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Michael Jackson's single 'This Is It' dates to a 1983 collaboration with Paul Anka

October 12, 2009 |  6:54 pm

JACKSON_AP_this_is_it_3Though officially released less than 24 hours ago, Michael Jackson's first posthumous single, "This Is It," has turned out to not be so new after all. After rampant speculation Monday that the song has decades-old roots, a representative to the special administrators for the Jackson estate has confirmed that "This Is It" was originally co-written with Paul Anka in the early '80s.

Anka tells Pop & Hiss that he recorded two songs with Jackson in 1983, both intended for Anka's 1983 album "Walk a Fine Line." One of them, "I Never Heard," contains the identical vocal and piano line heard on "This Is It," Anka said.

Anka said that in the hours since he first heard the song today he had reached a deal to receive half the publishing royalties. He repeatedly called the situation an "honest mistake."

Anka said he was tipped off to the song when he received a call from TMZ's managing editor Harvey Levin, who was inquiring about the song's similarities to a 1991 cut Anka gave to Latin artist Sa-Fire. Jackson and Anka shared a songwriting credit on her version of "I Never Heard." 

"I said, 'I don’t know what you’re talking about yet, but let me check it,' " Anka recalled. "I listened, and there were no similarities; it was the same damn song."

The song takes it name from what would have been Jackson's comeback tour this summer, and will now serve as the title track to a concert film and accompanying album. The film arrives for a limited two-week run on Oct. 28, and the album will be released in North America on Oct. 27.

“The song was picked because the lyrics were appropriate because of the name Michael gave his tour," said a spokesman for special administrators for the Jackson estate John McClain and John Branca. "We are thrilled to present this song in Michael's voice for the first time, and that Michael’s fans have responded in unprecedented numbers. The song was co-written by the legendary Paul Anka.“

Canadian artist Anka came out swinging on Monday, threatening to sue the Jackson estate in comments made to TMZ and the New York Times. He didn't mince words when speaking to the New York Times. “They have a major, major problem on their hands,” he is quoted as saying. “They will be sued if they don’t correct it.”

It's not the first time Anka has had to have conversations with lawyers regarding the song. He said his relationship with Jackson grew strained after "Thriller" became an international hit, and he had to fight to regain control of the tapes to his recording sessions with the artist.

"I took the tapes over to a studio on Sunset Boulevard," Anka recalled about working with the star in 1983, "and Michael was supposed to meet me there so we can go to the next phase of the duets. I go to work, and I am informed by the studio that Michael had sent one of his people over and took the tapes. They stole them. I said, ‘What?’ He didn’t want to do the project anymore." 

Anka said there was no such drama today. He said he heard from the special administrators to the Jackson estate around 2 p.m. "They said, ‘Look, we get it. We made a huge mistake. Please, we apologize. Don’t throw an injunction. We understand that this is your song.’ I said I wasn't going to hold them up, and wanted what was right, and that’s 50 percent," Anka said. "That was my vocal. That was nothing new for Michael."

Yet the version released late Sunday/early Monday features some new flourishes, namely backing vocals from Jackson's brothers. The latter were added to the mix after Jackson's death on June 25, sources familiar with the song's production confirm, and did not exist in any prior form of the song. 

Lyrically and melodically, "This Is It" is nearly identical to a song recorded and released by Latin artist Sa-Fire in 1991. Times critic Ann Powers discussed the similarity in a posting earlier today on Pop & Hiss, writing that the version released by Sony Music Entertainment last night "lacks the popping bass and round-the-way funkiness of Sa-Fire's interpretation, instead residing firmly in the realm of worship music as the King of Pop imagined it."

Anka, who is currently working on a book for release next September, said he had limited interactions with Jackson after the meeting in 1983. He said he recently was listening to the vocals on the songs he recorded with the pop star in the early '80s and was thinking of way to repurpose them.

"I was going to go in and do a duet with him and another artist because I own that track," Anka said. "I was having dialogue with [producer] David Foster, who’s a friend. I was going to take that track and do exactly what they did with somebody else ... But I love what they've done and I do think it's an honest mistake."

The other song to emerge from Anka’s session with Jackson was a song called “Love Never Felt So Good,” which is available online in demo form and was ultimately released by Johnny Mathis.

--Todd Martens

Photo credit: Associated Press