Michael Jackson, Captain EO and the business of conquering the world- Part 7- “Say, say, say”!

By The Last Tear (Lou)

My masters are strange folk with

very little care for music in them.

Johann Sebastian Bach


Michael Jackson reached the top of the world during the years 1983-1992 and became a very powerful and popular entertainer. Some people believe that once you have climbed as high as possible, it is time to go down the hill and then disappear. This is not true!

We are not condemned by fatalism and our fate is not predetermined. In fact, we see many famous and successful people who stay on top of their career almost until their death and even beyond. And this should have been the fate of Michael Jackson too. Unfortunately, Jackson was targeted already in late 80’s.

Some people use to say that Jackson was complex and difficult to understand. They wonder how his clever and bright businessman side could get along with his humanitarian and heal the world side. Actually, it is simple; he wished that his talent in business and his wealth to be in the service of his humanitarian goals. He had a vision and wished to build a better world. To reach his goal, he hoped to bring together not only ordinary people but also politicians and other powerful persons.

There is a reason why his millions of fans miss him so much and for many years to come. Because of his enemies, Jackson never got a chance to achieve his goals; he could not show his version of the healed world. It hurts when a strong source of light is so cowardly and unjustly suffocated. The horizon is dark! On the other hand, as long as these millions of people are out there searching and asking, there is hope.  

The main reason behind the allegations against Michael Jackson in 1993 and in 2005 was to slander the good name and the impeccable reputation of the star. His enemies hoped that his career would end and his ability to sell music and art would be destroyed; they supposed that sooner or later he would lose all his assets and become bankrupt. 

“The Girl Is Mine”

Yes, it is about The Beatles, Jackson and the ATV catalog. If you want to know all about this topic and even more, just read the book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire written by Brian Southall and Rupert Perry (2006). It is a well written and factual book.

Many of Jackson’s fans have read books/articles or have heard stories which describe in a glorious way how Michael and his team bought the prestigious ATV catalog. It was of course a big success for Jackson, no doubt about it. However, there is another side to this story which we need to not forget; we need also to know that some people were not happy to see Michael as the owner of the catalog.

To refresh your memory, let us repeat some dates:

The Australian businessman Robert Holmes à Court bought relatively cheaply ATV music publishing and Pye records in 1982. Two years later in 1984, he wanted to sell them.

John Branca, Jackson’s attorney informed his client that the catalog was up for sale in September 1984. Michael who liked very much the Beatles music and wanted to own music publishing rights asked his legal team to buy the catalog.

After several months of work, John Branca purchased the catalog on Jackson’s behalf for $47.5 million on August 10, 1985.

Michael Jackson’s note to John Branca during a meeting. “Johnson” is the wealthy African-American John Johnson who was MJ’s advisor. Picture published in the book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire.

Michael Jackson’s note to John Branca during a meeting. “Johnson” is the wealthy African-American John Johnson who was MJ’s advisor. Picture published in the book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire.



There is an article about Holmes à Court and how he and Rupert Murdoch were rivals. That also explains why Murdoch and his newspapers despised (still despise) Jackson after he purchased the ATV catalog:


A new Australian media tycoon has suddenly arrived on the British scene to join Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Times of London.

Skip to next parHe is Robert Holmes A’Court who has taken over the giant Associated Communications Corporation (ACC) and its extensive film and television holdings.

The L7 million ($20 million) deal virtually ends the career of Lord Lew Grade , Britain’s equivalent of Sam Goldwyn, and one of the most colorful people ever to enter the entertainment world.

Into Lord Grade’s shoes steps a soft-spoken millionaire whom many see as determined to displace Murdoch as the most powerful media proprietor in Britain.

Holmes A’Court has extensive mineral interests in his native Australia, and has lately been branching out into newspaper and television ownership. He has just bid L78.5 million ($145 million) for Australia’s Herald group of newspapers.

If he is successful he would have bigger press holdings in Australia than Murdoch. Lord Grade’s ACC has been in trouble for some time. Backer of the famous ”Muppets” and other highly successful television shows, the Russian emigre sank millions into movies, hoping for success in the United States.

One of them, on raising the Titanic, was a financial disaster. Ever since, talk of takeover bids for ACC has been rife. Grade and Holmes A’Court became friendly last year, and both men say they are happy with the outcome.

As well as possessing a cinema and entertainment empire, the corporation also has big holdings in independent (commercial) television in Britain. Holmes A’Court is believed to be especially keen to develop this side of ACC.

Despite his connections with Perth, Western Australia, where last year he launched a newspaper, the Western Mail, Holmes A’Court’s family origins are largely British.

His quaint, heraldic name is inherited from 19th century English landowners. His parents traveled from Britain to Rhodesia between the wars to run a farm and later moved to Australia. Part of Holmes A’Court’s education was at a New Zealand university.

His arrival on the British scene means that three ”outsiders” now hold highly influential positions in the media world here, with Murdoch owning The Times and Sunday Times and ”Tiny Rowling,” chairman of the giant Lonro Corporation, the London Observer. Rowling is of German origin, and Lonro is powerful in Africa.

Special interest is centering on Holmes A’Court because, before his ACC bid, his name was mentioned in attempts to acquire The Times and the Observer. At Fleet Street it is believed he wants to control an influential newspaper to match his newly acquired film and TV holdings.

Associates describe Holmes A’Court as a cool, determined intellectual fond of chess. He is a lawyer by training, and a financier by instinct.

He and Murdoch regard themselves as genial rivals in Australia. The tone of their competition may change now that they both have big holdings in Britain.

Murdoch’s acquisition of The Times is causing him financial problems, although he is reported to be eager to make the paper profitable. Fleet Street insiders say that if Holmes A’Court is looking for a paper to buy, The Times is likely to be the one he tries for.

That would almost certainly produce a major battle between two Australian media tycoons, both notoriously keen on winning takeover struggles.


Who were the unhappy people?

The first group was the Beatles members minus John Lennon who was sadly murdered in 1980. Paul McCartney has repeatedly said that Jackson got the idea of buying the music publishing rights from him. We have already discussed this matter in our blogs. Indeed, Jackson did not need McCartney’s advice because he had other advisers and other examples to follow, particularly Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. Several people have tried to take the credit for “suggesting” to Jackson to buy the ATV catalog but in truth, as we see in the letter above, Michael was the main force behind this acquisition.

The reasons that the Beatles’ members did not buy their own songs were discussed in the book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire:

Bad advices given to the young musicians of the band in the 60s; disagreements especially between Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono about the ownership of the Beatles’ songs; McCartney’s hesitation and refusal to buy the songs despite several opportunities which showed up. He said that he did not want to pay so much money for them or he wanted only the “Northern Songs” which was not interesting for Holmes à Court who wanted to sale the whole catalog.

Probably, McCartney hoped that EMI publishing music, the Beatles’ “mother ship”, would buy the songs and keep them close. But EMI had invested their money in other businesses and could not afford to pay several millions to Holmes à Court. As we know, EMI which got later new owners was sold again and has disappeared from the music market.

There is one interesting point that the book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire brings to our attention: by the end of the 90’s and during 2003-2005, there were talks about Michael Jackson selling his ATV catalog. McCartney has been asked if he was interested to buy his songs but he was not; once, he had only laughed and left the room. The writers of The True Story … wonder if there was another reason behind McCartney’s refusal to buy his own songs in the 90’s and later on.

Something was for sure: as long as Jackson owned The Beatles catalog, McCartney, the other Beatles, the tabloids and the mainstream media, etc. could always accuse Michael of “neglecting” and “abusing” the songs! They could blame and torment Jackson while McCartney for example used some of his catalog’s songs in commercials!   

The other group of people who disliked Jackson’s ownership of the ATV catalog was a mixture of individuals: ATV and Pye “father” Lew Grade, ATV Music’s boss Peter Phillips and the employees who were fired because of the sale; Simon Carrell who was a finance executive of ACC (Holmes à Court’s company) wondered if Jackson was aware of the value of the catalog! He also said that MJ did not really understand the deal and was pushed by his legal team!

According to the book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire, Carrell was nostalgic and missed the “good old time” when both ATV catalog and Pye records were in the hands of UK people! In the same book, CBS and Coca Cola are mentioned among the people who lost the deal to Jackson. CBS backed off to not compete with their own star, MJ; furthermore, Walter Yetnikoff, the CEO of CBS, did not want to spend so much money!

Other unhappy people: Virgin’s boss Branson, EMI publishing music which bought Capitol in 1955 and worked with and for McCartney and The Beatles.

The last group of the unhappy people was the pair of Charles Koppelman and Martin Bandier who also had Irving Azoff ‘s blessing and money; they put a higher bid than Jackson and Holmes à Court agreed to do business with them. But it appears that Azoff cancelled his involvement in the deal and the catalog was sold to Jackson. Before looking deeper into this conflict, let us see very shortly who these three people are.

Charles Koppelman (from Songwriters, Hall of fame): an American musician, music producer, and business man. By the mid-1970’s he had stepped up to vice president of worldwide publishing for CBS. Also, in 1975, he and his friend Martin Bandier launched The Entertainment Company which administrated, promoted song catalogs and produced music for artists like Barbra Streisand, Cher, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton. In 1986, Koppelman, Bandier and their new business partner Stephen Swid formed a new company and bought 250 000 titles owned by CBS. In 1989, EMI bought their business and Koppelman had executive positions at EMI until 2000. Koppelman served at Steve Madden and then at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Currently, he serves as CEO of CAK Entertainment, his own company.

Martin Bandier: from Wikipedia: In 1984, as Bandier and Denise LeFrak divorced, Bandier and Koppelman dissolved their partnership with LeFrak and formed the Entertainment Music Company and the Entertainment Television Company. In 1986, the partners purchased the Combine Music Catalog. That same year, Bandier and Koppelman teamed with financier Stephen Swid to form SBK Entertainment World, Inc. and purchased the 250,000 title CBS songs catalog for the then-record price of $125 million. In 1989, Bandier helped engineer the sale of SBK’s song catalog to EMI Music and the creation of SBK Records. By the end of the first year at EMI, the company was named Billboard Magazine’s number one music publisher.

In 1991, EMI Music Publishing Worldwide, then the world’s largest music publisher, named Bandier – until then its vice chairman – chairman and chief executive. He was also president and chief operating officer of the SBK Records Group, a record label that EMI operated with its parent. In 1990, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2005, Bandier asked EMI to sell him its publishing unit, and when it refused he resigned in 2006. A few months later he took over as head of the music publishing entity Sony/ATV. In 2009, he was chief executive of Sony/ATV.

Irving Azoff: Randy Phillips, the ex CEO of AEG Live, called Azoff in early 2009 for some advices on how to manage TII and Michael Jackson. It was Azoff who said to Phillips: “get insurance” (for TII tour): An Americanpersonal manager, representing recording artists in the music industry such as Christina Aguilera, Journey, Jewel, the Eagles, X Japan, Bush, REO Speedwagon, Seal, David Archuleta, Alter Bridge, Van Halen, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Neil Diamond, New Kids on the Block, Steely Dan and New Edition. Azoff is chairman and founder of Azoff Music Management Group, Inc. In late 2008, he became chairman and CEO of Ticketmaster Entertainment. He was Executive Chairman of Live Nation Entertainment until his resignation on December 31, 2012. He topped Billboard’s2012 Power 100 and was named the most powerful person in the music industry.As of at least 2010, Azoff is also on the board of Clear Channel Communications (from wikipedia).

The reason that Azoff cancelled his involvement in the ATV deal in 1985 has been explained by Fredric Dannen, in his well-known book Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business (page 232). Dannen says that John Branca asked Azoff to back off and instead he hired Azoff as “a consultant” in the Victory tour. Michael Jackson must have approved this business move.

The book The True Story of The Beatles Song Publishing Empire just says that Azoff ended his involvement in the ATV business, nothing more.

The third book which talks about ATV, Azoff, Branca and Jackson is Randall Sullivan’s. Please read Sullivan’s story about this matter and judge it yourself:


During the purchase of the ATV catalog and after that, John Branca explained that Jackson wanted to buy music publishing rights. He named several of them even the Jobete catalog. Two quotes from John Branca about the ATV and other businesses (from The True Story of The Beatles…, pages 191 and 199):

“Michael loves music – he’s a passionate fan of The Beatles, Bread was one of his favourite artists and that’s why we bought the Bread catalogue, he’s a big fan of Elvis and that’s why I bought a host of Elvis songs for him.At the same time, it’s like everything else, great artists make music because they love making music but at the same time they would be foolish to ignore the financial aspects of it. They hire lawyers and accountants to take care of that. “

After using a Beatles’ song in a commercial, McCartney, Harrison and the media criticized Jackson; Branca explained: “It was Michael who licensed the song but it was handled with a lot more sensitivity than the media would have indicated.”

To understand the relationship between Azoff, Branca and Jackson we need to include a third person, David Geffen. In fact, the interactions between Geffen, Azoff, Branca and Jackson should be studied in combination with another group, Yetnikoff, Geffen and Azoff.

Like stranger in Moscow”

Before beginning our study, let us remember that we are in the business world where heavy deals and huge amount of money are involved. We need to open our view to understand what was going on. As usual we will look at the conflicts.

As far as I know, the interactions between the people mentioned above have been studied in several books and articles. I have read or seen these books:

Moneywood: Hollywood in Its Last Age of Excess, by William Stadiem.

Who’s the biggest Hollywood? By Fred Goodman.

Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young …, by Barney Hoskyns.

Sony, by John Nathan.

Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business, by Fredric Dannen.

The Trials of Michael Jackson, by Lynton Guest.

Despite all these studies, there are many unknown or unsaid facts. It seems that some more years are needed before all the information comes up to the surface.

Fredric Dannen calls the trio Yetnikoff, Geffen and Azoff “The Troika” and he adds these lines (pages 137-138):

“Yetnikoff, Azoff, and Geffen were more alike than any of them cared to admit. All three were brilliant, ruthless, and loud. They all had the dealmaker’s philosophy, which is that favors were meant to be traded. They seemed more preoccupied with the accumulation of power than any other label executives in the business. And they recognized in themselves a troika of sorts; at times vicious competitors, at other times shrewd allies.

Walter maintained an odd love-hate relationship with Geffen and Azoff, but the latter two merely hated one another. Geffen said of Azoff, “I don’t wish to have him in my life, even for a second. I set him up in business; I gave him the Eagles to manage. He’s just done so many bad things to so many people, including me, that at one point I said, Enough! Who needs this? [] [] The three-way rivalry of Walter, Irving, and David reached comedic heights in the Boston affair. Boston was a rock group created in the studio by Tom Scholz [] []”.

David Geffen : from  http://www.answers.com/topic/david-geffen

[] Geffen has fondly called himself “just a boy from Brooklyn who wishes he were six feet tall, with blond hair and blue eyes,” as quoted in Vanity Fair. Fantasizing was certainly important to the son of Russian immigrants who grew up in a three-room apartment. Geffen was born on February 21, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York. His father, a pattern maker, was often unemployed; his mother, Batya, supported the family by making corsets and brassieres and selling them from her home. Batya was so successful that she was eventually able to buy a building big enough for her store and several other tenants as well. “My mother in her own tiny, little way was entrepreneurial,” Geffen stated in the New York Times Magazine. “Everything that I’ve ever applied in my life I learned hanging around her store. … I grew up learning my mother’s ideas about integrity and business and negotiating. It never occurred to me I’d be anything but a businessman.” []

Early jobs as an usher at the CBS television studios and as a receptionist for a television production company also ended disastrously—Geffen was fired both times. In 1964 he landed a job in the mail room at the William Morris Agency. In order to be considered for the position he had to lie about his college background. He told personnel at William Morris that he had graduated from UCLA. When he discovered that the agency planned to contact UCLA to corroborate his story, the resourceful Geffen kept watch in the mailroom for four months, until he was able to retrieve the college’s reply. He steamed the letter open, took it to a printer, had the letterhead forged, and created his own academic credentials. Geffen told a New York Times reporter: “It was either give William Morris what they wanted or give up my dreams. … I just don’t believe in taking no for an answer.” []

In the early 1970s, when Geffen and partner Elliot Roberts formed a record label, Asylum Records, supported by their own management company. They produced records with such artists as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt, all of whom enjoyed great success with the label. In 1971 Geffen sold Asylum to Warner Communications for $7 million but kept his position as director of the company. []

Geffen subsequently founded Geffen Records, an independent label promoted and distributed by Warner Communications. Artists on the starting roster at the company’s founding in 1980 included Donna Summer, Elton John, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. []

In March 1990 Geffen sold his label to MCA [] Eight months later, MCA was sold to a Japanese company, Matsushita, for $6.1 billion. Geffen reaped a $700 million profit on the deal.

Later in the 1990s, David Geffen left the music industry to his followers and got involved in the politics. He was one of the supporters of the ex-president Bill Clinton but later he changed his mind about the Clintons family and supported President Barak Obama. Please read these quotes from a factual article:


David Geffen, Still Hungry

By Bernard Weinraub; Published: May 2, 1993

[] [] Geffen, who is the richest man in Hollywood [] has now set his sights on a mountain more formidable than Hollywood — Washington, D.C. AT 50, WITH A $1 BILLION FORTUNE, Geffen is hardly seeking a Cabinet job; but he’s looking for an apartment in Washington and probably wouldn’t mind serving on a Presidential commission or two. Asked if he ever saw himself working for the Administration, Geffen says, a little surprisingly: “No one’s asked me. If somebody felt there was a job I could actually do I would consider it — not out of any ambition to be in Washington, but I do want to rise to the occasion of serving there if warranted.” []

Even more surprising is Geffen’s friendship with McLarty, the reserved, buttoned-down Little Rock businessman whose childhood friendship with Clinton led to his appointment as chief of staff. Like a lot of people, McLarty says that he enjoys talking to the Brooklyn-born mogul on the phone.

“We established a relationship at the economic conference in Little Rock,” McLarty says. “It’s a very easy relationship. We call each other. David’s very selective in his calls to me. He’s not aggressive or inappropriately assertive.”

McLarty adds: “When he calls, he wants to know how things are going, how he can be helpful, what are the problems. Mostly David and I talk about the economic and business side. He doesn’t really ask for anything, and doesn’t have an agenda per se. He strikes me as someone who has handled his immense success in a very exemplary manner.” []

On virtually every level, Geffen comparmentalizes his life. There is the Wall Street world of his friends Felix Rohatyn and Herbert Allen Jr. There is the art world of Larry Gagosian, his ambitious dealer, and Castelli, whose Old World elegance dazzles Geffen. There is the music world of Allen Grubman, his lawyer, and other New York buddies who gossip with him on Saturday mornings over bagels at Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side. There is the gay world of Miami and Fire Island. There is the Malibu world of the movie stars and studio chiefs who come to him for guidance. And now there is the political world of Washington.

[] Even Geffen’s personal life has taken on a monumental public dimension. His announcement that he was gay at an AIDS benefit last November (he had previously announced he was bisexual) suddenly turned him into a spokesman on gay issues, a result he never intended. []

Geffen can also be generous toward employees. Upon her retirement, he gave his longtime secretary 1 percent of the sale of his record company, which made her $5 million. Yet Geffen also has a take-no-enemies side. He has often been singled out for the Machiavellian role he played in the 1990 downfall of the temperamental Walter Yetnikoff, the former head of CBS Records. (Geffen calls the reports “Hollywood silliness.”)

“David will do anything for you if you’re his friend,” says Howard Rosenman, a movie producer and, yes, a friend. “But if you’re his enemy, well, you might as well kill yourself.”


Let us go back to the 80s where we left our study about “The Troika”!

As we read above about Azoff and Geffen, their relationship became more and more hostile. Azoff got involved in suspicious businesses. His collaboration with Salvator Pisello cost him a lot:


Prosecutor Benched After Getting His Man : He Convicted Suspected Mob Figure Twice; MCA Said Rudnick Made Unfair Accusations

January 22, 1989

For nearly four years, the case of U.S. vs. Salvatore Pisello went nowhere in the Los Angeles office of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force.

Pisello, identified by the FBI as a member of New York’s Gambino crime family, was suspected of lying on his 1979 federal income tax return and evading taxes on $50,000 he earned that year as a regional sales representative for Hillshire Farms Sausage.

Except for the organized crime allegation, “it was a run-of-the-mill tax case that had been kicking around the office for several years and that nobody really wanted to pursue,” recalled James L. Waltz, one of a series of strike force attorneys who were assigned to the case but who never followed it through to prosecution..

In the summer of 1984, however, the case was reassigned again, this time to Marvin L. Rudnick, a veteran prosecutor with a reputation for bulldog-like tenacity and a personality to match []

Rudnick did more than that. In the course of successfully prosecuting the tax case, he learned that Pisello had left the sausage company and was now working out of the executive offices of MCA Records, a division of the conglomerate that owns Universal Studios.

Familiar Face at MCA

Though he was not officially an employee of the company and had no experience in the record business, Pisello had become a familiar face around the record company, where he earned a six-figure income acting as a middleman in a series of business transactions with outside firms.

In one 1984 transaction, Rudnick learned, Pisello had arranged the sale of 60 truckloads of so-called “cutout,” or discontinued, recordings to a Philadelphia man who later was allegedly beaten up by another reputed Mafia figure for refusing to pay for the records.

Rudnick obtained Justice Department approval to open a new tax investigation of Pisello, this one probing money he may have received from MCA. [][][]

It appears that the investigation of Pisello and MCA was just stopped later in 89 and the case went never far. However, it seems that Azoff had to leave MCA Records to not harm more its reputation. In fact, Azoff left in September 1989 to be the head of Giant Records; and his departure opened the door for Geffen who sold his recording business to MCA and became the most important shareholder of the company. A few months later, the Japanese Matsushita Electrical Industrial Company bought MCA and made Geffen very rich.

Despite being fierce rivals, the music executives used to help each other to save their industry! The question is if Azoff had a bargain with Geffen when he left MCA. Whatever the case was, after leaving MCA, Azoff became a second hand player in “The Troika” and Geffen won over him.

Before reviewing the conflicts between Yetnikoff and Geffen which were intensified in 1989 and 1990, we need to talk shortly about a well-known phenomenon called the Payola. The Payola is a contraction of the words “pay” and “Victrola”, a LP record player. There are hundreds of pages written about this matter.

When the radio stations were established in the USA, broadcasting songs and music became a high potential business for these stations. Since the competition between the major music recording companies was high, they bribed some disc jockeys and some radio stations and bought their airplays; and “Payola” was born!

In the 80’s, almost all the CEOs of the music industry used the payola system. Actually, at that time it was called the New Payola. Why was that? In the 60’s, when the first cases of payola came up to the light, people were very angry. It became a social and a political matter. Even the White House had to get involved.

During the 70’s, the music industry executives found a way to revive payola in a more hidden way. Gradually, a network of people which was a link between the music industry’s CEOs and the radio stations was founded. The network had 200 members. The identity of these people was not a common knowledge.

Suddenly in 1986, a case of payola against two of the network members, Joe Isgro and Alfred Disipio, came up. Almost all the music industry’s CEOs – who used the service of the network – changed their mind, supported the government and asked for the elimination of the payola system!

Fredric Dannen mentions the name of the music companies in his book Hit Men …:

A&M, Arista, Atlantic, Capitol, Chrysalis, Elektra, Geffen (CEO David Geffen), MCA (CEO Irving Azoff), Motown, PolyGram, RCA, Warner Bros (CEO Mo Ostin). As you see, CBS and Yetnikoff were not among these names. In fact, Yetnikoff and Frank Dileo were friends with Isgro. Dileo testified and defended his friend in the court of law. Once, Isgro was released, Dileo told him to sue the CEOs; Isgro followed his friend’s advice and got some “damages” from the music executives. In early 80’s, Joe Jackson hired Isgro to be Latoya Jackson s’ manager. Isgro left her when Jack Gordon came around.

Isgro was prosecuted and jailed for a while not because of his involvement with Payola but because of tax fraud – but the network and its services survived stronger than before! According to Fredric Dannen, the CEOs’ protest was a double game. Until 86, it was the music companies which paid the payola. After the “protest action”, the CEOs took the money from the artists royalties and charged the entertainers instead! Actually, when CBS and Yetnikoff understood the real purpose of the CEOs’ “protest”, they joined them as well! It appears that the payola system is still alive and active!

It is understandable if artists in general and stars like Michael Jackson in peculiar did/do not like the payola system. Entertainers like Jackson did not need this kind of network and did not wish to pay for their “services”. In fact in 2006 during his deposition in Paris in the case Hackensack (N.J. finance company) vs Michael Jackson, the star criticized strongly the “schmucks” in the music and the entertainment industry: The entertainment industry is full of sharks, charlatans and impostors [] Because there’s a lot of money involved, there’s a bunch of schmucks in there, [] It’s the entertainment world, full of thieves and crooks. That’s not new. Everybody knows that.

Let us now go back to “The Troika” and look at Yetnikoff and Geffen conflicts. Walter Yetnikoff was the most powerful music executive in the 80’s. He had run CBS for several years. During these years he hired many people; some of them – Allen Grubman (lawyer), John Branca, Frank Dileo, Tommy Mottala – were his close collaborators.

Walter yetnikoff : One of the most storied – and controversial – executives in the history of the record industry, Walter Yetnikoff was head of CBS Records from 1975 to 1990. Over the course of his career at CBS, he oversaw an explosive growth in record sales (both by his label group and the industry at large), became embroiled in numerous feuds with artists and rival executives, and presided over the sale of the CBS label group to Sony in 1988. Along the way, he made the careers of a who’s who of modern rock and pop music – Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Billy Joel among them. Today, Yetnikoff runs a small boutique label and is an in-demand public speaker. His memoir, Howling at the Moon: Confessions of a Music Mogul in an Age of Excess, was published in 2004 (Source )

In 1975, CBS (Epic) and Yetnikoff signed The Jacksons and later worked with Michael as a solo artist. He gave Michael high royalties and pushed him up. There are several stories about Yetnikoff and Jackson. No doubt that Yetnikoff liked Michael but he certainly liked more the money MJ brought to CBS. It is true that Yetnikoff pushed MTV to play Billie Jean and helped to break the racial barrier which had blocked the broadcasting of the black artists’ songs and music on TV; but in the dispute with MTV, Yetnikoff’s motive was mostly to gain more money, more power and fame for himself and for CBS.


Walter Yetnikoff, the president of Jackson’s record label, CBS, approached MTV to play the “Billie Jean” video. He became enraged when MTV refused to play the video, and threatened to go public with MTV’s stance on black musicians. “I said to MTV, ‘I’m pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I’m going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don’t want to play music by a black guy.’” MTV relented and played the “Billie Jean” video in heavy rotation.

There were several conflicts between Yetnikoff and Geffen. Apparently, Michael Jackson was one of them!

In an interview, David Geffen has described how he saw his relationship with Jackson; Dannen has also added his view: “ [] Geffen certainly had set the stage for making a pass at the singer. For more than a decade, Geffen had served as an unpaid business adviser to Jackson. When a reporter tried to compliment him for schmoozing Jackson in this manner, his reply was pure Geffen: “Well, wait a second, I don’t know if that’s exactly the right way to look at it. You mean, Michael Jackson’s managed to get one of the smartest guys in the entertainment business to give him free advice – it’s not exactly my schmoozing him, he’s probably schmoozing me. I’m doing him a favor, he’s not doing me a favor.” (Hit men … , page 338).

It appears that Jackson got advice from Geffen and the latter probably expected that Michael would return his favors with favors. Actually, in the relationship Geffen-Jackson, we do not know what Geffen thought about the ATV catalog. Was he among the people who advised Jackson to buy ATV? Did he want to counsel Jackson on how to manage the ATV catalog? After purchasing ATV, Jackson seemed to want to manage it himself with the help of John Branca. It has been said that Geffen and Branca disliked strongly each other. Did Jackson’s “in and out moves” between these two people, disappointed Geffen?

In 1990, Geffen asked Jackson to write a song for his film Days of Thunder. Michael refused to do so. Geffen asked instead to use one of the Beatles songs in the film. Dannen says (Hit Men …, p. 337) that Yetnikoff did not agree with that and he delivered the message in an extremely crude way to Geffen. After this incident, the two music executives were in open fight.

In his book Sony, John Nathan has given another version of this story. He says that it was Jackson who did not want Geffen to use The Beatles’ song in his film (p. 243):

sony-John Nathan 2001 p 243


After this incident, Geffen advised Jackson to leave CBS which had been bought by Sony at that time; Geffen wanted to manage MJ’s businesses. Dannen has given a detailed description of this event (Hit Men …, pages 338-340).

Apparently, in mid-1990, Geffen told Jackson that Yetnikoff and CBS had taken advantage of him; while Jackson had lost $16 million in making the video Moonwalker, CBS had made money. He also advised Jackson to dismiss Branca because he was too close to Yetnikoff. Jackson agreed and fired his lawyer in mid June 1990 and “moved” under Geffen’s management; he got Sandy Gallin – Geffen’s close friend – as manager, Lee Phillips and Bert fields – Geffen’s lawyers – as attorneys. But “the move” did not end well.

Under California’s seven-year law (see the part 6- “The Unfree Masters”) Jackson could leave CBS but he had to deliver four more albums to Sony or pay damages that would recover the loss of the albums. “The moving plan” to Geffen Records simply crashed and Jackson hired back some of his staff but maintained some of Geffen’s.

Being “one of the smartest guys in the entertainment business” – as Geffen described himself – also a music executive who knew the laws, it is hard to believe that Geffen could not foresee the failure of Jackson’s moving plan. One wonders if “the moving plan” was Geffen’s way to give “a lesson” to Jackson. We do not know what Jackson exactly thought about his interaction with Geffen. Did MJ feel that he was used by Geffen to get Yetnikoff? Since Geffen and Jackson never collaborated and not even spoke with each other later, it appears that their “break” was a hurtful one.

Whatever it was, Sony which was afraid to lose Jackson offered him a very advantageous deal in 1991. Perhaps, this success soured even more between Jackson and Geffen. Not to mention, this contract made some people nervous and some very jealous.

Furthermore, Michael hired back John Branca who had built his own law firm and worked for other artists. Jackson fought ardently to purchase the Jobete catalog (see the part 5- Jobete). On the other hand, he kept some of Geffen’s staff and shared the management of ATV catalog outside of the US with MCA and EMI to show to the music executives his willingness to collaborate. But that was not enough! It seems that the industry’s bosses wanted to block his way. Having already the ATV catalog and the advantageous Sony contract, he could not get the Jobete catalog!


Michael Jackson Agrees to Huge Contract With Sony: Entertainment: Singer is guaranteed unprecedented share of album profits and a shot at movie stardom.


In a thriller of a deal, pop icon Michael Jackson has signed a long-term contract with Sony Corp. that guarantees him an unprecedented share of the profits from his next six albums, his own record label, a role in developing video software products and a shot at movie stardom.

The contract, the biggest ever awarded an entertainer, is expected to return hundreds of millions of dollars to Jackson. It also cements Sony’s relationship with its biggest star, who reportedly had threatened to move to another label in a contract dispute last year.

“We’re married to him now,” Sony Software President Michael P. Schulhof said Wednesday.

Sony, which inherited Jackson when it bought CBS Records for $2 billion in 1988, declined to discuss specific terms of the deal. But sources close to the talks said the agreement makes Jackson a significant partner in all business ventures with the Japanese electronics giant.

Jackson, 32, reportedly could receive more than $120 million per album if sales match the 40-million-plus level of his smash mid-’80s album “Thriller.” Two sources close to the talks said the reclusive singer is guaranteed an advance payment of $5 million per record plus a 25% royalty from each album based on retail sales.

“If he continues to sell records like he has in the past, he will earn more money than any other person in the history of the record business,” said one person familiar with the deal.[] [] []

The agreement gives Jackson full authority to sign acts to the label. Sony executives predicted that “new and established artists” would become part of Nation Records. “Michael Jackson is not exactly a bad magnet for attracting these people,” said Sony Music President Tommy Mottola.

Jackson is not the first star to get his own record label. Frank Sinatra started Reprise before selling it to Warner Bros. The Beatles had Apple Records, and more recently labels have been established by such performers as Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and M.C. Hammer. More often than not, the results have been disappointing.

Unlike those acts, Jackson will remain on Sony’s Epic Records label. He will also remain a ubiquitous music video presence, since the Sony deal stipulates that such acclaimed directors as Sir Richard Attenborough, David Lynch and Tim Burton will make long-form videos based on songs from Jackson’s next album. Jackson will also own 70% of the video rights.

The deal further assures that Jackson will star in his first feature since the 1978 flop “The Wiz.” People close to the talks said he will be paid at least $5 million to appear in a musical action adventure based on his own idea.

The movie deal is largely the result of Jackson’s friendship with Columbia Pictures Co-Chairman Jon Peters and his partner, Peter Guber. Company officials said further films may follow if the first, set for a 1992 release, is a success. Jackson is also supposed to be given offices on Columbia’s Culver City lot.

“The intention is that we will all live happily ever after,” said Columbia Executive Vice President Sid Ganis.


“Michael is the pilot”

Some month ago, on September 8, 2013, John Branca had an interview with 60 minutes CBS. Please read the transcripts:


Pop icon Michael Jackson fired his entire team during the making of the album “Thriller,” says John Branca, an executor of Michael Jackson’s estate. Why’d he do it?

John Branca: [] [] and then in a classic Michael fashion, as soon as the second single was released, Beat It, he let everybody go from his team. There was no manager, no agent, no press agent. It was Michael and he would give me business directive to encore the label. Promotion director … 

The reporter: He fired everybody?

John Branca: Everybody.

The reporter: Why?

John Branca:  He just felt he wanted to sort of run this business himself, yah, with the help of myself and couple of others. I never forget, I got a call from Quincy Jones who said Branca we have a 747 here and there is no pilot. And I said: Quincy, Michael is the pilot and it was true. Michael had a marketing genius that sometimes people don’t understand.

On January 31, 2014, Raymone Bain who was Michael Jackson’s manager and spokesperson in the 2000s had an interview with CNN about Justin Bieber; during her talk, she shared also some information about MJ: Source

[] [] Michael Jackson was about business. He always wanted to be the best. He wanted to be the most successful. He wanted to break the records. He wanted to leave a legacy [] [] Jackson was surrounded by a team who supported him, but, as Bain asserts, he also encouraged them to tell him when he was wrong. “There is a misconception. Michael Jackson didn’t like ‘yes-men’. When we would sit at the table with him he would get angry when we did not tell him what we really thought, he really would.”

While pondering on Mrs. Bain and Mr. Branca’s talk, I saw a post published by Bob Lofsetz on November 2012. We do not have to agree with everything Bob Lefsetz has written of course but I found two passages interesting; it is almost like he gives an answer to John Branca. Lefsetz wrote his blog after seeing the film “Inventing David Geffen”. Please read first the entire article and then the two quotes:


The Geffen Documentary

By, Bob Lefsetz Posted on November 21, 2012

The artists will fuck you. But without them you’re nothing.

That’s the story of Laura Nyro. That’s who made David Geffen his first million. David didn’t make Laura any more talented, but he paved the way for her to make it. He encouraged her, he believed in her, he argued for her, he made things exactly the way she wanted them to be. And in return, she fucked him.

That’s what you’ve got to know about artists. They’re desperate. They’ve only got one chance, one career, if they screw it up, they’re toast. Just ask Billy Squier…But just like the artists, David Geffen has dreams. How is he going to make them come true?

By lying, cheating and cunning. By utilizing his gifts of intelligence and negotiation to get close to people and do things for them. This is how they all do it. Geffen’s just more successful than most. If you can see his flaws, just know that those of the others are hidden. They need it. They’ll do whatever it takes to make it. Just like the artists.

Not that will is a skill. It may be necessary, along with ambition, but that’s not enough. Geffen was smart enough to align himself with Laura Nyro. It’s almost impossible to find legendary talent, it’s equally difficult to sign it. Geffen did both.

And despite his belief, her album didn’t hit. But he didn’t give up. Like a great running back, he found another hole. Cover records. Not that this was a new idea. That’s how Albert Grossman broke Dylan.

But Albert was older than the acts. He was just as ruthless as Geffen, but was not one of them. Geffen came from the same generation. He understood his acts. He knew how good they were and what they wanted. He made it happen. And I won’t say they were ungrateful, but great artists believe they can make it on their own, that they need nobody’s help, and this is patently untrue.

You not only need someone smart, you need someone with relationships. Whether it be Ahmet, Mo or even Tom Freston, who’s given credit for breaking Guns N’ Roses in this documentary. You need someone with a Rolodex, who can make things happen.

Most people can’t. But it was a different era back then. You had to listen to the music to know which way the wind blew. Top Forty radio was the Mac of its time. FM its iPod. Everybody paid attention. One record could change the world. Musicians were the most powerful people in the universe. They are no longer.

Watching Laura Nyro you think of no one so much as Lady Gaga… But she hasn’t written one track as good as “Poverty Train,” never mind “Wedding Bell Blues” or “Save The Country.” You see Gaga has the chops, but she focuses on the trappings. Once upon a time, the chops were paramount. Assuming you had a David Geffen in your corner.

And most people did not. The fat cats wanted to be in the movie business. And although the late sixties and early seventies were a legendary time in the picture business, it was music that was driving the culture. You see movies are made by committee. Music, when done right, is the vision of one soul, or a band of them. Execs cannot make the records, they can make the movies.

And one reason music took a dump is because the execs started to believe they were the acts. They got paid like them, but the more they got involved, the worse the music became. Hell, those out there Neil Young albums from the eighties, the ones Geffen sued over, they look positively mainstream today. Neil Young was a twenty first century artist thirty years ago. He realized your only hope is to follow your muse. Which is why Neil still does boffo at the b.o. And most of his contemporaries who sold out are struggling.

And I love that they point out that Geffen speaks his mind and had to learn how to be diplomatic. Dealing with people, especially those more powerful than yourself…is not something you’re born with. If you’re not learning every day, you’re dying on the vine, you’re taking yourself out of the game.

And Geffen has done great things since the seventies. Geffen Records, DreamWorks, charity… But his heyday was the seventies. When he was frustratingly subservient to the artists. Once he became the artist himself, it wasn’t so good. Ironically, Geffen needs the tension, he needs to be subsidiary to somebody, he needs to work the system, the role of king does not fit him so well. But kingmaker? That fits him like a glove. This documentary was far from three-dimensional. If you want to know more about the real Geffen, read Tom King’s “The Operator.”

But that book will never give you a feel for how it once was. When musicians were as rich as corporate titans, with even more power, while being beholden to no one. Geffen may be a billionaire, but he’s poor compared to the Wall Street fat cats. Like David Bonderman, who just paid Paul McCartney and John Fogerty to play at his seventieth birthday party? (http://nyti.ms/UD2f6n) Paul McCartney? Shouldn’t he be king? Shouldn’t he have all the money? That’s how far we’ve come.

But give Geffen credit. He straddles two worlds. He likes his fine living, but he knows the power of a t-shirt, of being a scrapper, of beating the man at his own game. This documentary fell apart when it hit the late eighties. There was no mention of the war with Robert Towne over “Personal Best.” Everyone kept saying Geffen doesn’t lose, but you never heard one of those whose every move in Hollywood was blocked by the man…and that happened. Then again, Geffen showed his vulnerability by quoting Patrick Goldstein.

You see at the end of the day, it’s still the artist who has all the power. One song, one sentence, one album, one article…can infect and change the entire world. Which is why we’re drawn to these people. Why we want to get closer. Geffen played it as well as anybody. But don’t think you can replicate his success. The hunger comes from having a non-working father, being gay, a whole soup of elements that made him him. You can only be yourself.

And this is especially true if you’re an artist. But what you really need is to be yourself and have Geffen, or his modern day equivalent, on your side. Because we all want to be taken down to the paradise city…


And the two quotes:

[] great artists believe they can make it on their own, that they need nobody’s help, and this is patently untrue.

[] But what you really need is to be yourself and have Geffen, or his modern day equivalent, on your side. Because we all want to be taken down to the paradise city…

Let us see if Lefsetz’ advice makes sense in MJ’s case. According to the first quote, we could conclude that Michael Jackson was “wrong” to believe that he could make it alone! He should have known better! He should have kept “the industry’s moguls” on his side!

And the second quote makes us wonder and ask questions like these: Did Jackson “have learnt his lesson” on the Christmas Eve of 2006, when he went back to the US? Did he know that he had to find the “modern day equivalent” of Geffen and to do business with him? If that was the case, who could this “modern day equivalent” had been? Perhaps Randy Phillips!?

Unfortunately, there was not any “paradise city” for Jackson. Why is that? Perhaps because MJ – as Lefsetz suggested – was himself, the same “headstrong stubborn” who wanted to take control of his life.  

 ▓░▒   ▓░▒  ▓░▒

The years 91- 93 were difficult. “The alienation” of Latoya Jackson began at that time and it ended in her disastrous interviews on December 93; Jermaine and Michael had conflicts in 91. It was the Dangerous era and Jackson had a very busy schedule. The Black or White video was criticized and Michael had to edit it. Jackson was in a lot of pain because of his scar surgeries. Jackson sought treatment for an addiction to painkillers. The Chandlers ‘accusations came at the surface; an alliance between some tabloid journalists, a suspicious individual called Victor Gutierrez and Evan and Ray Chandler was born. Later, in 94 and beyond, Gutierrez, Diane Dimond and other tabloids turned gradually Jackson to a “living target”. More on this, in the next part!

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