Jackson first became famous as the lead singer of the r&b group the Jackson 5. The group's first single, released toward the end of 1969, was "I Want You Back," which became a #1 hit in 1970. The enthusiasm of the group brought almost inevitable comparisons with the Beatles and the songs "ABC" and "The Love You Save," each followed a Beatles single ("Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road") as the #1 single in America.
While Jackson had been acquainted with both Paul McCartney and George Harrison in the late '70s (a radio show featured both Jackson and Harrison as guests in a 1979 episode) Jackson's formal connection with the Beatles began in 1981 when he and McCartney began recording a few duets together: "The Girl Is Mine," "Say Say Say" and "The Man," the former on Jackson's Thriller in 1982 album and the later two on McCartney's Pipes of Peace album in 1983.
Early publicity material suggested that "The Girl Is Mine" was to be the big hit on the forthcoming Thriller album but while the single was commercially successful, it was met with critical dismissal. Subsequently, singles such as "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" topped the charts and Thriller became the biggest album of all time, catapulting Jackson to heights of fame not seen since the Beatles.
In 1984, Jackson purchased the rights to The Beatles' songs, which were put up for auction by Sir Lew Grade. While Paul McCartney encouraged Jackson to look into song publishing as a source of revenue (Jackson and his brother Randy — not to be confused with the Randy Jackson of American Idol fame — had published their own music but never considered buying music from other writers) the purchase caused a rift between the two stars. McCartney described the Jackson purchase as "dodgy," and criticized choices Jackson made regarding the songs' use in commercials and not giving McCartney and the estate of John Lennon an increase in his royalty rate for their songs.
During the period during which Jackson owned the Beatles' songs, he released only one recording of a Lennon/McCartney song: "Come Together," which was first used in his direct-to-video release Moonwalker (in which Sean Lennon has a role) and later ended up on the compilation HIStory: the Past Present and Future: Book 1. A series of deals with Sony Music left the Beatles songs ultimately in the hands of the conglomerate.
Jackson died in 2009 after his personal doctor accidentally injected him with an overdose of propofol. McCartney bid tribute to Jackson on his websites insisting that while they drifted apart, they never really had a falling out as some interpreted.