Maybe I haven’t been listening that closely to the radio lately. Maybe you’ve heard Michael Jackson’s charity single, “What More Can I Give?”
No? I didn’t think so.
We are now five months past the disasters on September 11 and there’s been no sign of the famous single that was supposed to raise — in Michael’s words, not mine — $50 million for the victims’ families.
You may recall that Jackson made the Washington, D.C. organizers of the "United We Stand" live benefit on October 21, 2001 re-name their event “What More Can I Give? — United We Stand.” Jackson went around the country collecting vocals from various stars to add to the single, including Celine Dion, members of 'Nsync and the Backstreet Boys.
Just by comparison: “We Are the World,” the charity single Jackson co-wrote with Lionel Ritchie, was recorded on January 28, 1985 after the American Music Awards. It was released six weeks later, on March 8, 1985.
“What More Can I Give?” was played for me over the phone back on October 18. It sounded very much like Jackson’s 1985 single, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” But you can’t sue yourself for plagiarism, so that wouldn’t have mattered.
I was told that a deal to sell the single through McDonald’s had fallen through, but another deal was on the way.
And then: silence. Now no one associated with Jackson returns calls on this subject. Trudy Green, of Howard Kaufman Management, does not return calls. Michael no longer has an active publicist since parted ways with Howard Rubenstein and Associates in New York, so there’s no spokesperson to call on this subject.
One problem may be that no record company wanted to put this single out — certainly not as a single, and there was no album to include it on. Sony Music, Michael’s label, was busy issuing their own “God Bless America” album last fall which included inspirational tracks from its artists, including the title track sung by Celine Dion. That album was a hit, but suspiciously it included nothing from Jackson, not even his old chestnuts “Man in the Mirror” or “Heal the World.”
So where is “What More Can I Give?” I’m told that it’s dead, another project in Jackson’s wastebasket produced by hype to hype himself during a tragedy. Back during that first week after September 11, Jackson was invited to join Nile Rodgers on his “We Are Family” project that featured a number of guest artists. Jackson declined, and then announced his own record.
Where is Rodgers’ record? The single has already had a lot of radio play, and recently a documentary about the making of the record was shown at Sundance. An album is scheduled to be released shortly of different versions of the single.
Jackson’s own album, Invincible, is currently hovering around No. 30 on the charts, with a little less than 1.7 million copies sold since its release in late September.
Here’s what I call a small world. In doing some research yesterday about Celine Dion and her forthcoming album New Day, I found this story — uncredited — on a website called jimsteinman.com. Guess who wrote it? Me! Funny, huh? Anyway, I reported when Celine’s album Let’s Talk About Love was being released that the singer and husband René Angelil regularly got a taste of the publishing royalties that belonged to songwriters whose songs wound up on their albums. It’s not nice to do, but I suppose if all the great singers of the '60s had done this, they’d be rolling in clover now.
So, I will reclaim that article, which was written for my old Cinemania Online column back in 1997. Maybe the folks at jimsteinman.com (he’s Meatloaf’s songwriter by the way) will add the proper credit now that they know they’re being watched.
Here's the article:
When Celine Dion sings "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," she really means it: The bestselling superstar is collecting a hefty percentage of the publishing rights of songs she herself did not write but performs on her new album. The album, "Let's Talk About Love," has sold about 12 million copies worldwide in its two months of release and is currently No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200. Dion does not write her own songs; she depends on professional songwriters to craft her hits. But on "Let's Talk About Love," Dion and her husband/manager, René Angelil, asked the writers of all the songs submitted to them for up to 20 percent of the publishing money.
Some writers whose songs had been on previous Dion albums declined, and their songs were not used. But six songs by lesser-known writers, or writers without clout in the music industry, succumbed to Dion's demands. In one case — a song called "The Reason," co-written by Carole King, Mark Hudson and Greg Wells — the last two writers agreed to Dion's terms but were vetoed at the last minute by the veteran King, who refused to give in.
The song was still included on the album but not used — as it had been advertised prior to release — as the album's title. King's objections, however, are not reflected on the album's credits: Dion's music-publishing company, Duffield Music, is still listed as the co-publisher of "The Reason." Paul Farberman, a spokesman for Celine Dion, says that will be corrected in future printings of the album. King's manager, Lorna Guess, says, "They asked, and we said no. We never give publishing away." Guess says that King, who co-writes with many artists, has "never" been asked to do such a thing in the past by anyone.
Duffield Music's name is affixed to five more songs Celine Dion did not write, including two by Canadian pop singer Corey Hart. In this way, Duffield collects royalties on songs Dion did not write. She exacted a tariff on the writers, whose songs then appear on a bestselling album. The tariff can be as much as 25 percent of the royalties. "Basically, we were told it was the only way we could get on the album," says one songwriter.
All the writers declined to be interviewed for this story, fearing that Sony Music or Dion and Angelil would have them blackballed. "I have never, ever, been asked to give up publishing before this," says one writer. Bruce Brault, who manages Corey Hart, acknowledged that Duffield was collecting royalties on his client's songs, but refused to comment further. A spokesman for Sony ATV Music Publishing in Canada said that Duffield was "a company controlled by Celine Dion" and referred all questions to her office.
Interestingly, Dion's demand did not work with established writers such as David Foster, the Bee Gees or Bryan Adams. "Giving away publishing" has long been a tradition in the music business, as writers have had to make compromises to get their songs recorded. Elvis Presley, Celine's defenders point out, "did it all the time." However, it's not such a common practice these days: Indeed, divas like Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey are not in the business of charging a fee to their songwriters.
Still, Dion's hefty take on "Let's Talk About Love" is unusually high for one album. Sources claim that Angelil received "an enormous amount of money to sign artists to the label, but he hasn't done so, so this is his way of paying it back." Because Angelil demanded publishing fees, some writers of hit songs from Dion's previous, Grammy-award-winning album Falling Into You, declined to be included. "I know for a fact that Jim Steinman and Billy Steinberg refused to give up their publishing. I consider it extortion or blackmail," says a source. "It's tacky," says one songwriter, who recalled the singer's royal-like wedding to Angelil, which was filmed by Lifetime Television. "How much money can Celine need?"
Paul Farberman, speaking for Dion, says that he personally negotiated all the deals on the album, and adds, "I made it clear that giving us publishing was not a prerequisite to being on the album." Farberman says that when about 25 songs were chosen from demo tapes, he called each writer's representative and told them Dion was asking them to "relinquish their rights," he says. Writers who objected or declined were not omitted, he insists, from the final selection process. "And some songs were recorded anyway," he observes.
But songs by Jim Steinman, Diane Warren and Billy Steinberg — all of whom had hits on previous Dion albums but refused to give up a percentage of their publishing rights — were deemed by Dion and Angelil "not among the best 14 or 15 songs. In the end it was about having the best songs." Ultimately, counters Farberman, "anyone who says we told them they couldn't be on the album otherwise is not telling the truth. It may just be a songwriter who was disappointed that they didn't make it." This is not the first time such a problem has arisen for Dion: on Falling Into You, several songs are co-published by CRB Music, another one of her subsidiaries.