Bring back some good or bad memories


December 4, 2021

Photographs of Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen Playing “Beat It” at Texas Stadium in Dallas, 1984

“Beat It” is a song by Michael Jackson from his sixth studio album, Thriller (1982). It was written by Jackson and produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones. Jones encouraged Jackson to include a rock song on the album. Jackson later said: “I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song... and I wanted the children to really enjoy it—the school children as well as the college students.” It includes a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen.

And while Van Halen didn’t appear in the track’s successful video, he did join Michael once more to play “Beat It” on an early stop on The Jacksons’ Victory Tour at Texas Stadium in Dallas on July 14, 1984.

When initially contacted by Jones, Van Halen thought he was receiving a prank call. “I went off on him. I went, ‘What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!,’” Van Halen told CNN in 2012. “And he goes, ‘Is this Eddie?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell do you want?’ ‘This is Quincy.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.’ He goes, ‘Quincy Jones, man.’ I went, ‘Ohhh, sorry!’”

Having established that the call was genuine, Van Halen used a Hartley–Thompson amplifier borrowed from guitarist Allan Holdsworth and recorded his guitar solo free of charge. “I did it as a favor,” the musician later said. “I was a complete fool, according to the rest of the band, our manager and everyone else. I was not used. I knew what I was doing—I don’t do something unless I want to do it.” Van Halen recorded his contribution following Jones and Jackson arriving at the guitarist’s house with a “skeleton version” of the song. Fellow guitarist Steve Lukather recalled, “Initially, we rocked it out as Eddie had played a good solo—but Quincy thought it was too tough. So I had to reduce the distorted guitar sound and that is what was released.”

Two versions of the solo were recorded. Van Halen reported in 2015 that he also rearranged the song and asked Jones to edit the chords so his solo could be in the key of E.

Van Halen worked for free, was not credited on the album and didn’t appear in the video. But his touch was undisguisable. After the record’s release, Van Halen would remember shopping in a Tower Records while “Beat It” was playing on the sound system. “The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That IS me!’ That was hilarious.”

Jackson’s “Beat It” has been cited as one of the most successful, recognized, awarded, and celebrated songs in the history of pop music; both the song and video had a large impact on pop culture. The song is said to be a “pioneer” in black rock music and is considered one of the cornerstones of the Thriller album. Eddie Van Halen has been praised for adding “the greatest guitar solo,” helping “Beat It” become one of the best-selling singles of all time.


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