This is mine: Jackson's new hit turns out to be old
Pop king's estate agrees to split royalties on posthumous release after co-writer threatens legal action
Wednesday 14 October 2009
Even after his death, Michael Jackson seems to be stuck with an inner circle whose enthusiasm for his talents (and earning power) is not matched by their competence. How else do you explain the fine mess they have made of the posthumous release of his "new" song, "This Is It"?
Even a good number of Jackson's fans felt uneasy on hearing the gentle melody of the super-hyped track when it was made available online and released to radio stations on the stroke of midnight New York time on Sunday. Hadn't they heard it somewhere before? Yes, it turns out they had.
Less befuddled, but assuredly crosser, was the Canadian-born crooner, Paul Anka, who lost no time in revealing the truth about the tune. He had co-written it and recorded a version with Jackson back in 1983. Jackson had made off with the master-tapes but Anka had later got them back.
The song, then entitled "I Never Heard", had originally been intended as a duet track on an Anka album that was in the making at the time. But after Jackson lost interest in it, Anka eventually made it available to barely-known Puerto Rican singer Safire. She duly released it to moderate acclaim in 1991.
The Jackson estate and Sony Music were hoping for a big pay-day from "This Is It". The track will be part of a two-disc set that will go on sale to coincide with the release on 28 October of a Jackson film of the same name, featuring footage of him rehearsing for the concerts he had been due to perform in London.
Anybody still not sure of the money-spinning potential of all-things-Jackson should be at a Heathrow hotel this weekend for an auction of strands of hair that were burned from the singer's scalp in the still-famous mishap during the filming of a 1984 Pepsi commercial. A forward-thinking producer on the spot scooped up some of the singed locks and now hopes to cash in on them.
Meanwhile, if anyone involved in the hyping of the "new" Jackson track were aware of its true vintage, they weren't saying so in the run up to its release. We had to be told to expect something fresh. Indeed, "This Is It" was being heralded as the first of a number of previously unheard Jackson recordings.
What they had after his death was a version of the song only with piano and vocals. Presumably they thought it was enough that the song had been given a new arrangement with back-up singing performed by Jackson's brothers. But before long, they were backing down, confronted in particular by the threat of a nasty lawsuit from Anka. Before you could say "copyright", the Jackson estate acknowledged his claims and granted him 50 per cent of the proceeds.
"They realise it's a mistake; they realise it's my song; they realise it's my production of his vocal in my studio and I am getting 50 per cent of the whole project, actually, which is fair," Anka, whose best known hit was "My Way", said in a video statement on TMZ, the celebrity website.
And the estate moved quickly to change tack in promoting the track. "The song was picked because the lyrics were appropriate because of the name Michael gave his tour," a spokesman said. "We are thrilled to present this song in Michael's voice for the first time, and that Michael's fans have responded in unprecedented numbers. The song was co-written by the legendary Paul Anka."
Perhaps his fans would forgive the manner of the song's release if it was as good as advertised. Or if everyone could agree with John McClain, Jackson's executor, that it "only defines what the world already knows – that Michael is one of God's greatest gifts." But the critics have not been quite so impressed.
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