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  1. Abbey Road (album)
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  60. Michelle
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  63. Nowhere man
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Northern Songs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Northern Songs Ltd. is a company founded in 1963 by music publisher Dick James and the Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney to publish Lennon and McCartney's original songs. (Beatles producer George Martin was offered a partnership in the company but turned it down, since his position at EMI made it a potential conflict of interest.)

Foundation and early history

Along with Lennon and McCartney's songs (published in the U.S. by Maclen Music, named for McCartney and Lennon), Northern Songs published George Harrison's early compositions, and Ringo Starr was also signed as a songwriter. Both Northern Songs and Maclen Music were administered by Dick James Music. When the initial contracts expired, Lennon and McCartney renewed, while Harrison instead started his own company, Harrisongs Ltd., and Starr his own, called Startling Music.

In a novel move, during 1965 it was decided to "take the company public" to save on capital gains tax, and Northern Songs was revamped as a public company, with Lennon and McCartney each owning 15%, Beatles manager Brian Epstein's company NEMS assigned 7.5%, Dick James and partner Charles Silver (who served as Northern Songs' chairman) retaining a total of 37.5%, and Harrison and Starr together owning about 1.6%. The rest traded on the London Stock Exchange.

Harrison wrote "Only A Northern Song", the title a play on the song's origins, to appear on their Sgt. Pepper album; the lyrics in part express his disappointment with his publishing contract and with the company's handling of his songs. The song was left out of the album, later appearing in the Beatles' animated feature, 1968's Yellow Submarine, and its soundtrack.

Early in 1969, James and his partner abruptly sold their shares in Northern Songs to Britain's Associated TeleVision (ATV); finding himself more and more at odds with Lennon and McCartney since Epstein's death, James gave them no notice or chance to buy him out. (Lennon learned of the sale from a morning newspaper during his honeymoon with Yoko Ono, and immediately called McCartney.) ATV was also able to buy up enough public shares to threaten a majority holding in Northern Songs.

Allen Klein attempted to set up a deal with ATV for Apple Corps to buy them out. This was spoiled by attorney John Eastman (McCartney's brother-in-law, and son of his future business manager Lee Eastman) sending a letter to ATV informing them that Klein wasn't authorised to act on Apple's behalf. (This was technically true, but he was the de facto manager for Lennon, Harrison and Starr, and also had McCartney's verbal go-ahead for the deal.) ATV backed out rather than risk being pulled into litigation.

Next, a block of investors who owned a small but crucial percentage of shares was lobbied by both sides to sell out or otherwise cooperate with them to ultimately take control of Northern Songs. During negotiations, Lennon made an understandable, but ill-timed and poorly-worded, comment expressing his disdain for businessmen trying to influence his creative output — "I'm sick to death of being fucked about by men in suits sitting on their fat arses in the City!" — which threw the investors to ATV's side.

Under their publishing contract with Northern Songs, Lennon and McCartney were legally bound to continue their songwriting until 1973. The simplest way out, if they couldn't gain control, was to also sell out to ATV, while keeping the writer's royalties from their contracted songs. Lennon and McCartney sold their stock (Lennon his 15%, McCartney's portion slightly higher, since he himself bought additional shares) in October 1969 for £3.5 million. Harrison and Starr chose to keep their shares.

Later history

ATV held its controlling interest in Northern Songs until 1985, when ATV Music went up for sale. Outbidding McCartney (who'd tried unsuccessfully to persuade Ono to join him) was singer Michael Jackson, whose recent friendship and collaboration with McCartney ended suddenly as a result. It turned out Ono had actually encouraged Jackson to buy the shares, telling the press after the sale, "I just feel like a friend has them." When asked how he felt about having Jackson as his "boss," as controller of the song catalog, McCartney replied, "I think he needs to give me a raise." (None of the Beatles' royalty rates as composers had ever been increased, despite their continuing sales.) McCartney reportedly did ask Jackson for a royalty increase but was turned down, further cooling their relationship.

In 1995, Jackson, undergoing financial trouble, merged his catalog with Sony Music's publishing, for a reported $95 million, establishing Sony/ATV Music Publishing. He later used his remaining half as collateral to finance additional debt. As of 2005, there is a chance that his remainder may go on sale. George Harrison's estate has also begun legal action to recover a large amount of unpaid (or underpaid) songwriter's royalties. McCartney's MPL Communications, meanwhile, has bought up or secured publishing rights to several early Beatles songs not published by Northern Songs, including "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You".


  • Shout! The Beatles in their Generation, by Philip Norman (Warner Books, 1982)
  • John Lennon: One Day at a Time, by Anthony Fawcett (Grove Press, 1976)
  • The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the Beatles, by Peter Brown (McGraw-Hill, 1983)


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