The ‘Dodgy’ Move That Soured Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s Friendship

In the late ’70s, Michael Jackson did what thousands of artists had done in the past: He recorded a song written by Paul McCartney. But that was only the beginning of the collaborations between the former Beatle and the man who’d soon become known as the “King of Pop.”

During the recording sessions for Thriller (the biggest-selling record of all time), the pair of icons sang one in the studio together. That track, “The Girl Is Mine,” was a huge hit. “Say Say Say,” released the following year, became an even bigger hit for the pair.

Around this time, McCartney and Jackson had become quite friendly. According to multiple sources, the two would hang out even outside the recording studio. And that’s where McCartney told Jackson about the benefits of owning songwriting publishing rights.

In 1985, Jackson proved he’s listened to McCartney’s advice by buying the granddaddy of all publishing rights: the Beatles catalog. Though McCartney’s had a chance to bid on the music himself, he considered Jackson’s purchase a “dodgy” move. And their friendship soured.

Paul McCartney felt betrayed by Michael Jackson’s purchase

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney in the studio, 1980 | Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

If you go all the way back to the first Lennon-McCartney songwriting contract (with Dick James), you’ll learn about another classic case of the artists getting screwed. And in the following decades the publishing rights bounced from one corporate entity to the next.

By the ’80s, McCartney and John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono had a shot — as did everyone else — at buying them once and for all. But according to multiple sources McCartney and Ono considered the price too high. (Back then, Paul wasn’t a billionaire.)

But Michael Jackson had the cash to make such a purchase — and that’s exactly what he did. (It cost Jackson $47.5 million.) However, it represented the end of the Jackson-McCartney collaborations. You wouldn’t catch them in a studio together ever again.

I think it’s dodgy to do something like that, McCartney said of Jackson’s move in the past. “To be someone’s friend and then, buy the rug they’re standing on.”

McCartney asked Jackson for ‘a raise’ as the songs became more valuable

Michael Jackson and the McCartneys
Paul McCartney poses with his wife Linda and Michael Jackson at the BRIT awards in London, 16 February 1983. | Dave Hogan/Getty Images

If you think the story couldn’t get any weirder, it did just that in 2006. At that point, McCartney was indeed unfathomably wealthy. But he told the New York Post that he’d resented Jackson for the wealth the Lennon-McCartney songbook had brought him.

“I wrote [Jackson] a couple of letters,” McCartney said (via ABC News). “And I said, ‘Michael, don’t you think that — even if I was just a writer on the payroll — after 30 years of being reasonably successful to this company that you now own, don’t you think I could have a raise?'”

According to McCartney, Jackson told him that was “just business” and left it there. And McCartney said Jackson stopped answering his letters after a while (sorry, no raise). During those interviews, McCartney allowed that he didn’t “have that great a relationship” with Jackson.

But McCartney has never really been one to trash a colleague in public. After Jackson died in 2009, McCartney said he was privileged to have known him and worked with him. And to this day McCartney has to pay to perform most of his own songs.

Also see: The Beatles Played to 11,000 Empty Seats at a Show on Their Final Tour