The Time Edward Van Halen And Michael Jackson “Thrilled” The Music World
The King of Pop Michael Jackson and The King of Ten Fingers and Six Strings Edward Van Halen. Two musical superheroes who joined forces to tell all the doubters to "Beat It".
Thirty six years ago this weekend - November 30th, 1982 - Michael Jackson released his groundbreaking pop masterpiece "Thriller". It was an album designed to thrill the senses, break down barriers and destroy every chart and sales record that ever existed. To accomplish that Jackson and producer Quincy Jones knew they couldn't make just another pop album. They had to take some risks. With that in mind Jones made a call to Edward Van Halen in the summer of 1982 in an attempt to add some edge to a rock track he and Jackson had developed called "Beat It". The first challenge was to convince Van Halen that he was actually Quincy Jones and not an imposter.
"I went off on him," Van Halen told CNN in a 2012 interview. "I went, 'What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!' 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!" (Laughs) I asked, 'What can I do for you?' And he said, 'How would you like to come down and play on Michael Jackson's new record?' And I'm thinking to myself, 'OK, 'ABC, 1, 2, 3' and me. How's that going to work?' I still wasn't 100% sure it was him. I said, 'I'll tell you what. I'll meet you at your studio tomorrow.' And lo and behold, when I get there, there's Quincy, there's Michael Jackson and there's engineers. They're makin' records!"
With his band-mates nowhere nearby to steer him away from the idea, Van Halen decided to do it. He did it as a favor to Jones and figured no one would even care let alone know about it.
"I don't even think I'm credited on the record," Van Halen said. "It just says, 'Guitar solo: Question Mark' or 'Guitar solo: Frankenstein' (the name of his guitar). I said to myself, 'Who is going to know that I played on this kid's record, right? Nobody's going to find out.' Wrong! Big-time wrong. It ended up being Record of the Year."
After finally settling in at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles Van Halen re-arranged and re-worked the song without Jackson knowing. He then grabbed his guitar and improvised two solos.
"I was just finishing the second solo when Michael walked in," said Van Halen. "And you know artists are kind of crazy people. We're all a little bit strange. I didn't know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, 'Look, I changed the middle section of your song.' Now in my mind, he's either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he's going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, 'Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better. He was this musical genius with this childlike innocence. He was such a professional, and such a sweetheart."
Let's listen to Van Halen's isolated solo from "Beat It":
And now the completed song which also features the guitar work of Toto's Steve Lukather:
In the summer of 1984 Van Halen joined Jackson and The Jackson Five in concert in Dallas, Texas to perform the song live:
So there you have it. Edward Van Halen's scorching guitar solo on a classic MTV-era Michael Jackson pop classic. You just can't "Beat It".