How Eddie Van Halen Crafted One of Michael Jackson’s Biggest Hits

Alan Light, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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It’s impossible to calculate the importance of six-string slinger Eddie Van Halen’s contributions to the world of rock and roll.

His frantic, superhuman ability to solo and an extraordinary knack for melodic arrangements not only cemented his place at the top of the Guitar God pantheon but made him one of the principal songwriters of his time. 

While we all know about the work he put into his family band and his guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s mega-hit single “Beat It” is the stuff of legend, Eddie Van Halen’s role in crafting that song with the King Of Pop has been massively understated.

In an interview with CNN back in 2012, the supreme axeman revealed his level of involvement in the creation of the iconic track as well as how Michael Jackson reacted to the song after he put his golden touch on it.

Summoned by celebrated producer Quincy Jones, Van Halen initially thought he was on the receiving end of a crank call when he was asked if he would be interested in playing on one of Jackson’s records. Apprehensive about the validity of the offer, he told Jones that they could meet at the studio and see what happened.

Eddie was shocked when he got to the destination and saw that Jones and Jackson were really waiting for him. Although unprepared for this particular session, there was neve a moment in his life when Van Halen wasn’t ready to make some music.

He told CNN: “Michael left to go across the hall to do some children’s speaking record. I think it was ‘E.T.’ or something. So I asked Quincy, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he goes, ‘Whatever you want to do.’ And I go, ‘Be careful when you say that. If you know anything about me, be careful when you say, ‘Do anything you want!'” 

True to his reputation, Van Halen asked if he could change around some parts on “Beat It.”

With the blessings of Quincy Jones, he had the engineers shift a couple of simple pieces around on the tape. After that 10-minute process, Van Halen laid down two solos before Michael Jackson returned.

Nervous about how Jackson would react to the changes, Van Halen told him about them upfront. They listened to the track, and according to Van Halen the response from Jackson was: “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.”

An hour later, Eddie’s work was complete. He was paid in two cases of beer.

“I don’t even think I’m credited on the record. It just says, ‘Guitar solo: Question Mark’ or Guitar solo: Frankenstein,'” Van Halen said.