Eddie Van Halen Guitar Solo on "Beat It"
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist of hard rock band Van Halen, was asked by Michael Jackson to add a guitar solo on his single "Beat It" from the Thriller Album. When initially contacted by Quincy Jones, Van Halen thought he was receiving a prank call. Having established that the call was genuine, while his bandmates were out of town, 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." Here is more detailed background on the story:
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.)
Right before Van Halen's guitar solo begins, a noise is heard that sounds like somebody knocking at a door. It is reported that the knock was a person walking into Eddie's recording studio. Another story has claimed that the sound was simply the musician knocking on his own guitar. The sound, however, is that of Jackson knocking on a drum case, as he is credited in the album's liner notes. Here is raw footage of Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen performing "Beat It" live in 1984:
The engineers were shocked during the recording of Van Halen's solo to discover that the sound of his guitar had caused the monitor speaker in the control room to catch fire, causing one to exclaim, "This must be really good." Jackson performed "Beat It" live with his brothers during The Jacksons' Victory Tour. On July 14, 1984, the brothers were joined on stage by Eddie Van Halen, who played the guitar in his solo spot. Here is more raw footage from their live performance:
The song became one of Jackson's signature songs; he performed it on all of his world tours: Bad, Dangerous and HIStory. The October 1, 1992 Dangerous Tour performance, including "Beat It", was included in the Michael Jackson. Jackson also performed the song on the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special, a concert celebrating the musician's thirtieth year as a solo performer. The performance featured Slash as the song's guest guitarist. Here is footage of Eddie Van Halen in an interview with Piers Morgan recounting the events and his relationship with Michael Jackson:
Michael 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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