He’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock & roll. Michael Jackson’s publishing company now owns songs by Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers, as well as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the song rights library co-owned by Jackson and Sony Music, purchased the legendary Acuff-Rose country catalog this week for $157 million, according to published reports.
Founded 60 years ago by Nashville songwriters Roy Acuff and Fred Rose, Acuff-Rose has grown to include the rights to 55,000 songs, including such country standards as ”Your Cheatin’ Heart” and ”Tennessee Waltz.” The seller was Gaylord Entertainment, the Nashville-based conglomerate that owns the Grand Ole Opry. Gaylord has been selling off its entertainment assets to pay down debt and focus more on its tourist businesses (it’s building resort complexes in Dallas and Orlando). In November, it sold Word Entertainment, its Christian music company, to Warner Music for $84 million.
Jackson joined his publishing company (which owned the Beatles library) with that of Sony (his label) a decade ago. That partnership has endured, despite the current friction between Jackson and the label. Last month, Jackson complained that Sony had given last year’s ”Invincible” inadequate promotional support, leading to lackluster sales (by Jackson standards) of 4 million worldwide. He called Sony chief Tommy Mottola ”the devil,” likened his record deal to slavery, and enlisted lawyer Johnnie Cochran and the Rev. Al Sharpton to help him extricate himself from the contract.
Sony responded by saying it had done all it could to support ”Invincible,” having spent a reported $30 million on production and $20 million on marketing the album. Jackson also claimed that Sony was falsely claiming that he owed the label $200 million. Sony said it had never claimed such a debt existed, though the Hollywood Reporter says that Jackson may indeed owe such a sum to Sony and has put up his share of Sony/ATV as collateral. Which means that, even if he manages to get out of his record contract, he could still be singing Sony’s tune (including its new twangy ones) for some time to come.