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The History of Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar Solo on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’

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Eddie Van Halen didn’t even get a mention on Michael Jackson‘s mega-smash album Thriller, which was released on Nov. 30, 1982, despite having a heavy hand in the success of the third radio single. The guitarist says he did the solo on “Beat It” for free — and even wound up re-arranging the song while Jackson was out of the room.

In an 2012 interview with CNN, Van Halen recalls producer Quincy Jones calling him up and asking him to come play during a break in the Van Halen touring schedule. Jones told him to do what ever he wanted. “I listened to the song, and I immediately go, ‘Can I change some parts?’,” he says.

“I turned to the engineer and I go, ‘Okay, from the breakdown, chop in this part, go to this piece, pre-chorus, to the chorus, out.’ Took him maybe 10 minutes to put it together. And I proceeded to improvise two solos over it.”

Jackson loved the changes, and loved that the guitarist cared enough to worry about more than just his parts in the song. Van Halen wasn’t credited on the album. In fact, he recalls standing in line at Tower Records when “Beat It” started playing, and some kids were critical of the track.

“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.’ I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That is me!’ That was hilarious.”

The legendary guitarist goes on to say, “I have a lot of respect for Michael. He’s going to be sorely missed. I’d be curious as to what he’d be doing right now.” (Note: You can read a much longer version of this interview at the Van Halen News Desk.)

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