Chart Beat

Chart Rewind: In 1983, Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney Thrilled With 'The Girl Is Mine'

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
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Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

The superstar combination scored the first of two hit duets with the lead single from Jackson's "Thriller" album.

Lightning struck twice for Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney in 1983, a year in which the two pop icons achieved the rare feat of scoring not one, but two hit duets in a little more than a year -- with the first, "The Girl Is Mine," rocketing to its No. 2 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 on Jan. 8, 1983.

The collaboration between the titans -- one, a leading force behind the most successful group in history, and the other, soon to be his era's biggest solo performer -- came about as the song's producer, Quincy Jones, told Billboard in 2009, simply because "Michael and I just wanted to work with Paul." According to McCartney, Jackson rang up the former Beatle and, after McCartney believed he was being pranked and hung up, was able to present a simple pitch, "You want to make some hits?" Jones suggested the song's subject of two men squabbling over a woman, and Jackson, who was 24 at the time, wrote the tune while watching cartoons with McCartney, then 40.

Thanks in part to its double dose of star, "Girl" served as the lead single from Jackson's opus Thriller. The soft, playful duet debuted at No. 45 on Nov. 6, 1982, and crested to its runner-up peak nine weeks later, where it remained for three weeks, trapped behind Hall and Oates' "Maneater" for the first frame and Men at Work's "Down Under" for the next pair.

Still, the duet gave Thriller its initial hit, and when "Girl" exited the Hot 100 on March 5, 1983, the album's second single "Billie Jean" had accelerated the momentum as it reached No. 1 the same week, and that smash, along with follow-up "Beat It," catalyzed Thriller's legendary run. The album has been certified 33-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) – the second-best total of all time and highest for any solo artist's album.

Despite "Girl" just missing the top slot, Jackson and McCartney captured the prize with their next release, "Say Say Say." Riding on Thriller's buzz and with a music video to promote it (unlike "Girl") this second duet entered the Hot 100 at No. 26, a career-highest debut for any of McCartney or Jackson's solo material at the time. Like its predecessor, "Say," too, counted three weeks at No. 2, but finally ascended to No. 1 on Dec. 10, 1983, where it began a six-week command. This time, though, the pairing introduced a McCartney project, his Pipes of Peace album, which also includes a third Jackson-McCartney duet, "The Man."

Despite the chemistry in the studio and proven success on the charts, the pop stars' relationship began to deteriorate in 1985 after Jackson acquired the ATV Music Publishing catalog, which included rights to many of The Beatles' songs written by McCartney and John Lennon. Among the many bidders that Jackson beat was McCartney himself, who, ironically, had counseled Jackson on the value of owning publishing rights during their writing and recording sessions.

The two never collaborated again, but McCartney, who still tours and records, had only kind words to say when Jackson died suddenly in 2009 at the age of 50 due to a fatal combination of medications in his system. "He was a massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul," said McCartney. "His music will be remembered forever, and my memories of our time together will be happy ones."

A version of this story first appeared in the Billboard issue dated Jan. 14, 2017.