fred Astaire, whose dancing clearly inspired him. Paul McCartney has carried a lifelong torch for the charming singing of Astaire. Yet two artists with that inspiration in common seem unable to unite on a wider issue.
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Writing that he considers himself a musician who is incidentally a businessman, Michael Jackson states that both he and Paul McCartney have learned the hard way, about business and the importance of publishing and royalties 'and the dignity of songwriting . . . Songwriting should be treated as the lifeblood of popular music' The creative process, Jackson observes, does not involve time clocks or quota systems, but inspiration. Many of his ideas came in dreams, he says. Elsewhere, Michael states that he believes in wishes and in a person's ability to make a wish come true.
Since his old friend Paul McCartney wrote 'Yesterday' in his dreams, perhaps Michael Jackson will one day lift the phone or write a letter to England, to help a friend's wish to reach fruition.