Why the Beatles didn’t own their catalogue in the first place was unfortunate. Seeking to thwart the British tax collector, John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the 1960s formed Northern Songs, a public company, as the repository for the songs they wrote. The move backfired in 1969 when impresario Sir Lew Grade bought control of it on the open market through one of his companies, ATV Music. Seventeen years later, Australian Robert Holmes à Court acquired Grade’s crumbling entertainment empire.
And, inevitably, Holmes à Court, a notable among the era’s unsentimental raiders and plunderers of corporations, would put all or parts of it, including the Beatles, on the auction block.
In September 1984, Branca alerted Jackson, mentioning that ATV, a name the entertainer didn’t even recognize, was available. “It includes a few things you might be interested in,” Branca had teased Jackson, according to a 1985 report in the Los Angeles Times. “Northern Songs … Yeah, Mike … the Beatles.”
On Nov. 20, the lawyer telexed Holmes à Court, with a $46-million offer and a meeting request.
Garry Stiffelman, a Branca firm partner who handled pivotal details, described the ensuing months of negotiating and jockeying “the long and winding road,” the Times reported. There was the globe-spanning ordeal of verifying the authenticity all 4,000 songs in the catalogue, not just the Beatles’ 251.