In 1983, Michael Jackson spent two weeks as a guest in Paul Anka’s home. The idea was to spend this time writing, collaborating, and cutting demos for possible inclusion on Paul Anka’s “Walk a Fine Line ” album, an album that Anka had long envisioned as a showcase for his favorite duets and collaborations. As it turned out, not a single one of the tracks that they wrote or recorded together ended up being used on “Walk a Fine Line.” Nor, for that matter, would any of them ever see light during Michael’s lifetime, though the song “I Never Heard” (which would later come to be known as Michael’s posthumous hit “This Is It”) was recorded by Sa-Fire for her album “I Wasn’t Born Yesterday” in 1991. Her version pretty much sucked, though.
Thank goodness we would finally get to hear the song as it was meant to be heard!
But for the purpose of this blog, I would like to focus on what this collaboration-and those two fateful weeks spent at Anka’s home-meant for Michael. By now, it seems a foregone conclusion that we cannot underestimate the importance of these songs and their role in furthering Michael’s legacy. From those sessions came the song that would ultimately become Michael’s first posthumous hit, and more recently-following a tremendous 13-position leap to #9-the song that has now given Michael another Billboard record as the only artist with a Top Ten Hot 100 hit in all five decades. I am talking, of course, about “Love Never Felt So Good,” a song that is continuing to gather momentum even as I write this.
And I have a feeling we have probably not heard the last of these sessions, for three very important reasons. #1: There are still several Anka/Jackson songs in the vault (though to what degree they were “finished” I do not know); #2: The estate seems rather tight with Mr. Anka these days, apparently having long soothed out their differences over the rather tacky way that the “This Is It” fiasco was handled in 2009; #3: These songs, in particular seem to be popular choices with the estate (for reasons which I will expand upon shortly) and, #4: They have struck a receptive chord with listeners and the buying public-which, of course, will no doubt further fuel the motivation to dip into them again at some future point.
According to this interview, Anka states that it was initially Michael who had expressed an interest in being a part of the “Walk A Fine Line” project.
There may have been good reason for Michael to be attracted to the idea of working with the legendary Paul Anka, who was only fifteen when his first hit “Diana” made him a superstar. Throughout his life, Michael had an affinity with other celebrities who had been thrust into the limelight like himself at a very early age; in many instances, he reached out to them, in some cases seeking their friendship, or, as the case turned out to be here, seeking whatever magic sparks might be created if they were to join forces.
However, after two very intense weeks, the collaboration appeared to fall apart. As stated, none of the songs for which Michael and Anka co-wrote and cut demos were used on “Walk A Fine Line.” Details as to exactly what transpired have remained somewhat vague, but it seems possible that the collaboration may have ended with some bad blood between them. In a 2009 statement that was released in the aftermath of the Michael Jackson estate posthumously releasing “This Is It” with no credit to Anka, Anka stated rather bitterly that Michael had returned to the studio where the pair had cut several of the demos, and had “stolen” the tapes. However, we have to keep in perspective that these songs were at least 50% Michael’s intellectual property, as well. Obviously, he did take them; otherwise, the demo recording of “I Never Heard” (i.e, “This Is It”) would not have been found among his possessions. But the details of what exactly went down are, as I said, too vague to pass judgement as to who was in the right or wrong. Ultimately, only Michael and Anka know what was actually agreed between them-and what went down. But for whatever reason, Michael wanted those tapes bad enough to take them. Was he looking to get even? Did he think they might give him some sort of bargaining leverage at some future date? Or is it simply more likely that, having invested so much of himself into those songs, he had no intention of seeing them simply sit in Paul Anka’s vaults, gathering dust? One has to wonder: Did he, perhaps, have some inkling-some gut feeling-that what he had written and recorded with Anka was somehow special? At least, special enough to be salvaged-especially if he knew by then that Anka had no intention of using them on “Walk A Fine Line?” Those are just a few possibilities. However, it’s also likely that Michael had no idea what he wanted to do with them. But he must have recognized, at least, their possible future value. At any rate, he and Anka would have had to have reached some sort of amicable agreement in order to allow Sa-Fire to record the song in 1991, so the knee jerk response of Michael as a “song thief” seems highly unlikely .
Sa-Fire’s 1991 version of “I Never Heard,” the song that would ultimately be reborn as Michael’s posthumous hit “This Is It.” There would have had to have been an amicable agreement between the parties in order for this version to exist (which also makes the estate’s blunder in 2009 even more inexcusable):
And, to be fair to both Michael and Paul Anka, those headlines were largely spun by the tabloid media for the sake of sensationalism. Nowhere, in any direct quote, did Anka actually state that Michael “stole” the song from him; only that he took the tape. Some may call this splitting hairs, but it is not the same thing. An actual “theft” of the song would have been Michael re-recording it and putting it on an album with no credit to Anka (essentially, this is what the estate did although by then Michael was dead and obviously had no control over that decision). The fact that the song had merely sat in the vault for twenty-six years, gathering dust, makes it seem unlikely that he had any plans to ever actually use it-or, if he did, was perhaps waiting for the right time when he and Anka might negotiate the legalities of it. In all likelihood, Michael viewed the tape as an intellectual property that he was at least half entitled to, and also may have had good reason to fear that it could end up completely destroyed or lost if he did not take possession of it. I don’t think the song was exactly a going concern of Michael’s throughout those intervening twenty-six years; only that he did sense enough potential there that he sought to salvage it. Also, we have to question how much value Anka actually put on the tape, since after twenty-six years the missing tape only became an issue for him after realizing it was going to be a featured part of what was certainly destined to be one of the biggest soundtracks of the year. In the interview I have posted below from “The View” Anka clarifies that Michael had simply copied the original tape-which is a huge difference from the way it was worded in those TMZ articles!
Paul Anka discusses the song and situation with the estate on “The View” in October 2009:
At the time, Anka received a fair amount of bashing from many in the MJ fan community for these comments, but in all fairness, we can’t be too hard on the guy. Aside from the fact that TMZ and other outlets did spin the story from an angle of sensationalism, he was the song’s co-author, and what was done still stands to this day as one of the estate’s most embarrassing blunders, as well as (to be honest) one of its cheesiest stunts. Rifling through the vaults in search of a “new” song to promote the concert film “This Is It” someone found what was apparently the perfect choice-a song that, guess what, actually had the line “This is it” in it. Perfect, right? Er..except for one minor detail. No one bothered, apparently, to do a background check of the song’s history, or to even look into the possibility that it might have been written or co-written by another party. Instead, it was promoted as a “new” Michael Jackson song, erroneously leading many to believe that it was a song Michael had recently recorded to coincide with his “This Is It” concert tour. Anka, meanwhile, apparently didn’t know anything about this until he was contacted by TMZ. Aaaaaawkwaaaard!
Although I still think to this day that the matter was handled somewhat tackily, and that Paul Anka should have gone directly to the estate rather than talking to the media, one really couldn’t blame the guy for being a little upset. Put yourself in his place for a moment, and imagine this was a song that you co-wrote; one that contains at least 50% of your own blood and sweat. Suddenly you wake up one morning, and Harry Levin from TMZ is contacting you to let you know that the song you wrote is now being promoted as “a brand new Michael Jackson song”-with no mention of you, of course. Yeah, I would imagine most of us would be just a bit irked, too.
But on a lighter note, probably the funniest out of all of this was seeing how all of those journalists and critics who had jumped on the line “I’m the light of the world/I feel grand” as yet another example of Michael’s egotism had to suddenly back pedal once they realized that the song had actually been co-written by someone else!
Fortunately, the whole mess was smoothed over quickly. The estate admitted their screw-up, and agreed to reward Anka co-writing credit and 50% of the publishing rights.
In a strange twist of fate, both Paul Anka and the Michael Jackson estate would, in turn, be sued over rights to the song by yet another third party, a Boston producer named Michael Jonzun who claimed he was entitled to a third of the song’s profits.
Boston producer sues Michael Jackson’s estate, Paul Anka
By:Laurel J. Sweet — Tuesday, January 28, 2014
A Boston-based producer who hit his stride in the ‘80s with the electro-funk band the Jonzun Crew is suing the estate of Michael Jackson and Paul “Having My Baby” Anka for $10 million, claiming the King of Pop and the iconic Canadian crooner cut him out of the credits on their Grammy Award-nominated single, “This Is It.”
Michael Jonzun alleges in court filings “This Is It” is nothing more than a remake of the love song “I Never Heard,” which Jackson and Anka co-wrote in 1983 and Jonzun said he was asked to produce and tinker with in 1990. His suit states Jonzun “still has the tapes of the versions he created in his possession.” He told a federal judge yesterday he has a contract to back up his one-third ownership in the hit.
But Los Angeles attorney Jeremiah Reynolds, one of the Jackson estate’s Wilshire Boulevard defenders, told U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper, “We strongly believe these claims do not have merit. I just want that on the record.”
“This Is It” was also the name of Jackson’s swan-song documentary released in 2009 when his sudden death at age 50 derailed plans for a world tour. The film grossed nearly $262 million worldwide.
Jonzun told Casper he believes Massachusetts has jurisdiction over his case because “Mr. Anka performs here regularly,” “the song is being sold in Massachusetts,” and “Jackson has books being sold here. The list goes on and on.”
The online database AllMusic credits Jonzun with discovering New Edition and with producing J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf’s 1984 solo album “Lights Out.”
Casper took under advisement arguments by Reynolds, Boston attorney Catherine Bednar on behalf of Anka, and Boston attorney Brian Devine, representing Jackson’s doomed comeback tour promoter AEG Live, that she should throw Jonzun’s suit out because he filed it in October 2012.
That’s 18 days after the three-year window of opportunity he had to stake a claim against the two superstars under the federal Copyright Act, they said. Jonzun then missed the 120-day deadline to serve them with summonses, they added.
Jonzun, 59, of North Falmouth, weighing in by speaker phone, cautioned Casper, “The defendants are using a smokescreen of sorts to distract you.” He said their protests that his civil action missed the deadline “are really just a wall for stopping me from moving forward because the case has merit.”
Jonzun also sued the metal band Limp Bizkit for copyright infringement in 2003 and reached an undisclosed out-of-court settlement,
He assured Casper yesterday he is actively searching for a lawyer, adding, “It’s not easy getting someone to take on AEG Live, Paul Anka and the estate of Michael Jackson on a contingency fee basis.”
As it turned out, a judge ruled that Jonzun’s case had no merit, and it was thrown out:
- Victory From Beyond The Grave! Michael Jackson Wins $24M ‘This Is It’ Lawsuit
Posted on Apr 18, 2014 @ 4:23AM | By Melissa CroninIt’s a good day for Michael Jackson, even though he’s still dead. RadarOnline.com has learned that the music legend just scored a massive legal victory from beyond the grave, as a federal court judge has dismissed a $24million lawsuit brought against Jackson by music producer Michael Jonzun.Jonzun filed the lawsuit in Massachusetts in 2012, claiming he was owed $24million for helping draft “This Is It,” a song Jackson did with Paul Anka in 2009. At the time, Anka said he’d never heard of Jonzun, and that his claims were “BS.” Apparently, the judge agreed.Read The Documents
http://amradaronline.files.wordpress…eljacksonb.pdfAccording to court documents obtained by Radar, a judge found “The Estate of Michael Jackson cannot be sued” because it “is not a legal entity capable of being sued, and therefore the complaint must be dismissed.”The judge also dismissed Jonzun’s claims against Anka and AEG Live because he filed in Massachusetts and has “not demonstrated that the Defendants purposely availed themselves of the privilege of conducting activities in Massachusetts,” according to the judgment, noting that “This Is It” was likely sold in several other states as well.Finally, the judge called Jonzun to task for a “repeated failure to comply with the service rules,” according to the documents, including filing his motion for extension late, not filing a supporting affidavit with his motion, and failing to serve all the defendants.As such, the judge dismissed the entire case on March 24.http://radaronline.com/exclusives/20…ond-the-grave/
But getting back to the song’s real co-creators, Anka was apparently well mollified with the estate’s recompense, and in the time since then, has had only good things to say about Michael and their partnership. The second song of their collaboration, “Love Never Felt So Good,” was included on Xscape and released as its kick-off single, without incident.
The release of “Love Never Felt So Good” has also officially created a bit of a strange trend for the Anka/Jackson collaborations. “Love Never Felt So Good,” just as “I Never Heard” would eventually be recorded by another artist, in this case Johnny Mathis in 1984. According to the song’s wiki page, Paul Anka and Kathy Wakefield contributed new lyrics for the Mathis version. Listening to this 1984 version by Mathis now, it seems incredible how much more “dated” his version sounds compared to Michael’s demo recorded the year before.
In 2013, Anka finally released the duet version of “This Is It” on his “Duets” album. Reviews of the duet version have been mixed, with some critics asserting that the respective vocal styles of Michael and Paul Anka simply didn’t blend well together. Here is their duet version. You be the judge:
Personally, I find the duet interesting, but I agree that it can hardly match the exuberant brilliance of Michael’s more familiar solo version-the version that would eventually go on to be nominated for a Grammy. Perhaps this may be at least part of the explanation why none of the Anka/Jackson collaborations ended up on “Walk A Fine Line.” Both men are known perfectionists, and it could have been that, after all of that intense work, they simply decided that nothing they had cut was up to the standards they were seeking. But since this was Anka’s project, it is likely that he held the strings when it came to that final decision. It also leads me to wonder if, perhaps, it may have been a creative dispute over that very decision which led to Michael allegedly “taking” (or copying) the tape. Again, I don’t wish to speculate too much on what happened, since Michael isn’t here to speak for himself and Anka has only relayed the information that we know from his public interviews.
However, the cynic in me can’t help but wonder why Anka chose to include his duet with Michael on his 2013 “Duets” album and not on the album for which it was actually recorded back in 1983. Looking at the track listing, it’s interesting that “Walk A Fine Line” contained not one; not two, but three-count’em, THREE-collaborations with Michael McDonald, yet not one of the songs written and recorded with Michael made the cut. Anka’s own claim, according to the interview he gave on “The View” is that Michael did not finish the work on the sessions.
But by releasing the duet on his 2013 release was Anka, then, simply guilty of jumping the posthumous MJ bandwagon because it had become the trendy thing to do? It’s tempting to think so. However, if it was just a matter of cashing in on Michael’s fame, wouldn’t it have made sense to have done it in 1983, when Michaelmania was at its peak? This question would lead me to believe even more strongly that some bad blood must have passed between them during the course of those sessions, and that over time, Anka has simply decided to let bygones be bygones. (Unfortunately, it’s often much easier to forgive in death than in life). It is also entirely possible, of course, that the songs simply didn’t make the final cut for aesthetic reasons that had nothing to do with personal issues.
But everything happens for a reason. It seemed that after all of the stumbling efforts with Anka, and that disastrous Sa-Fire abomination in 1991, the song was finally heard as it was always meant to be heard. Played over the closing credits of “This Is It,” the song truly elevated the end of the film from something that might have felt tragic or heartbreaking to an almost joyous celebration. It was poignant; it was bittersweet. But I know that most of us sitting in that theater were smiling through our tears, remembering all of the memories and the good times.
That bittersweet, feel-good emotion was exactly what Sony and the estate were banking on. The song helped to catapult “This Is It” into one of the most successful concert films of all time, as well as propelling the accompanying soundtrack album straight to the top of the charts. Oddly enough, the song was never released as a single, although I can somewhat understand the logic behind that reasoning-after all, they needed some incentive to get fans to fork out dough for what was essentially nothing more than another greatest hits package (even if, albeit, a digitally remastered one).
More recently, the release of Xscape has given us yet another gem from the Anka/Jackson sessions. “Love Never Felt So Good” peaked last week at #9 on the Billboard chart. It became an instant hit after its debut on the IHeartRadio awards show and, since then, its profile has been further increased by a viral video and by being featured in a series of summer Jeep commercials. It is in heavy rotation on Top 40, adult contemporary, and urban radio stations across the country (as well as across the globe) and has given Michael his highest charting single since “You Rock My World” in 2001. It was also featured recently on Dancing With the Stars.
Michael’s Solo Version Of “This Is It” Was Nominated For A Grammy In 2010:
Original Version of “Love Never Felt So Good”
There is undeniably a distinct “sound” that characterizes the songs of the Anka/Jackson collaboration, and I believe it goes far in explaining why these tracks have had such commercial appeal-and why the estate seems to love using them. These tracks beautifully captured-and preserved-the youthful energy of Michael. The vocals are all sung in the familiar style that we remember from his biggest Thriller-era hits (not surprisingly, since they were recorded during the same era). There is no dark angst; no deep political or philanthropic messages in these songs. They are simply feel-good pop songs that, for many listeners, transports them back to a simpler and more innocent time and place, when Michael was still untainted by controversy and could groove like nobody’s business.
There is a very distinct vocal style that differentiates the songs Michael recorded during this period from that of his more mature work. It was this hallmark youthful style, so evident on “This Is It” that first clued many sharp listeners to the fact that this had to have been a much older song than what was initially thought. I am a huge fan of Michael’s more mature work (in many cases, preferring it) but I can’t deny there is a certain warmth and vibrancy to his youthful vocal deliveries; the enunciations are much clearer, and he had not yet developed the clipped, angst-ridden style that would start to characterize much of his later work (where it often sounded as if he was singing through gritted teeth). Stylistically, he was still much closer to his r&b/Motown roots during this phase of the early 80’s. These songs sound like the Michael Jackson of Off The Wall and Thriller, a time when it wasn’t so difficult to imagine that he was probably smiling joyously throughout the recording process. Thus, there is a kind of instant nostalgia factor that these tracks invoke, both for fans who prefer this era and also for the general public whose familiarity with Michael’s work is still pretty much shaped by the trinity of the Big Three-“Thriller,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean.”
Additionally, there is a huge nostalgia trend right now for the kind of retro, early 80’s sound invoked by songs like “Love Never Felt So Good” and Pharrell William’s phenomenally successful “Happy.” But in order to appeal to contemporary audiences, it can’t be a “fossilized” sound (a term I will use for lack of a more specific musical term, haha). In other words, the trend is for songs that somehow “sound” like 80’s songs without actually being songs recorded in the 80’s. The Anka/Jackson tracks, while recorded in the 80’s, seem to nevertheless lend themselves especially well to tasteful “modernizing” while still maintaining their early 80’s feel. In other words, they manage to very successfully skit that fine line between sounding nostalgic without sounding dated. And as long as this current trend continues, I suspect we may see a few more offerings from the Anka/Jackson vault.
Michael did not live to see either “This Is It” or “Love Never Felt So Good” become hits, and it’s reasonable to believe that if he had lived, those songs would most likely still be sitting in the vault. But one has to wonder if, somehow, when Michael was laying down those tracks over thirty years ago in 1983, he had any inkling that he was recording songs that would be hits in 2009, and 2014 and beyond? I think that a part of Michael was certainly always well aware that he was working towards his own posterity, with every note he laid down.
To say Michael worked hard at his craft would be the understatement of the century. We’ve all heard the stories, of how we would punish himself through endless retakes of a song to get it just right. In the documentary on the making of Xscape, LA Reid discusses how Michael recorded the vocal for “Slave to the Rhythm” from top to bottom no less than 24 times in a row!
Keeping those stories in mind, it should make one appreciate that all of Michael’s hard work was not in vain, and that one day the world would finally get to hear these songs.
With the release of Xscape, we have witnessed the biggest peak of Michaelmania since the summer of 2009. As I am sitting here typing this, Michael Jackson holds no less than fourteen current Billboard positions, with Xscape at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the r&b/hip hop chart; Number Ones at #33, The Essential Michael Jackson at #71, and Thriller at #88. Keep in mind these are all, with the exception of Xscape, re-charts that have been a direct result of Xscape’s ripple effect.
On the Hot 100, Michael currently has three singles. “Love Never Felt So Good” is currently at #16 after its #9 peak and “Slave to the Rhythm” has debuted at #45. But perhaps the most astounding of all is the re-charting of “Billie Jean” at #14. This is largely the result of a viral video featuring high school student Brett Nichols performing Michael’s “Billie Jean” routine; however, we can also chalk this up to part of Xscape’s ripple effect and the resultant tide of MJ media exposure-in the best kind of way.
And on the Billboard r&b/hip hop charts, Michael is performing even better, with “Billie Jean” at #6, “Love Never Felt So Good” at #7, and “Slave to the Rhythm” debuting at #12. Meanwhile, over on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart, “Billie Jean” is at #5, “Love Never Felt So Good” at #6, “Slave to the Rhythm” at #10, and “Chicago” debuting at #50.
On the current US Itunes chart, there are no less than seven Michael Jackson music videos currently in the Top 100. “Love Never Felt So Good” has held steady at #2 for over a week, after peaking at #1. Additionally, “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Remember the Time,” “Smooth Criminal,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “You Rock My World” remain steady in the middle, ranging from “Thriller” at #34 to “You Rock My World” at #83. The numbers are impressive when you consider that he is the only non-current artist generating those kinds of numbers on the chart. His closest contenders are all the hot kids of today. That alone should tell you something.
And keep in mind that these numbers only reflect USA sales, streams, and airplays. It doesn’t even begin to tally the worldwide numbers, but I know that sales have been phenomenal all over the globe.
For those interested in an even more detailed breakdown, check out Damian Shields’s “Xscape: Sales & Chart Performances”
This isn’t all about numbers, of course. But numbers are a very good indicator that something is striking the right chord.
I can’t speak for Michael and what he would or would not have wanted. However, I do believe it is safe to say that the young Michael who was recording in Paul Anka’s house in 1983 would have been proud to know that he was recording a future Grammy nominated single and a song that would have people dancing and smiling in 2014. I want to share with you a quote that has been said of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a quote that has relevance for our purpose here, and seems a fitting note on which to close things out because, from what I know, it is just as true of Michael Jackson as it was for F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“He was a very cool appraiser of his own work, almost as if they had been written by somebody else. He did not think his bad work was good. But he knew that his good work was really, really good.”