MJ Studies Today LXXX

Abstract: In this month’s MJ Studies Today column (our 80th edition), Kerry Hennigan looks at the saga of the so-called “Cascio tracks” – three tracks on the first posthumously released Michael Jackson album, “Michael.” These tracks are claimed to have “questionable” lead vocals, according to members of the pop icon’s own family and some of his fans. The controversy has raged since the album’s release back in 2010 and has only recently been resolved with the removal of the tracks from digital music platforms.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and MJ blogger. Student of Ancient History, Archaeology and Anthropology.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXX: The curious matter of the disappearing tracks from Michael Jackson’s first posthumously released album” (14-8-2022). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 9, No. 1 (2022). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxx/

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The curious matter of the disappearing tracks from Michael Jackson’s first posthumously released album.  By Kerry Hennigan

Photo montage © Kerry Hennigan

The first posthumously released Michael Jackson album, titled simply “Michael,” was released in December 2010, and has been the subject of controversy ever since. Some fans disagreed with any material being released that Michael was not able to complete to his own exacting standards. Others wanted to hear whatever the pop icon had recorded which they hadn’t heard before, in other words “new” Michael Jackson music even if only demos. However, the choice of a track written by Jackson with Eddie Cascio and James Porte called “Breaking News” as the initial single from the album, immediately sounded alarm bells for those who had a good ear for detecting Jackson’s vocals compared to those of an impersonator. “Breaking News,” they said, didn’t sound like Michael Jackson. What’s more, on the album’s release, there were two other tracks originating from the same source that also raised strong reactions, “Keep your head up,” and “Monster.”

It became a controversy that caused rifts in fan clubs and online forums. It was not the first time something like this had happened. Ever since Jackson’s death, fans had found themselves on different sides of important matters relating to his passing, to the handling of his estate, and to new official projects. The release of the “Michael” album just drove a deeper wedge between an already existing divide in some fan communities. Those determined to unmask the imposter tracks could cite Jackson family members and some of the singer’s close musical collaborators as sharing their views on the “bogus” vocals. Taryll Jackson, nephew of Michael, posted on social media that he had been in the studio when the “questionable files” were delivered. “I heard these ‘so-called’ Michael Jackson songs raw and without the distraction of the well-produced music by Teddy Riley,” he wrote. “How they constructed these songs is very sneaky and sly.” [1]

For some of us, the controversy was an annoying distraction from the album’s otherwise excellent (legitimate) material, like “Hold My Hand,” “Hollywood Tonight,” “Behind the Mask” and “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day” featuring Lenny Kravitz, to name my personal favourites. Maybe I wasn’t happy with the album cover art, in which the central portrait of Michael was from the Thriller era, when I would have preferred something from the era of his solo world tours, or as he was in his final photo shoots (i.e. for L’Omo Vogue and Ebony magazines) or from “This Is It.” But that was just me, and it was the music that counted. And I loved most of the music, and Teddy Riley’s production of it.

You’ll note none of the so-called Cascio tracks is in my list of favourites; genuine or not, they were just not strong enough, with the exception, I thought, of “Monster” which seemed to fit with Michael’s other gothic pop offerings as per “Thriller,” “Ghosts,” “Is It Scary” and “Threatened.” Interestingly though, “Monster” was no-where to be seen or heard on the animated TV special “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” (2017) nor was it on the “Scream” compilation album which contained tracks featured in the special and more. It was the perfect opportunity for that kind of song – unless Michael hadn’t actually recorded it. Perhaps that was something of a giveaway that the “fake vocals” fraternity were, indeed, on the right track. [2]

Fast forward to June 2022 and all three Cascio tracks disappeared from most streaming platforms, purportedly because: “The Estate and Sony Music believe the continuing conversation about the tracks is distracting the fan community and casual Michael Jackson listeners from focusing their attention where it should be, on Michael’s legendary and deep music catalogue.” [3] Instead I suspect they would prefer fans to focus on more recent official projects, such as the Broadway musical, MJ: The Musical, which has been a great success as a show and in particular for its young star, Myles Frost, and the forthcoming biopic which has long been rumoured (and now officially announced) plus the upcoming Thriller 40th anniversary celebrations. [4]

Michael Jackson’s primary medium of communicating his art and message was his voice. When you bought a Jackson album or single you were only getting his voice, the rest you had to imagine or wait to see him perform in a film clip, on a TV show or, if you were lucky, live on stage. There you were witness to his skills as a dancer and a master showman – skills he retained right up to and including “This Is It,” in which we saw the artist educating others on how to get the best out of a performance. He wanted the live songs to sound just like the recordings, and the most unique aspect of those recordings was Jackson’s voice.

That being the case, it is reasonable to expect those who have waged campaigns to have the “Cascio tracks” removed from the “Michael” album should feel considerable satisfaction at the recent developments. Those of us who really didn’t know any better can only tip our fedoras to them for their persistence, which has included a protracted court case that commenced back in 2014. Jackson fan Vera Serova brought a class action against Cascio and Porte, the Michael Jackson Estate and Sony Music which, by May 2022, had reached the Supreme Court. Its ruling on the matter is still pending.

Then, on 10 August 2022, it was announced that the parties involved in the case had settled the matter following the removal of the tracks from streaming platforms. A report in Billboard magazine quoted from a statement issued by Sony and the Estate which said, “Regardless of how the Supreme Court may rule, the parties to the lawsuit mutually decided to end the litigation, which would have potentially included additional appeals and a lengthy trial court process.” Removal of the songs was described as “the simplest and best way to move beyond the conversation associated with these tracks once and for all.” [5] The settling of the dispute does not, however, resolve the matter of the authenticity or otherwise of the vocals on the songs in question.

The Michael Jackson Estate has itself divided fandom, with some fans avoiding all official projects sanctioned by the Estate. I’m not a supporter of the blanket boycott; my two brief meetings with Estate personnel have been very cordial, perhaps because they occurred at events that genuinely celebrated Michael. However, it is conceded that there has been a disconnect between the fanbase and the Estate when it comes to what many of us want to see and hear in terms of official projects (and we certainly don’t all agree on what those should be). Email responses from members of the Estate’s “Online team” to queries or concerns have also left some fans feeling like their suggestions or opinions on projects are less than welcomed.

While the Broadway musical and a biopic may – and hopefully will – attract many new fans for the real Michael Jackson, for some of us only the real Michael will do. That very attitude is surely responsible for the removal of the “Cascio tracks” from digital platforms and the reissuing of the “Michael” CD without the offending tracks. [6]


[1] Taryll Jackson @Taryll on TwitLonger http://www.twitlonger.com/show/6s3qs2 published 8 Nov 2010.

[2] Wikipedia entry for Michael Jackson’s Halloween animated TV special https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Jackson%27s_Halloween

[3] American Songwriter. https://americansongwriter.com/3-michael-jackson-songs-removed-from-streaming-platforms-amid-claims-he-never-sang-them/ published electronically 2022.

[4] Smooth Radio article contains details of official statement. https://www.smoothradio.com/artists/michael-jackson/fake-vocals-spotify-jason-malachi/ published electronically 7 July 2022.

[5] Donahue, Bill. “Michael Jackson Estate & Sony Settle Lawsuit Over Fake Vocals Controversy.” https://www.billboard.com/pro/michael-jackson-sony-music-fake-vocals-lawsuit-settled/ published electronically 10 Aug 2022.

[6] Michael Jackson official online store (US): https://www.shopmichaeljackson.com/product/Y4CDMJ006/michael-jackson-michael-cd

Illustration: “Breaking News, Faking News, Making News…” collage by Kerry Hennigan using “Michael” album cover artwork by Kadir Nelson, and photograph of Michael Jackson by Matthew Rolston for Ebony magazine 2007. No infringement of original photographic or artistic copyright is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.