Troubled King of Pop has slipped discs

Career has faltered since first incident

This article was updated at 7:43 p.m.

The warrant for Michael Jackson’s arrest was issued the day Sony’s Epic Records released the compilation album “Number Ones,” which is expected to be the imprint’s final Jackson album. It ends a relationship that extends back to the mid-1970s when Jackson was a still in a group with his brothers.

Jackson appeared prepared to move in a new musical direction in June when he struck a partnership with Charles Koppelman, a music industry veteran who has guided many successful careers during stints at Columbia, SBK and Capitol. Koppelman, chairman and CEO of CAK Entertainment, is advising Jackson on several fronts, and in June, they suggested there may be new Jackson-related material released by the end of the year.

Koppelman has a long history of creating stars via singles rather than albums and Jackson, if he does choose to release new material, may well need to go the singles route.

But before he can begin to release new music, “he has to let the dust settle,” said Larry Winokur of Baker/Winokur/Ryder, who handled a multitude of crisis management publicity campaigns. “It’s bad enough that the only file footage being used is of him putting his hand over a camera. That’s very prejudicial in the court of public opinion.

“The more he injects himself into the debate, the longer the debate will last. This is a big bonanza for news outlets by happening in the November sweeps. But there’s no way to get in front of the facts. And as tawdry as these charges are, there are plenty of people who still like him.”

The suggestion of inappropriate behavior with children has been a cloud over Jackson’s career for years and has hurt his record sales in the 10 years since accusations of child molestation against him first arose.

Jackson’s last disc for Epic, 2001’s “Invincible,” was released after a nearly 18-month delay and reportedly cost an astonishing $30 million to produce, not counting the $3 million spent on the music video for “You Rock My World.” Released Oct. 31, 2001, it was his first album of all-new material in nine years, and its first two singles had already flopped in the weeks surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. When the disc didn’t sell, the singer accused Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola of racism.

Jackson, who last month was given the Humanitarian Award at the Radio Awards, had already garnered ill will among artists and industry executives when two early September 2001 concerts were staged in New York’s Madison Square Garden as tributes to Jackson’s 30 years in the biz. The main gripe was the fact that promoters were charging thousands of dollars for quality seats and the lion’s share of the money was going to Jackson instead of to charity. One of his brothers even begged out of a Jackson Five reunion. The concert was the second-highest grossing music event of the year.

Even Jackson’s all-star charity single, “What More Can I Give,” recorded with superstars Mariah Carey, Beyonce Knowles and others, didn’t survive public scrutiny. The single was recorded to assist 9/11 victims and families yet never released; nearly two years after its inception, Clear Channel set up a Web site for the downloading of the song to benefit various children’s charities.

Sony and McDonald’s, which had agreed to release the song, were accused of sabotaging the single, though even without its presence in the marketplace, none of Jackson’s “Invincible” songs clicked with the public. Harming the record worse may well have been Sony releasing remastered versions of Jackson’s four biggest sellers — “Thriller,” “Off the Wall,” “Bad” and “Dangerous” — two weeks before “Invincible.”

Koppelman did not return phone calls. Sony Music would not comment on Jackson nor on first-day sales of “Number Ones.”

Jackson’s career started with his brothers in the Jackson 5, which hit No. 1 in 1970 with an unprecedented four singles: “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There.” In 1979, he blossomed as a solo act, working with Quincy Jones on “Off the Wall” while still retaining his membership in the Jacksons. Stories of his oddball private life tagged him as a weirdo, but a televised appearance at Motown’s 25th anniversary show, on which he moonwalked for millions, seemingly elevated him to superstar status overnight.

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