Saturday, December 10, 1983

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson hit #1 with “Say Say Say”

Say, Say, Say

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson

Writer(s): Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson (see lyrics here)

Released: October 3, 1983

First Charted: October 7, 1983

Peak: 16 US, 13 CB, 15 RR, 3 AC, 24 AR, 2 UK, 14 CN, 4 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 0.25 UK, 4.57 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 85.43 video, 67.92 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Say, Say, Say” capped off one of the most successful year’s in music history for an artist. When it hit the top 10, it gave Michael Jackson his seventh top-ten of 1983 – the most successful run since the Beatles had eleven top-ten hits in 1964. TB Of course, the song paired Jackson with none other than Paul McCartney of the Beatles. Anything less than another smash would have been a letdown. It didn’t disappoint. Its #26 debut on the Billboard Hot 100 was the highest since John Lennon’s “Imagine” premiered at #20 in 1971. “Say, Say, Say” would go on to sit at the pinnacle for six weeks.

In his “Number Ones” column at Stereogum, Tom Breihan criticizes it as “a slight song” SG without a “bulletproof hook,” SG although he also calls it “a strong piece of breezy post-disco synth-funk, a worthy artifact of Jackson’s peak moment.” SG “Its lyrics are about some unrequited crush, and none of them stick with you.” SG notes, however, that “the bipolar nature of the song lends itself to the duet format, with McCartney’s verses seeming somewhat reasonable…while Jackson is the voice of desperation.” SF

Breihan also points out how in the video the pair play “charming-rogue conmen, who keep people happy in desperate circumstances even as they’re taking their money.” SG “The symbolism practically hammers you over the head: Two grinning masters of the form, sidling right up to you and showing you exactly how they’re taking advantage of your affection.” SG

The song is “a thick mix, full of funky bass/guitar interplay, bright horn blats, and cinematic synth-effects. The drum sound is huge. Some extremely cool vocoder-murmurs pop up here and there. All of that marks the song as being within Jackson’s wheelhouse.” SG It sounds closer to what Jackson was doing on Off the Wall than Thriller, which makes sense considering it was recorded between the two albums. Jackson first reached out to McCartney on Christmas Day, 1980. Jackson flew to England the next autumn and they worked on the song. In 1982, they met at McCartney’s Arizona ranch and again in Los Angeles to finish the song and shoot a video for it. They also recorded “The Man,” which was released on McCartney’s Pipes of Peace album along with “Say, Say, Say.” A third song, “The Girl Is Mine,” was released as the first single from Jackson’s Thriller and soared to #2 a year before “Say, Say, Say” was released.

As great as their chemistry was, the two would never work together again. In 1984, Michael Jackson bought the vast majority of the Beatles’ catalog for $46 million. McCartney had tried to buy the rights previously with no luck. Now his former collaborator was in charge of licensing Beatles’ songs for commercials and McCartney had to negotiate royalty rates for his own songs with Jackson.


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First posted 6/25/2022.

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