Michael Jackson "Stole a Lot of Songs," Quincy Jones Claimed
The producer also called the King of Pop "Machiavellian" and "greedy."
Legendary record producer Quincy Jones met Michael Jackson when the singer was just 12 years old, spawning a fruitful collaboration that included Jackson's first solo album, Off the Wall, the bestselling album of all time, 1982's Thriller, and 1987's Bad. But the two sadly cut ties at the end of the '80s, according to The Los Angeles Times, because "Jackson felt the producer was old and out-of-touch."
After Jackson's death and the release of the posthumous album This Is It in 2009, Jones sued Jackson's estate for its improper use of his work, winning a $9.4 million judgment. In a bombshell 2018 interview with Vulture after the judgment (which was later partially overturned), Jones made some surprising claims about his one-time collaborator, calling Jackson a "Machiavellian" and "greedy" thief who stole some of his most successful songs. Read on for more of Jones' words and the longtime grudge Jackson's family said was behind them.
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Some of Jackson's biggest hits, including "Billie Jean," were stolen, Quincy claimed.
Responding to Vulture's David Marchese's first question—"What's something people don't understand about [Jackson]?"—Jones didn't mince words. "I hate to get into this publicly, but Michael stole a lot of stuff. He stole a lot of songs," the producer claimed.
Among the allegedly pilfered beats he named was "Billie Jean," which Jones said came from Donna Summer's 1982 song "State of Independence," originally recorded by Jon and Vangelis. ("State of Independence" songwriter Jon Anderson claimed to Louder Than Sound that Jones, who produced "Billie Jean," admitted to stealing a guitar riff from the album on which the song Summer would make famous first appeared.) "The notes don't lie, man," Jones told Vulture. "[Jackson] was as Machiavellian as they come. Greedy, man. Greedy."
Jones also called out a section of "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" written by keyboardist Greg Phillinganes. "Michael should've given him 10 percent of the song," the producer said.
Jackson faced other plagiarism allegations.
Jones isn't the only one to suggest that Jackson had borrowed from other artists. In 1994, the pop star successfully defended himself against accusations that he stole parts of "Thriller," "The Girl Is Mine," and "We Are the World," according to The Los Angeles Times. In 2001, an Italian court overturned an earlier decision that Jackson had infringed on part of Italian songwriter Albano Carrisi's "I Cigni di Balaka" for the 1993 single "Will You Be There?," according to ABC News. In 2007, a Belgian court also determined that 1995's "You Are Not Alone," written by R. Kelly and performed by Jackson, was plagiarized from composers Eddy and Danny van Passel, according to the international legal site Lexology. As a result, the song is banned from commercial broadcast in Belgium.
Outside of the courtroom, Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates said in 2022 that Jackson once apologized for stealing from the duo's song "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" for "Billie Jean," according to Express UK. And that line, "Mama say mama sa mama coosa" from Thriller's "Wanna Be Startin' Something?" Jackson settled out of court in 1986 for lifting it from late Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango, per Variety.
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Jackson's family said an old grudge was behind the claims.
Moving on from the plagiarism claims, Jones took another stab at the King of Pop in Vulture, suggesting he used excuses of an illness as cover for an addiction to cosmetic surgery triggered by years of physical and emotional abuse in Jackson's childhood. "He had a problem with his looks because his father told him he was ugly and abused him," the producer claimed.
Jackson's alleged abuser, his father Joe Jackson, who died in June 2018, responded to statements questioning his son's legacy by calling Jones "jealous" of Jackson's talent. He also pointed the finger for any plagiarism at Jones for producing the songs. "He says my son stole it, but he was the producer on both ['Billie Jean' and 'State of Independence'], so if anybody is wrong, it would be Quincy," the elder Jackson said, per AP News. (He did not comment on the assertion that he had abused his child.)
In the same interview, a second, unnamed family member suggested that Jones was still bitter because Jackson had lobbied against the producer getting a Grammy for the Thriller album in 1982. "Michael did all of the work," the source said. "It's his music and everyone knows Michael's sound—and Thriller was all Michael Jackson."
Jones also called the Beatles "the worst musicians in the world."
Jackson wasn't the only music legend Jones spilled tea about in the interview. Opining that rock music was just "a white version of rhythm and blues," the producer recalled that his first impression of the early-years Beatles was that "they were the worst musicians in the world."
"They were no-playing [expletives]," he went on. "Paul [McCartney] was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo [Starr]? Don't even talk about it." Jones then recounted an equally unflattering anecdote about bringing in jazz drummer Ronnie Verrell to fix a track Starr had spent hours trying to get right.
As for a more talented celebrity friend? Jones shared that he'd once seen the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen sing and jam out on his yacht "just like Hendrix." Go figure.