Day 345: Say Say Say

Song: “Say Say Say” by Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
Reached #1: December 10, 1983 (McCartney’s fifth, 6 weeks)
Previously by McCartney: Day 136, Day 141 (Wings), Day 154
Previously by Jackson: Day 65, Day 246, Day 298

That’s some powerful snake oil…

The recording sessions for “Say Say Say”, about two years before the song’s release on McCartney’s Pipes of Peace album, may have led directly to Jackson owning the McCartney-Lennon catalog.

It’s said that one night during the sessions, McCartney took out the list of songs he owned the rights to, and explained the music royalty business to Jackson.  More likely, since Jackson had been around the business a while, he just made it clear that the real money in music was in song ownership… a lesson Jackson would take to heart.

Northern Songs, the publishing company formed by McCartney and John Lennon with Dick James and Brian Epstein, seemed like a good idea at the time.  Well, at least to Dick James, who managed to wind up with 50% of Northern, while Lennon and McCartney (the actual talent, remember) wound up sharing 40%.  After selling off a piece of Northern on the London Stock Exchange, James had a controlling share of 37.5%… which he sold to media conglomerate ATV in 1969 without offering Epstein or Lennon-McCartney a chance to buy it.  After a fight on several fronts – one that ATV’s Lord Lew Grade was going to win, since he was one of the UK’s richest men – Lennon and McCartney cashed in their shares of Northern.

Fast forward to that 1981 converation at Abbey Road – McCartney told Jackson about the value of music rights, and Jackson told McCartney that he was going after the Northern catalog.

In 1982, ATV Music was sold – and both McCartney and Yoko Ono passed on the chance to get Northern’s legacy back.   Three years later, Jackson swooped in to counter another bid for ATV Music.  Jackson proved to be a hard businessman – he actually turned down McCartney’s bid for a raise in payments for the McCartney-Lennon songs in the ATV catalog.

By 1995, Jackson would sell ATV Music to Sony, which promptly closed the Northern Music brand.  Sony and Jackson’s estate still share ownership of almost all of the Lennon-McCartney catalog (except for a few early songs published before Northern, which McCartney owns through MPL Communications).

Tomorrow, an ‘80s one-hit wonder that will almost certainly stick in your head as soon as you see the title…

Other songs that reached #1 on December 10:
– “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys (their third, 1 week)
1988 – “Look Away” by Chicago (their third, 2 weeks)


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