We are currently at the 35th anniversary of “The Girl Is Mine”, the Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney hit song, being in the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100. The duet of these two superstars stayed in the number two slot for three weeks but could not make the jump to the top position on the charts. It did, however, top the Adult Contemporary charts for four weeks and the R&B charts for three weeks.
The song was recorded at Westlake Studios in Los Angeles, the site of the recording for the entire Thriller album, from April 14th to April 16th in 1982. It was released on October 18, 1982 and was the first single released on what would become the top-selling album in history.
“The Girl Is Mine” cracked the Top 40 on November 13, 1982 and stayed in the Top 40 for 14 weeks. By 1985 it had sold 1.3 million copies. The song was largely forgotten in the wake of the amazing success of the other songs released from the Thriller album. The next song released from the album,“Billie Jean”, would top the charts for seven weeks, followed by “Beat It” which stayed at number one for three weeks. Then, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” peaked at the number five position. “Human Nature” reached number seven. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) scored number ten on the charts, and finally “Thriller” stalled at number four on the charts. Of course, Thriller ranks as the bestselling album of all-time. After its November 30, 1982 release, it sold an astounding 66 million copies in a little over a year. Representatives for both Sony and Jackson’s estate say that Thriller has sold close to 110 million copies globally. Prior to the album’s release, Jackson negotiated an unprecedented deal with Sony in which he himself received an astounding two dollars for every album sold.
Ironically, Jackson’s 1979 album Off the Wall was the first album by a solo artist to chart four Top Ten singles (“Rock with You”, “Off the Wall”, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, and “She’s Out of My Life”). On the strength of Thriller’s whopping seven Top Ten singles and highly popular videos to three of them, Thriller quickly set records on a quick ride to becoming the top-selling album of all-time, dethroning Carole King’s long-reigning 1971 magnus opus Tapestry.
Jackson’s follow-up to Thriller, Bad, set a record as the album with the most number one hits at five (“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Man in the Mirror”, and “Dirty Diana”).
It is small wonder that people were not expecting much of a punch from Thriller in light of the fact that “The Girl Is Mine” was the first single released. The strength of the rest of the album proved them wrong.
In the 2010 book Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson, author Nelson George wrote, “’The Girl’ was the first song off Thriller and released in October 1982, was a pop hit, but it was met with a lot off grumbling by African Americans unimpressed by the song’s perceived advocacy of interracial dating and its apparent retreat from Off the Wall’s great dance music.”
Nelson posits that the most significant aspect of this collaboration between Jackson and the ex-Beatle was not “The Girl Is Mine”, but rather a conversation in which McCartney told Jackson about the financial benefits of music publishing and song catalogs. This piece of casual advice ironically was the catalyst that inspired Jackson to purchase controlling interest in the Beatles song catalog four years later.
J. Randy Taraborrelli’s #1 bestselling 1991 biography Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness had an interesting take on the song:
“It’s ironic, considering the eventual impact Thriller would have on the record industry, that when CBS released the album’s first single (in October 1982, a little over a month before issuing the album to the marketplace), most observers thought the Thriller album would be a huge disappointment. The auspicious pairing of Michael Jackson with Paul McCartney for the mid-tempo “The Girl Is Mine” (which the singers co-wrote while watching cartoons together) appeared to be of greater interest than the song itself, which is more cute than good, and lacking in substance. Many in both the black and white communities felt that Michael and producer Quincy Jones had gone too far in consciously tailoring a record for a white, pop audience, and if this first single was any indication of what Thriller was to be like, then Michael Jackson seemed to be in big trouble.”
In the 1988 Yesterday: The Unauthorized Biography of Paul McCartney, Chet Flippo wrote on the McCartney/Jackson collaboration, “That same year Paul recorded “The Girl Is Mine” with Michael Jackson and in a way came to regret it. Because of that session, Paul forever lost the chance to own his own songs: the 159 Lennon-McCartney jewels in the Northern Songs catalog. Out of the blue Michael Jackson bought Northern in 1985 for $47.5 million.”
Surprisingly, “The Girl is Mine” was the third collaboration of McCartney and Jackson. A year earlier, the pair had recorded the songs “Say, Say, Say” and “The Man” which would be released months after “The Girl Is Mine” on McCartney’s 1983 album Pipes of Peace. “Say, Say, Say” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in late 1983/ early 1984 and would be McCartney’s final number one hit. Four years earlier McCartney wrote the song “Girlfriend” in the hopes that Jackson would record it; McCartney recorded “Girlfriend” on the 1978 Wings album “London Town” while Jackson would record the song on his 1979 album Off the Wall.
Members of the band Toto were the backing musicians for “The Girl Is Mine” with Dave Paich (acoustic piano), Jeff Porcaro (drums), Steve Lukather (drums), and Steve Porcaro (synthesizer programming). These members of Toto were used as backing musicians on several songs on Thriller. For instance, on the # 1 hit “Beat It”, the brilliant work of Jeff Porcaro on drums and Steve Lukather on both bass and lead guitar, as well as Steve Porcaro on synthesizers, gave the song the needed edge to transcend from pop stations onto mainstream rock stations around the country. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo on the track definitely created a buzz. As a result of working on “The Girl Is Mine”, two years later Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather would work with McCartney again on the Give My Regards to Broad Street soundtrack album. Steve Porcaro also wrote the song “Human Nature”.
On February 23, 1983, Toto swept the 25th Annual Grammy Awards with Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Producer of the Year for their Toto IV album. What is ironic is that one year later in 1984 Michael Jackson and Thriller dominated the Grammys in light of the fact that members of Toto were so prominent in the making of Thriller. Thriller’s main competition at the 1984 Grammys was Lionel Ritchie’s album Can’t Slow Down, which featured Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather on the # 7 hit “Running with the Night”.