How did Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney meet? A friendship and fallout timeline

11 February 2022, 14:12 | Updated: 16 February 2022, 13:18

Macca and MJ became incredibly close friends, but it wouldn't last forever.
Macca and MJ became incredibly close friends, but it wouldn't last forever. Picture: Parlophone/Columbia

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

At the time, it was one of the most unlikely friendships in pop music.

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But in retrospect, it made total sense that Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney would befriend each other.

MJ was the world's most electrifying pop star the world had seen and later became well-known as the 'King Of Pop', whereas in his time as one of The Beatles, Macca completely changed the face of pop music.

Not only were they both unique musical talents, but they'd both experienced stratospheric fame at an early age so were probably more compatible confidants than you'd initially think.

Their friendship wouldn't last forever, however. So what happened exactly?

How did Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney meet?

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney working together in the studio during 1980. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney working together in the studio during 1980. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

Macca recently recalled the first time he and Michael spoke, and it caused a case of mistaken identity.

A mystery caller found out Paul's phone number, which led him to believe it was a "girl fan" that managed to locate his contact details due to the high-pitched voice on the other end.

"Somebody rang me up and this high voice I didn’t recognise said: ‘Hi, Paul" the Beatles legend remembered.

"I thought, ‘This is a girl fan, and how the hell did she get my number?’ I was quite annoyed."

"It wasn’t a girl, it was Michael Jackson, and he basically said, ‘Do you want to make some hits?’”

From then onwards both artists would confide in each other, offer each other advice, and even talk business on occasion.

Paul would even offer his song 'Girlfriend' up to Michael, though he eventually ended up recording it himself for Wings. But by then, the beautiful friendship had already begun.

When did they first work together?

Macca had recently opened up to the idea of duetting with other artists after the success of his global No.1 hit ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with Stevie Wonder.

So, the idea of two of the greatest forces that music has ever seen combining their efforts was surely the next logical step.

Paul reached out to Michael and asked if he wanted his song 'Girlfriend', though he eventually recorded it himself for Wings.

The first time they'd enter the studio together was to record 'Say Say Say' for McCartney's solo album Pipes of Peace, though it wouldn't be released until 1983.

However, the first time we would get to hear one of the pair's collaborations would be 'The Girl Is Mine' from Michael's ground-breaking album Thriller released a year prior in 1982. This was where their friendship truly blossomed.

Michael even confessed that it was his favourite time working in the studio throughout the entirety of his glittering solo career.

"Working with Paul McCartney was pretty exciting and we just literally had fun." MJ gushed years after.

"It was like lots of kibitzing and playing, and throwing stuff at each other, and making jokes."

Did they ever perform live together?

Despite 'Say Say Say' being the lead single for McCartney's fourth solo album, and 'The Girl Is Mine' being the first single to be released from Thriller, the duo never performed together live.

Any momentum that they may have needed to get on stage together was likely halted by the lukewarm reaction to 'The Girl Is Mine' with some of MJ's fans believing Thriller would be a disappointment. How wrong they were.

The only time Michael would ever 'perform' the song live was during a deposition in 1993 during a copyright infringement lawsuit, where he explained how he wrote his music.

Even though they never performed together on stage, we can all gladly enjoy the goofy music video for 'Say Say Say' where Macca and MJ played con-artists Mac and Jack.

How did their friendship end?

Paul and Linda McCartney together with Michael Jackson at the BRIT Awards in 1983. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
Paul and Linda McCartney together with Michael Jackson at the BRIT Awards in 1983. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

Their friendship ended in acrimonious circumstances, let's say.

Of all the business discussions the pair had together, it was one piece of advice Paul gave Michael that would come back to haunt him.

After establishing a bond together whilst working in the studio, Paul had suggested to Michael that he begin to invest by buying other artist's music publishing rights, with Paul recently acquiring the rights to Buddy Holly's body of work.

Michael reportedly replied with: "One day, I’ll own your songs."

Michael later began to put the wheels in motion to buy the rights to The Beatles' music, requesting that his lawyer buy the company ATV - which owned the rights to all 251 of The Beatles' tracks - for a colossal $47.5 million.

"You can’t put a price on a Picasso… you can’t put a price on these songs, there’s no value on them,” MJ said. “They’re the best songs that have ever been written.”

Paul felt betrayed that his close friend would choose to profit from his lifetime's work, rather than respect the bond they'd forged.

After 1985, they wouldn't speak on a meaningful level again despite a handful of attempts to patch up their differences.

Were there any hard feelings?

The incident clearly scarred Paul, even though he tried on numerous occasions to contact Michael.

“He won’t even answer my letters, so we haven’t talked and we don’t have that great a relationship,” McCartney said in 2001.

“The trouble is I wrote those songs for nothing and buying them back at these phenomenal sums, I just can’t do it.”

Macca is frequently asked about the collapse of their friendship, notably on the David Letterman Show in 2009 when he stated: "He's a lovely man, massively talented, and we miss him."

Before his untimely death, MJ reportedly wanted to leave the rights to The Beatles catalogue to Macca in his will to settle their feud.

The rights to the Beatles’ music in 2021 are currently split between Paul McCartney and Sony Music Publishing, according to Live for Live Music.