Michael Jackson | Madonna | Carly Simon | KISS Manager

Jacko: Controversial Audio Clip

Michael Jackson is in the middle of a public firestorm that could turn out to be worse than all his other scandals.

Answering machine messages, leaked by plaintiffs in multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the singer and first broadcast on ABC, paint him in the worst possible light. Jackson makes anti-Semitic remarks on the tapes, similar to the lyrics he originally used in the 1995 song, "They Don't Care About Us."

In the message, Jackson speaks about a Jewish associate whom he had decided ripped him off — when in fact the man, who will remain nameless here — did everything he could to help him.

Jackson says on the tape, left for another associate, Marc Schaffel : "They suck them like leeches ... I'm so tired of it. I'm so tired of it. They start out the most popular person in the world, make a lot of money, big house, cars and everything and end up penniless. It's a conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose."

The Anti-Defamation League , rightly so, is now calling for an apology from Jackson. But they didn't get one 10 years ago and I doubt they will get one now. Jackson has no idea that anything he's ever done is incorrect or offensive, as we learned from four months of court testimony this year.

What Jackson should worry about, I am told, is that there are hundreds of other phone messages that may be released including some that could provide interesting footnotes to last spring's trial.

In other words: The war between those suing Jackson for funds they believe they are owed and the beleaguered pop star is now taking a nasty turn — and one that will not end quietly.

Madonna's Ironic Chart Success

Madonna's "Confessions on a Dance Floor" sold 350,000 copies and finished at No. 1 in its debut week on the charts.

This must be some weird irony for Warner Music Group. At the same time that they have a rare No. 1, not to mention two other albums in the Top 10, they are under the gun for payola.

What is payola? It’s a time-tested tradition in the record business dating back to the 1950s. Record companies pay money, send gifts, do whatever they have to so that their records are played on the radio.

You see, we in the naïve world think hits occur because they’re good. But think about it. How could “Feelings” and “Which You Goin’, Billy?” have actually been in the Top 10? Or “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo?”

Did a light bulb just go off over your head?

New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer has focused on payola as an issue before he runs for governor of this great state. First he went after Sony BMG and fined them $10 million. Now he’s scoured Warner Music Group and hit them for $5 million.

That leaves EMI/Capitol and Universal Music Group. The latter should be a field day for investigators, since UMG is already the subject of several lawsuits from distributors who’ve claimed they were told to, in effect, double count UMG CDs so that it looked like they sold more than they did.

In particular, Spitzer’s group should come back with good stories about Eminem, 50 Cent, Ja Rule and other rap acts. Done right, that report will be a bestseller.

But the record companies are not solely to blame for modern payola. Indeed, I suggest that in many instances they are victimized by radio station conglomerates which simply have refused to play new music unless they’re bribed.

Spitzer’s report bears that hypothesis out. I’m surprised he hasn’t turned his attention to that subject. As they say, it takes two to tango. You can’t bribe someone who doesn’t want it.

It’s not as if the WMG people, or Sony BMG for that matter, held a gun to the heads of all those programmers and said, 'Take these gifts or we’ll kill you.' Far from it. In most cases, they were responding to requests for bribes. I think that’s a point Spitzer fails to see.

The Spitzer report in particular cites a handful of Clear Channel radio stations without promotion budgets, all of which were happy to accept bribes, gifts, whatever from Warner Music in order to play their records.

According to the report: “Among the stations that have requested promotion support a few stand out. A Warner Music local promotion manager testified that ‘a lot of the Clear Channel stations I deal with who have been without any real promotional budgets for years now are often some of the most active…WKKF in Albany, WWHT in Syracuse, and WKGS in Rochester [a Citicaster station]…WPXY [an Infinity station in Rochester NY]…’”

The report cites many instances of WMG promotion guys recalling how stations asked them for “time buys” or flat-out graft to support the stations playing Warner music.

I’m not defending the record companies, but where is Spitzer when it comes to the initiators of these illegal requests? The buyer is just as guilty as the seller.

I did like the memo’s attached by Spitzer’s office to the report. Aside from the payola, you do get an idea of how stupid these radio people are, and how they’ve just about killed rock and pop radio in every market.

For example, at WHTG in Asbury Park, N.J., the program director “shys [sic] away from anything with ‘screams’ in it…” I guess they’re not playing any James Brown records.

Carly Simon: A Class Act Triumphs

Mike Nichols was in the audience last night and so was Walter Cronkite. The occasion was Carly Simon’s stunning show at Rose Hall in the Time Warner Center. Nichols, of course, was there because he’s a friend, and because he’s used so much of Carly’s music in his movies.

I don’t know how much Cronkite heard of the show. At almost 90, he’s dependent on hearing aids. He was dressed nattily in a dark blue pin-striped suit, but moved slowly accompanied by Carly’s lovely sister, Joanna, whom he may marry soon, and his longtime chief of staff Marlene Adler (Simon’s composer sister, Lucy, was also there, as was her former sister-in-law, Kate Taylor).

I’m not sure if Cronkite met frog-throated Fran Drescher, who was also in the audience, although her voice would likely have made an impression.

But it was Carly’s rich and vibrant voice — mostly unchanged over the years in its texture — that really made an impression.

She famously suffers from stage fright and rarely performs live. Last night’s show was part of a mini-tour that takes her later this week to Atlantic City, then to Washington and Ann Arbor. It began in Boston a few days ago.

She has not toured like this in more than a decade and this may be it, so I advise you to make the effort if you’re a fan.

I’ve known Carly for a good 20 years, and I’ve been a fan for a good time longer. I certainly know all her material and have heard it a lot. Yet, I found this show oddly moving. Maybe it’s because I know she triumphed over breast cancer eight years ago.

More beautiful than ever at 60, she’s never ceased to work at the highest level. Her first hit was in 1970, don’t forget, and this fall she’s had a bestselling album in "Moonlight Serenade," a collection of classic covers produced by Richard Perry.

The show last night included several of the new numbers. Like her previous cover albums, "Torch" and "My Romance," "Moonlight Serenade" is incredibly well-suited to her often husky, sexy voice.

The title song was a real winner, as were "Alone Together," "The More I See You" and "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Simon, unlike some other '70s pop stars who’ve turned to crooning, has a real affinity for this music. Her voice has a soothing, reassuring quality that turns these well-wrought songs into gorgeous lullabyes.

Of course, the crowd — vociferous in their love for Simon — wanted to hear hits. I am happy to report that Carly’s reworked a couple of them, like “Legend in Your Own Mind” and “We Have No Secrets,” with more contemporary arrangements. Both of them really worked.

Her Oscar-winning song, “Let the River Run” is now a glorious vocal exercise that relies on its beautiful melody more than its potential for a showy gospel choir.

We learned a little bit, too, maybe more than we needed to know: that the guy who inspired the 1981 hit, "Jesse," wet the bed. “Otherwise, he was great,” Carly said.

So this is what she means when she sings in the song, “I won’t change the sheets for you.”

Simon also threw in a couple of lesser-known songs, “It Was So Easy Then” and “Private,” and each was a good idea. “Floundering” is a funny number from 1983 about a woman who keeps trying fad religions and health cures. How prescient: This was long before Madonna became the poster child for trends.

Simon has a huge catalogue of songs beyond her top 10 hits which could use a good airing out. Some others might be “Playing Possum,” “In Times When My Head,” “Mind on My Man” and the nearly forgotten “Black Honeymoon.”

What really worked last night though were two hits you’d think we’d all heard enough of. Both “Coming Around Again” and “You’re So Vain” were in “the zone,” as they say. Arranged to emphasize the lyrics and Simon’s voice, both songs seemed more direct than usual.

“Coming Around Again” may turn out be to be Simon’s best piece ever. It reflects everything her work is about: love, sex, family, told with a sophistication, wit and maturity that is unlike Joni Mitchell’s jazz ramblings or Carole King’s pop snappiness.

Unlike either of them, Simon is really a singer, and should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already. We’ll have to get cracking on that.

And “You’re So Vain": whether it’s about Warren Beatty or a group of guys, that song stands up as a stinging rebuke and a “zetz” that cannot be forgotten.

Last night’s show was unique in that the opening act was Simon’s kids with James Taylor, Ben and Sally Taylor. Each has been recording for some time; neither has a commercial recording contract. Having seen their parents endure all kinds of business ordeals, they’ve chosen to go the independent route.

It’s a tough choice being the performing kids of established stars. From Frank Sinatra Jr. to Julian Lennon, there are lots of war stories. The Taylor kids are each extremely talented in their own right, though, and incredibly engaging on stage. See if you can download Ben’s MP3 of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It’s brilliant.

Jacko Jackals; KISS Manager Still Jailed

Last night, Nancy Grace allowed Brian Oxman to appear on her show as “spokesperson” for Michael Jackson. The subject was the recent lawsuits filed against Jackson by former associates Marc Schaffel and Dieter Wiesner.

Grace is a loon on her own; adding Oxman only made it that much better. Between the two of them, they know nothing whatsoever about Jackson, his legal dealings or which end of this story is up. Luckily, Jane Velez Mitchell and Jim Moret supplied Grace with some facts. But really, I hope no one is listening to this for anything other pure entertainment or white noise …

In New York Family Court yesterday, support magistrate Nicholas Palos made me proud to be a taxpayer in this state. He did not vacate the arrest warrant for former KISS manager and longtime fugitive Jesse Hilsen.

Instead, Palos ordered that Hilsen appear in Family Court on Dec. 9 if and only if he’s released by federal authorities first on that day.

That seems unlikely. Federal prosecutors seem to think Hilsen, at 65 and with no work in more than a decade, could get work as a psychiatrist and make restitution to his wife and kids of $160,000. Instead, Palos — wisely — indicated that he might seek to revoke or suspend Hilsen’s medical license. It was nice to hear a little wisdom for once in a courtroom …

Finally: I am quite unhappy to see in today’s Page Six that the "Today" show’s Jill Rappaport may be “on her way out” … I know "Today" is in flux, but folks, get a grip. Some of us only watch for Jill’s excellent entertainment reports on Thursdays. She is style, substance and intelligence rolled into one. Not only that: she’s not bad to look at. Get a grip, NBC …