Michael Jackson's 'new' song has already been released ... by someone else

It has emerged that Michael Jackson's 'original' song was written in 1983 with singer Paul Anka, who will now be credited on the single and receive royalties

This Is It, the new Michael Jackson song recently released with much fanfare was originally destined for a Paul Anka album. The Jackson estate was caught in an embarrassing imbroglio yesterday, discovering their trumpeted Jackson original was written with – and for - the mid-20th-century crooner.

In an initial interview with the New York Times, 68-year-old Paul Anka explained that Jackson's label had never even contacted him about the song, which will be used over the closing credits in the upcoming Michael Jackson documentary. Anka and Jackson wrote the song together in 1983, calling it I Never Heard. Though it was intended for Anka's album Walk A Fine Line, Anka alleges that Jackson "took the tapes" without permission. Anka threatened to sue his former collaborator and while the recordings were returned, they were never released. Instead, I Never Heard – credited to Anka and Jackson – appeared on a 1991 album by R&B singer Safire.

"It's exactly the same song," Anka said yesterday. "They just changed the title."

In that first interview, Anka was unhappy indeed. "They have a major, major problem on their hands," he said. "They will be sued if they don't correct it." But before the end of the day yesterday, agents for Jackson's estate had apologised for their mistake. John McClain, one of Jackson's estate executors, called Anka directly to say that he had not known about Anka's role – or Safire's version – until Jackson fans began to discuss it online. The estate issued a statement acknowledging Anka as a composer and McClain promised that the former teen idol would receive his fair share of royalties.

Anka said that McClain told him, "We took Sony 50 songs, and this was the best of all of them. My thought was that this one sounded different. Now I know why."

McClain himself assembled the new This Is It track, building on a solo piano version Michael Jackson had recorded. McClain added strings and backup vocals by Jackson's brothers, but besides Jackson's changes to the lyrics, it remains very similar to Safire's I Never Heard.

Now that McClain has been in touch, Anka said he harbours no bitterness. "There's nothing but honourable people here ... They did the right thing. I don't think that anybody tried to do the wrong thing. It was an honest mistake."


Sean Michaels

The GuardianTramp

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