The Magic of the Anka Sessions

with paul ankaIn 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.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKYfzdjyPW0[/tube]

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.

Paul Anka, Teen Sensation
Paul Anka, Teen Sensation

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):

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCV1h40oS0o[/tube]

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:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfRznr_32HQ[/tube]

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!

If Things Had Gone According To Plan, "This Is It" and "Love Never Felt So Good" Would Have Ended Up On THIS Album Back In '83
If Things Had Gone According To Plan, “This Is It” and “Love Never Felt So Good” Would Have Ended Up On THIS Album Back In ’83

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!

"I'm The Light Of The World/I Feel Grand"-MJ's Contribution, Or Anka's? We May Never Know!
“I’m The Light Of The World/I Feel Grand”-MJ’s Contribution, Or Anka’s? We May Never Know!

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.”

http://bostonherald.com/business/bus…tate_paul_anka

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.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nir-5ni5Iy8[/tube]

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:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1cLwg3YY1Y[/tube]

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.

http://www.discogs.com/Paul-Anka-Walk-A-Fine-Line/release/3092943

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.

Michael's Solo Version-The One The World Finally Heard In 2009-Is The Song As It Was Meant To Be Heard
Michael’s Solo Version-The One The World Finally Heard In 2009-Is The Song As It Was Meant To Be Heard

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:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijxOAPn8skI[/tube]

Original Version of “Love Never Felt So Good”

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cu6FOUW6s4[/tube]

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”

http://www.damienshields.com/xscape-sales-chart-performance-week-2/

This isn’t all about numbers, of course. But numbers are a very good indicator that something is striking the right chord.

Michael Gave His All, Every Performance, Even In The Recording Studio. It's Good To Know That All Of That Hard Work Was Not Completely In Vain-That One Day We Might Hear At Least A Portion Of It.
Michael Gave His All, Every Performance, Even In The Recording Studio. It’s Good To Know That All Of That Hard Work Was Not Completely In Vain-That One Day We Might Hear At Least A Portion Of It.

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.” 

24 thoughts on “The Magic of the Anka Sessions”

  1. Thanks for gathering all the excellent background info on this collaboration, Raven! I agree that the 2 voices, and maybe styles of singing, do not really mesh and so a duet would not work. In fact, I can see them co-writing but not singing together.

    I don’t understand how MJ would not have the a right to possess a copy of his own collaborative work–I mean, why should Paul A. retain it solely? Makes no sense. I am very glad MJ went and got a copy for himself, even though apparently it led to some bad feelings, at least on Anka’s part. Now I’m interested in hearing the Michael McDonald duets!!

    I do love LNFSG–it’s perfect. I prefer the version with MJ alone singing. Maybe PA realized that the songs they worked on sounded much better w. MJ alone and so there was no way they could be released on a PA album?

    1. Here’s a song on the album called “No Way Out” written by Anka and Michael McDonald–I can’t tell if it’s a duet or just all McDonald b/c the voices sound very much alike to me. What do you think?

      (I like the song a lot–it was a sound track for a movie with Kevin Costner.)

      1. It sounds to me like both of their voices are on it. Stylistically, I think Michael McDonald and Paul Anka’s voices are better suited together than Anka’s and Michael Jackson’s.

        This was also true in the case of the State of Shock recordings. As you know, Michael recorded versions of this song with both Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger, and it’s unfortunate that only the Jagger version was ever released. Michael’s voice worked much better with Freddie Mercury. Although with that being said, I do like the version he recorded with Mick Jagger. I like the energy of it. But they really did have two very disparate singing styles. Mick Jagger is always a very hard singer to duet with because his own voice and style is so distinctive, it tends to overtake the track (I doubt he even does this consciously; it’s just Mick being Mick). But the major difference between Michael and Mick Jagger is that Michael can actually sing, whereas Jagger is one of those vocalists who relies more on his stylistic trappings (not saying he can’t sing, but obviously he has nowhere near the range of a Michael Jackson). I think Michael and Freddie Mercury were much more evenly matched.

        Getting back to this track, though, I’ve never been a huge fan of Michael McDonald. I actually thought it was the downfall of The Doobie Brothers when he joined (lol, even though, yes, I know that Michael Jackson sang backup on “What A Fool Believes” and “Minute By Minute.”). I always found McDonald’s voice kind of nasally and irritating, lol. Distinctive, yes. But not my cup of tea. However, I think that, just as with Barry Gibb’s falsetto, that style was more or less an affectation. Here he seems to be singing the song fairly straight, and I’ve heard some other tracks where he sings straight as well. I actually perfer his more straight style, but like many singers, his affectation has become his signature “sound.”

  2. Hi Raven;

    Here is what journalist Charles Thomson reported on his blog of October 15, 2009, regarding the song “This Is It”.

    “Is the Jackson estate paying Paul Anka for nothing?

    Much has been made during the last few days of the fact that the new Michael Jackson single was actually a collaborative effort with Paul Anka. The ‘My Way’ singer claims that he and Jackson worked together on the song in 1983 with a working title of ‘I Never Heard’. The single was released by an obscure artist called Safire in 1991 with Jackson and Anka listed as co-writers.

    But all may not be as it seems.

    Information held by the American Copyright Association suggests that in 1980 Jackson wrote and recorded a demo called ‘This Is It’. The ACA lists the track as follows:

    Type of Work: Entry not found.
    Registration Number/Date: PAu000668598/1984-11-16
    Title: This Is It/Michael Jackson.
    Description: 1 Sound Cassette.
    Copyright Claimant: Mijac Music
    Date of Creation: 1980
    Authorship on Application: words & music: Michael Jackson.

    So it would seem that although Jackson and Anka may have tweaked the song at a later date, there was an existing demo which was exclusively written and recorded by Michael Jackson.

    The question is, is the new single Jackson’s solo demo or is it his Anka collaboration?

    It seems to me to be the former.

    Listen carefully to the new single. Several lines seem not to have any lyrics, Jackson instead scatting gibberish – placeholder vocals – to plot out the melody of the song. However, the 1991 Safire release – co-written by Jackson and Anka – boasts completed lyrics.

    Has the Jackson estate just agreed to pay Paul Anka 50% of the profits for a demo in which he had no involvement?

    Posted by Charles Thomson at 02:02”

    Here is the link to Charles’ blog:

    http://charlesthomsonjournalist.blogspot.ca/search?updated-min=2009-01-01T00:00:00Z&updated-max=2010-01-01T00:00:00Z&max-results=26

    1. Susan, thanks so much for this find! I had COMPLETELY forgotten about Thomson reporting this in Oct of 2009!

      It seems likely to me that Michael had the seed idea for the song, but perhaps since it did not reach its full, finalized fruition until his collaboration with Anka, the agreement was made between them to split co-writing credits (obviously, they both received credit on the Sa-Fire version, which to me sounds almost identical to the version released in 2009-except that Michael sings it much better, lol). In that case, I still think Anka had a legit claim. Once a co-authorship is agreed upon, it really becomes a moot point as far as who contributed more, at least from a legal standpoint. It has also been fairly well established that Michael essentially wrote most of “We Are The World,” for example, but Lionel Ritchie nevertheless has legal standing as a co-writer of the song.

      I believe that, from a legal standpoint, once such an agreement has been made and is in writing, it’s not exactly something that can be “undone” later if one party wants to come back and try to say, “Oh, but it was really MY song; I had 75% of it completed before I ever hooked up with so-and-so,” at least not without a drawn out court battle. Perhaps, in the end, the estate could have fought this, but maybe they decided it wasn’t worth a court battle, which would have drawn the whole mess out and tied up the ability to use the song indefinitely (which wouldn’t have been practical knowing that the October release of the film was imminent) as well as inviting further negative press. I guess in the end it was easier just to give Anka what he wanted and get the matter over and done with in an amicable fashion, rather than creating more drama and more bad blood. Even with the existence of this original 1980 demo, I don’t think it is something they could have proven decisively in a court case because it was not in a finalized form and because the song did go through a revision process once Michael and Paul Anka joined forces on it. I believe in this instance the right decision was made.

      Going back to what Thomson wrote in 2009, I found his comments about Roger Friedman particularly interesting, especially in light of the fact that Friedman has recently been on a similar campaign to portray Xscape as a failure. I am referring specifically to what Thomson wrote here:

      “It remains unclear whether the song released to airwaves this week was even the Anka collaboration at all – it could be Jackson’s original 1980 demo. Either way, Friedman appears to have taken what was arguably a mistake on the part of the Jackson estate and concluded that it somehow proves Jackson was a habitual song thief. Talk about adding two and two and coming up with fifty six.

      In 2006 Friedman was humiliated when his email account was hacked, exposing his bad practice. Leaked correspondence showed that he had conspired with Mariah Carey’s manager to sabotage Madonna’s tour by writing negative reviews of her concerts. In one instance he falsely claimed that Madonna had been booed offstage at a concert he hadn’t even attended.

      Friedman was fired from Fox News earlier this year for reviewing a pirate DVD of ‘Wolverine’.”

      http://charlesthomsonjournalist.blogspot.ca/search?updated-min=2009-01-01T00:00:00Z&updated-max=2010-01-01T00:00:00Z&max-results=26

      This sounds suspiciously like the exact, same practices that Friedman has been engaging in with his recent coverage of Xscape. Note the loaded, biased language Friedman uses in this recent piece-how he purposely slants his quoting of Xscape’s sales statistics-and how he also manages here to slip in a hint that Xscape will soon be taken over by Mariah Carey’s up and coming release. Does this not sound suspiciously like the exact same thing that he was doing to Madonna in 2006?

      “Michael Jackson’s “Xscape” album dropped 58% in its second week of sales. After moving 161,000 copies in its debut, “Xscape” moved only 68,000 copies in its second week. The new number 1 is “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay with 385,978 copies sold– more than twice what Jackson sold in his first week. Number 2 is country star Brantley Gilbert with 215, 087– again considerably more than Jackson. “Xscape” fell to number 3 on hitsdailydouble, but it’s already plummeted to number 20 on iTunes.

      More competition comes next week with Mariah Carey’s well-reviewed “Me. I am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse.” Already number 2 on iTunes, “Me. I am Mariah” is a hit out the box with three or four possible singles starting with “You Don’t Know What to Do” featuring Wale.

      The album has several more possibilities, and a long life ahead of if played right. After being a year overdue, Carey really pulled it out, as they say, and came home a winner. Even I’m surprised that “Me I am Mariah” is so good. There isn’t a weak track on it. I’ve already raved about her re-working of George Michael’s “One More Try.” But you’ve also got “Thirsty,” “Make it Look Good,” and the opening track, “Cry.” A lot of thought was put into this record. It will be interesting to see how it hits. I think: big time.”

      http://www.showbiz411.com/2014/05/27/michael-jackson-xscape-drops-58-as-coldplay-rocks-to-number-1

      I have been following his comments ever since Xscape was a blip on the horizon, and it has been absolutely appalling the way he has purposely slanted statistics and sales figures to present this project as a failure, when clearly that is not the case (for starters, a more than 50% drop from first week sales is normal for all albums, especially big name artists whose first week sales are usually generated by fans and by bundle sales. After the second week, most fans have purchased the album and a drop is to be expected as the numbers begin to stabilize. In this piece, Friedman completely omitted the fact that, while Xscape dropped 58%, the Black Keys’ album “Turn Blue”-the previous week’s #1 album on Billboard-dropped an even more whopping 66%. The true test comes as the sales figures begin to stabilize, and it’s very telling that this week Xscape is at #3 while “Turn Blue” has slipped all the way to #5. Also, as I have stated, the truth is undeniably in the sheer infiltration of Michael all over the charts right now. He is the ONLY non-current, non-contemporary artist to have that kind of presence on the pop, r&b and hip hop charts right now).

      So…Friedman writes this piece basically under the pretense of hawking Mariah Carey’s new album (no big surprise!) and “pretending” to give Coldplay a pat on the back, all while using “Guess Who”‘s photo and name in the headline to generate interest-and, of course, sneakily using all of the above simply as an excuse to write an entire article whose sole purpose is to take a dig at Michael Jackson while-once again-plumping up Mariah Carey.

      Friedman apparently has a very bizarre love/hate obsession with Michael Jackson. It is especially interesting when one starts reading around and realizes that the ONLY journalist attempting to spin Xscape as a flop is him. It was even funnier when, after the Hits Daily Double sales chart was updated that week, he had to grudgingly concede that Xscape was #1, but only because of a “squeaker” finish and even then, he only attributed its success to fan sales. There was some truth in it, of course. It WAS a squeaker finish, and yes, I’m sure that fan sales helped to generate it, but again, as Billboard has said time and again, first week sales of ANY major artist are primarily fan generated (what, did Friedman actually believe the Black Keys’ sales were NOT fan generated, as well?). But once again, his bias is so transparent that it is laughable.

      While it would certainly have been great if Xscape could have had as high a debut as Coldplay, we have to keep in mind realistically that it is a very different time and a very different market from when Michael was alive and at his peak. Any release from him now is competing in a market with current, living artists who are popular with the youth demographic. Posthumous releases-especially posthumous releases from old school artists- seldom chart as highly as releases from current artists, yet as we’ve seen, Xscape has performed phenomenally, topping the charts in over 52 countries and only “barely” missing the top spot in the US due to the still controversial decision on Billboard’s part to not count those 9k bundle sales.

      We have to keep in perspective that Michael is essentially being “resold” to a generation that did not grow up with him, and yet, as we have seen, he is competing with them quite respectively-and, in some cases, slaying them.

      I haven’t agreed with most of Charles Thomson’s recent comments on Xscape, either, but at least (to my knowledge) he hasn’t tried to spin it as a failure. We are all entitled to our opinions, and as journalists, a lot of us may disagree, but Friedman these days seems to be totally off on his own planet.

      1. The Anka -Jackson collaboration brings back bitter memories of Anka;s conduct. Regardless of his rights which he could have claimed anyway without his public rants, as most copyright and royalty claims are solved without ever making it to the press, he tried to take advantage of the anti Jackson atmosphere that had started again after the shock of his death wore off . His accusations against Michael were not made up by the tabloids, they are his own words, and if true an indication that the credits and rights were not so cut clear and would be a hell of a job for the executors to sort out.

        : “He didn’t finish the project and I didn’t have the rights to put it on one of my albums. “I don’t know if it was Michael or those around him, but they did ILLEGALLY take the tapes from the studio. I was very upset about it and I went to his lawyers, who were my lawyers. It almost got into a legal issue.”
        He added: “They returned the tapes, but Michael had obviously copied those original tapes and put them away. That copy he had in his drawer was the one they used, thinking it was a new song.”

        Only later he said that it was an ‘honest mistake’ and seized the opportunity to jump on Michaels curtail to promote his show with a Jackson tribute.
        I care zero for Anka, but It was indeed amateurish of the executors to not check the rights of the song. Its only fair to give credit to the rightfull (co-)owner especially in this time when intellectual property is not effectively protected.

        Roger Friedman I don’t consider a journalist to me he is a gossip monger. This is a man who has insinuated the most horrible things about Michael, and is one of few ‘reporters’ who Michael publically responded to. He is pissed off because the Casciosongs that he heavily promoted because of mutual favors will probably never again see the light of day.
        These are RFs true colors, nothing new here.

        2 corrections . Saleswise This is it was surpassed by Biebers documentary and it is not a matter of fact that Michael sang backing vocals for the Dooby brothers. Though none of the members denied it ( who would deny such an honour) Michael is not credited on any release of the songs. He either made it up ( very convincing) or was incognito and did them a favor. To add to the mystery …..
        .

        1. He says he sang those parts in this video where he is singing to Liz Taylor over the phone. It’s very possible that he was not credited.

          1. I remember the footage went viral when it came out.
            But strange enough this is the only reference of Michaels probable involvement with the DB.
            None of the sites or blogs that document Michaels collaboration with other artists have information on this. Why would such a significant collaboration of a charttopper not be known even if he is not credited ? Intriguing.

          2. This was debunked by Michael McDonald via his site. The song was co-written by him and Kenny Loggins, and recorded by the Doobies. All the backgrounds are either McDonald himself, or McDonald combined and Doobie guitarist Patrick Simmons.

            But oddly enough, MJ did sing on those songs with the Doobies….live. A couple of years later he performed at a 10th-year anniversary concert for the Doobie Brothers, and sang with the group onstage. You can see scans of the newspaper article here:

            http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/michael-jackson-and-the-doobie-brothers.189869/

            Around that time (1980) MJ did some session work with both Michael McDonald, and Kenny Loggins, both the songs writers. He even sang on Kenny Loggins’ album Keep The Fire, on the track “Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong”. A funny coincidence: The main single from Keep The Fire was called…”This Is It”, written by Kenny and Michael McDonald once again.

            So there’s a few kernels of truth to the claim, but unfortunately they’ve been jumbled together to suggest something untrue – that MJ had anything to do with the Doobie’s / Michael McDonald’s late 70s surge.

          3. Thanks for the info. Perhaps it’s possible that the live performances he did on those songs is where the confusion originated from. I find some of the kneejerk responses in that forum discussion hilarious, however. Some of those people seemed so shocked and dismayed at the very idea of MJ singing on a Doobie Brothers track, as if they were expecting that they would have heard him singing in his familiar “MJ” voice and style. A lot of people still don’t realize that Michael had very strong ties to the rock world (I suppose despite having Eddie Van Halen and Slash play on his songs; I mean, really). It is always interesting to me to realize how musicians across all genres seldom have these kinds of prejudices. To them, music is music and those boundaries don’t seem to exist, but when it comes to the fans, it’s often another matter.

            I remember the Kenny Loggins song “This Is It.” There were even a few jokes about it when Michael’s “This Is It” came out, with vloggers who would start their reviews with, “And no, it’s not the Kenny Loggins song!”

  3. I missed it in your article – maybe i read over it , but there is also a version of Love never felt so good by Johnny Mathis from 1984!

  4. Hi again, Raven:

    I totally agree with your comments re the Estate and the co-writing credit regarding “This Is It”. Even if one person tinkers with one line or word,they are entitled to a co-writer’s credit.

    I guess my problem is that I do not like or trust Paul Anka. He may be very talented and have a lot of cache with other artists, but he strikes me as an opportunist and insinuator. Here is what he said in a brief description of Michael from his autobiography “My Way”.

    “On Michael Jackson

    Anyway, on this one occasion, Michael Jackson in his fashion floated to Vegas and was staying at a villa next door to us at the Mirage. I saw the parade of kids going in and out — scary. He was at the end of the stay but they were trying to get him out of there anyway. They swore never to let him return.

    At first, Steve Wynn and Michael earlier had been all buddy-buddy. Steve even called one of his suites, the Michael Jackson Suite — but he didn’t know then what was about to erupt. And when it did erupt, Michael was ensconced at the villa next door to me. The maids and other hotel staff would come to me and say, “We can’t even go in that room; if we have room service we gotta leave it outside.” When they finally get Michael out, after weeks of trying, they go in and there’s broken glass, perfume bottles, food — the place is an unholy mess, the Jacuzzi has bubble bath pouring out of it, there’s rotting food everywhere. They finally had to renovate that villa for tens of thousands of dollars. Once they got him out, they never did let him back in that hotel.”

    http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2013/04/05/paul_anka_spills_on_presley_sinatra_and_jfk_in_new_book_my_way.html

    The second link is Anka berating his staff. Maybe he was justified and is a tempermental artist, but to me, he sounds nasty and vulgar

    Roger Friedman, lol, the epitome of a creepy old fart!!

    1. I always got the feeling he would not be a very likable person, personality-wise. I don’t know. Just the vibe I get from the guy. I am not necessarily excusing Michael; I believe both men were quite headstrong and probably clashed insofar as wills, ego, and artistic temperament.

      The story above is unfortunately all too typical of those who liked to trash talk Michael when it was the trendy thing to do, but who were all too willing to hop on board the “tribute train” when that, too, became the fashionable thing to do.

      The story about the state of the hotel room is probably true. Michael was a known slob and even a self admitted one. I’m not making any excuses, but he would hardly be the first pop star to trash a hotel room. I guess it’s simply that if you’re a rapper or a heavy metal rock star, it’s par for the course, but if you’re Michael Jackson, all of a sudden it becomes this huge, blown up thing.

      There was also the story, of course, of his infamous temper tantrum when he found out Neverland was being raided again. That was in Las Vegas also, although the story I have heard is that Katherine went in that time and cleaned up behind him.

      1. All you need to know about Paul Anka is evident in that photo of him as a young man. He’s the personification of arrogance. The boy is indeed father to the man.

  5. http://www.showbiz411.com/2014/06/02/michael-jackson-stinc-pop-star-was-terrible-at-business-always-in-debt

    Here’s Friedman’s latest hit piece, taking aim at both new books, Zack O’Malley’s Michael Jackson, Inc., and the Bodyguards’ Remember the Time. Roger is definitely on a disgusting downward trend of late regarding all things Michael.

    Raven, your blog here about Anka is enlightening. While I enjoyed his music in younger days, his interviews usually made me uneasy as his darker side was just under the surface. Just want to say that as I listen to Love Never Felt So Good over and over and over again, I’m overjoyed it came to fruition.

    Sorry to have digressed into Friedman. His criticisms of Zack O’Malley’s book are totally vile, exceeded only by his never ending blather about Michael himself. He’s more suited to the TMZ School of Journalism.

    1. The Hits Daily Double sales totals for this week are starting to come in (this is the chart that Friedman is always quoting like the Holy Bible). Interestingly enough, the new Mariah Carey album-the one Friedman was so gloatingly sure was going to bury Xscape-has only debuted at #3 with a rather dismal (so far) sales index of 48, 178 copies. Granted, those numbers are still not final but from the looks of it, this album is hardly the hot seller Friedman was predicting. It will be interesting come Wednesday to see what kind of spin he puts on this. I wonder if he will be quite so willing to point out what a dismal “failure” these numbers are as compared to Coldplay’s and Brantley Gilbert’s debuts last week. Or how we will manage to explain how this album that was supposed to provide Xscape such serious competition has debuted with a sales index below 50,000, while Xscape at 157,000 in its debut week was deemed a “flop” in his estimation. In fact, considering that Xscape is now well into its third week, it looks like it is more than holding its own with a sales index of 21,968. That is still roughly about half of what “Me, I Am Mariah” has done in its debut week.

      http://www.hitsdailydouble.com/sales/salescht.cgi

      This is nothing against Mariah Carey, of course, but everything to do with Friedman. Like I said, we’ll just wait and see what kind of spin he tries to put on this, but if he starts spouting off about what a “smashing success” “Me, I Am Mariah” is-or making excuses for its numbers-I am going to seriously call him out on his BS.

    1. And yes, in that excerpt of his book, if you read it, he does say that Michael “actually stole the tapes we’d been working on”.

      1. I have not read his book, obviously. But in a way, this confirms some of the feelings I had about the bad blood between him and Michael. I know that Anka and the estate are trying very hard now to pretend as if it never happened. I guess it never hurts for bygones to be bygones, but some things are pretty unforgiveable. I still think, for the record, that they did some great work together and, as I said, I don’t blame him for being amgry about what the estate did with “This Is It” in 2009; however, the way he handled it was not very professional. He could have refused comment to TMZ and gone directly to the estate. The fact that he was still b**ching about it in his book after supposedly agreeing that it was all “an honest mistake” further lowers my opinion of him, which had been on the mend until now. I will give it to him that he had a legit complaint, and as far as what actually DID happen between him and Michael in regards to the tapes, I will concede that I don’t know. But Anka really needs to let the matter rest now. He’s worked it out with the estate; he’s getting his money, and Michael is gone, which effectively means he isn’t here to defend himself or to tell his side of the story. It’s tacky to keep making an issue of it at this point.

  6. Here is a piece about Paul Anka and posthumous releases of other artists and Johnny Mattis covering MJ . The whole review is an intereting read and a bit of music history
    http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/radio/6106370/ross-on-radio-why-michael-jackson-has-a-hit-now

    “This Is It” brought with it an eerie coincidence, making Anka the author of the first posthumous releases by Buddy Holly (“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”), Elvis Presley (his version of “My Way”) and Jackson. With “Love Never Felt So Good,” you can modify that to “posthumous hits,” and it remains true.

    “It is the second time that Michael Jackson has covered Johnny Mathis covering him. In 1976, Mathis had a minor AC hit with the Jackson album cut, “One Day In Your Life.” In 1981, Jackson’s version of that song was pulled from the Motown vaults to take advantage of the lull between Epic’s “Off The Wall” and “Thriller,” becoming a mid-chart record here and a bigger U.K. hit”.

    1. I had seen this article earlier. Thanks for posting it here. The article basically confirms what I felt to be true regarding the promotion of the Michael album vs Xscape. I think a major difference is that when the Michael album was released, they were really relying on fan sales to generate the hype and buzz. The problem was that most of the fan buzz generated from the album turned out to be very negative, thanks to the controversy over the Cascio tracks. With Xscape, I think they finally got smart in realizing that they would need to “sell” Michael to the masses again in order to have a hit. But also, Xscape is just generally a stronger album, and I think the critical buzz has also had a significant impact on sales. “Michael” did have some good songs, such as (I Can’t Wait) Another Day and “Behind The Mask” but, overall, between the controversy over the Cascio tracks, and the over production of tracks like “Hollywood” it was more misses than hits. I still think “Hold My Hand” could have been a bigger hit if it had gotten more push behind it. But perhaps “Michael”-as the first posthumous album-was a learning process that was necessary in order to know how to get it right next time, and what mistakes to not repeat.

      That is indeed an eerie coincidence regarding the string of posthumous “hits” that have been written, or co-written by Paul Anka. I remember when Elvis’s version of “My Way” came out. My grandmother would cry every time they played it on the radio. I don’t know how big of a “hit” it was as far as chart performance, but it was definitely played a lot on the country & western station my grandmother listened to all the time (oddly enough, by 1977, it was mostly country stations that played Elvis; the King of Rock’n’Roll had gone “country”).

Leave a Reply