How Michael Jackson Got His Master Recordings Back [WAAMN Chapter 1.2]

Thanks to a feisty lawyer, a reluctant label boss and a fictional alien.

This is the weekly installment of my new book, We Are All Musicians Now. To make sure you don’t miss future serializations, subscribe here. Below you’ll find Chapter 1: The Ownership of Genius (Part 2). Enjoy!


“You know what John? I think I fucked up.”

“I think you did, Walter.”

That’s how the conversation began when Walter Yetnikoff, then chief of CBS Records, called John Branca, lawyer for Michael Jackson, shortly after the 1982 release of Thriller. Weeks earlier, the swaggering music executive had threatened to sue rival label MCA unless the company withdrew the E.T. storybook album, which heavily featured Jackson. But Yetnikoff didn’t realize how much the latter meant to his top artist—or how massive Thriller would be.

“Yeah, you guys told me this was going to be a big album, and Michael took it seriously,” Yetnikoff continued. “But I didn’t really understand how big it was going to be. Is he pissed?"

"Wouldn’t you be,” Branca replied, “if you were him?"

"Well,” Yetnikoff continued, “what can I do?”

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