(Late Monday it emerged that Jackson wrote the song “This Is It” in 1983 with veteran tunesmith Paul Anka. Jackson’s estate quickly issued a mea culpa and assured Anka that he would receive 50% of profits generated by the tune. Anka told the Associated Press that the snafu was “an honest mistake.”)
Michael Jackson’s posthumous recording career began early Monday as the previously unreleased song “This Is It” began streaming on the Web.
The track will be included on Sony Music’s two-CD package, tied to the concert documentary of the same name. Arriving in stores Oct. 27, the same day the Sony Pictures’ doc begins its sold-out advance screenings in key markets, the album should give music retailers a shot in the arm during the fourth-quarter holiday sales season.
“This Is It” single is a medium-tempo piano-vocal recording, completed with an overdubbed arrangement with vocals by the singer’s brothers, the Jacksons. Much of the rest of the two discs is comprised of alternate versions of classic Jackson material.
Plans to release more unissued music are up in the air, but Sony Music apparently has a pool of uncompleted songs from which it can draw future releases.
The public snapped up anything with Jackson’s name on it in the immediate wake of the superstar’s death June 25, and its thirst seemingly remains unslaked. In most recent sales figures released by Nielsen SoundScan, his “Number Ones” shifted 32,000 copies in the U.S. in the week ended Oct. 4, good enough for No. 19 on the comprehensive chart tracking new and catalog releases.
Brad Schelden, buyer at indie megastore Amoeba Music in Hollywood, is cautiously optimistic about the “This Is It” album. The store has placed a heavy initial order for 200 copies.
Demand for Jackson product has “definitely died down from the first month, but people are still coming in looking for stuff,” Schelden said.
“We did do a big buy, because there will be a lot of interest and the timing is right,” said Carl Mello, buyer at 28-store Newbury Comics chain in Boston. “It could be the easy thing to buy for Christmas.”
However, Mello was unenthusiastic about the quality of the single and said of the album, “We don’t know what it is yet … but we could be surprised.”
More posthumously completed Jackson material will inevitably be marketed by Sony.
In an interview published Monday in the New York Times, Columbia/Epic Label Group chairman Rob Stringer said the company has some 100 tracks in various states of completion, and possibly more. But, he added, “We haven’t gone into the archive to search it properly yet.”
Record companies have long reaped sales with collections of incomplete material by their deceased stars, finished with additional overdubs.
In 1963, four years after Buddy Holly’s death in an Iowa plane crash, Coral Records issued “Reminiscing,” a compilation of demos completed with backing tracks by group the Fireballs. The set rose to No. 40 on the album charts.
Unfinished work by guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who died in 1970 after an accidental drug overdose, was controversially overdubbed by producer Alan Douglas, resulting in such ’70s Reprise LPs as “Crash Landing” (No. 5) and “Midnight Lightning” (No. 43).
In 1978, surviving members of the Doors recorded backing tracks for “An American Prayer,” an Elektra collection of poetry by lead singer Jim Morrison, who died of a heart attack in 1970. Album peaked at No. 54 but helped kickstart renewed interest in the L.A. band’s catalog.
A flow of releases followed the 1996 shooting death of rapper Tupac Shakur. In 2005, the “Loyal to the Game” CD, exec produced by Eminem and featuring a host of rap stars performing Shakur’s music, reached No. 1.
Though not announced yet, a fourth-quarter DVD release is also expected for the “This Is It” doc. The feature bows with sold-out Oct. 27 advance screenings before its official opening Oct. 28 for the limited two-week release.
The docu features Jackson’s April-June rehearsals for shows at London’s O2 Arena that would have taken place this summer.