- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Thriller Official album.
More from year 1982
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From telegraph.co.uk, October 26, 2022:
On Christmas Day 1980, Paul McCartney received a phone call from an anonymous female fan with an American accent and a voice of pure helium. Or so he gathered upon picking up the receiver.
“Somebody rang me up and this high voice I didn’t recognise said: ‘Hi, Paul’,” McCartney recalled. “I thought, ‘This is a girl fan, and how the hell did she get my number?’ I was quite annoyed.”
Macca’s mood quickly changed from annoyed to overjoyed. “It wasn’t a girl, it was Michael Jackson, and he basically said, ‘Do you want to make some hits?’”
McCartney, it so happened, was very much up for making hits. With his 40th birthday approaching, he was coming around to the idea of writing songs for other artists (his creative compass was also in a spin following the shooting dead on December 8, 1980 of John Lennon). And he knew Jackson could do justice to his material, with the former Jackson 5 wunderkind having covered Wings’s Girlfriend on 1979’s Off The Wall album.
But Jackson didn’t want McCartney to merely furnish him with another tune. Encouraged by his producer Quincy Jones, he had in mind a proper collaboration. He proposed they get together in the studio and let magic happen. Eighteen months later – 40 years ago this month – their first collaboration would be unleashed in the form of the duet The Girl Is Mine.
A syrupy back and forth between Jacko and Macca, The Girl Is Mine is no classic: the spoken outro between the duo could curl toes at 50 yards (“Michael, we’re not going to fight about this, okay” – “Paul, I think I told you, I’m a lover not a fighter”). But, then, Jackson hadn’t intended to set the world on fire with the track.
He and McCartney had convened at Westlake Studios, LA in April 1982. Watching on were Quincy Jones, Beatles producer George Martin and McCartney’s wife Linda. The goal for Jackson was to create a low-key appetite-whetter for his forthcoming solo record, Thriller, which would be released in November 1982. He and Jones were also cognisant that working with McCartney would help them slip into the affections of white America.
In the early Eighties, the idea of a black star such as Jackson becoming a mainstream sensation was – unbelievably – still controversial. MTV, which had launched on August 1 1981, was focused on rock ’n’ roll – shorthand at the time for white artists only.
MTV wasn’t alone in blanking Jackson. Despite the acclaim showered on Off The Wall – a disco-soul instant classic – radio stations across the United States declined to playlist Jackson because he was African-American. Jackson and Quincy Jones’s calculation was that they wouldn’t dare snub a Beatle.
The consensus among Jackson fans is that The Girl Is Mine is the song off Thriller that has aged the worst (McCartney devotees certainly think so). Amid the dark disco of the title track and the stadium funk of Beat It and Billie Jean, it stands out as a big slab of stinky cheese. McCartney – no stranger to sonic cheddar – was never taken with it. He actually admitted as much at the time. One point of concern was Jackson’s turn of phrase – did the King of Pop have to sing “the doggone girl is mine”?
“You could say it’s shallow,” McCartney said. “When I checked it out with Michael, he explained that he wasn’t going for depth, he was going for rhythm, he was going for feel.”
The Girl Is Mine was their second collaboration. The previous autumn Jackson had flown to London where he and McCartney recorded Say, Say, Say and The Man, both of which appeared on McCartney’s October 1983 album, Pipes of Peace.
McCartney was impressed by Jackson’s prowess as a singer and as an arranger. As was George Martin. “He does radiate an aura when he comes into the studio, there’s no question about it,” he said. “He’s not a musician in the sense that Paul is … but he does know what he wants in music and he has very firm ideas.”
As for the Girl Is Mine, regardless of its “shallowness”, McCartney seemed to take satisfaction from the recording process. Perhaps he appreciated working with someone who did not instinctively defer to him on account of his past with The Beatles. If anything Jackson appeared to believe he was giving a leg-up to McCartney. He was the dominant one in the partnership and had written most of the lyrics to the Girl Is Mine while watching cartoons.
“When I approached Paul,” Jackson explained in his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, “I wanted to repay the favour he had done me in contributing Girlfriend to Off the Wall.”
The Girl is Mine may be a slick duet – yet the recording process was anything but calm, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, who played on much of Thriller, would recall.
“The McCartney duet was insane,” he revealed to Rolling Stone. “You can imagine what kind of a zoo it was, with Michael and Quincy and McCartney and all the people and the staff and the security. We never even got into the control room – George Martin and [Beatles engineer] Geoff Emerick were there. It was so intense.”
“Working with Paul McCartney was pretty exciting and we just literally had fun,” Jackson later explained. “It was like lots of kibitzing and playing, and throwing stuff at each other, and making jokes. We actually recorded the [instrumental] track and the vocals pretty much live at the same time.”
Recording completed, Jackson called his label to inform them The Girls Is Mine was going to be the first cut from Thriller that he shared with the world. It was, he insisted, the “obvious first single”. “When you have two strong names like that together on a song, it has to come out first or it gets played to death and overexposed,” he recalled. “We had to get it out of the way.”
Epic Records agreed. The plan with Thriller was to break Michael Jackson globally. He was at that time still regarded as an African-American artist. By dueting with the living deity that was an ex-Beatle, he would be anointed a mainstream pop star. Neither black nor white – just Jacko.
“We tried to take a worldwide view of Michael,” Don Dempsey, Epic Records senior-vice president, said in 1984. “We were seeing some initial interest in Michael outside the US, and we felt that one of the ways to really propel that was the duet with Paul McCartney.”
As with Off The Wall, the track bumped up against American racism. There was some resistance to the implication in the lyrics of an interracial romance. “Radio didn’t like the idea of Paul and Michael fighting over the same girl, and some stations wouldn’t play it,” Quincy Jones told Rolling Stone.
The Girl Is Mine would create sparks without quite setting the world on fire. It peaked at two in the charts in the United States and at eight in the UK. Yet for Jackson, it was the perfect throat-clearer ahead of Thriller. That record would build and build. With 70 million units shifted, it for many years held the record for best-selling album of all time.
Forty years on, Jackson’s reputation is tarnished following the lurid accusations made in the Leaving Neverland documentary. As for the Girl Is Mine, well, perhaps McCartney was correct in diagnosing it as lacking depth. Say, Say Say is a much better showcase for their musical chemistry.
Last updated on October 20, 2023
With 25 albums of pop music, 5 of classical – a total of around 500 songs – released over the course of more than half a century, Paul McCartney's career, on his own and with Wings, boasts an incredible catalogue that's always striving to free itself from the shadow of The Beatles. The stories behind the songs, demos and studio recordings, unreleased tracks, recording dates, musicians, live performances and tours, covers, events: Music Is Ideas Volume 1 traces McCartney's post-Beatles output from 1970 to 1989 in the form of 346 song sheets, filled with details of the recordings and stories behind the sessions. Accompanied by photos, and drawing on interviews and contemporary reviews, this reference book draws the portrait of a musical craftsman who has elevated popular song to an art-form.
We owe a lot to Chip Madinger and Mark Easter for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details!
Eight Arms To Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium is the ultimate look at the careers of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr beyond the Beatles. Every aspect of their professional careers as solo artists is explored, from recording sessions, record releases and tours, to television, film and music videos, including everything in between. From their early film soundtrack work to the officially released retrospectives, all solo efforts by the four men are exhaustively examined.
As the paperback version is out of print, you can buy a PDF version on the authors' website