When Eddie Van Halen Served as Michael Jackson’s Secret Sideman
Eddie Van Halen played an important role in the success of "Beat It" from Michael Jackson's Thriller. When the mega-smash album arrived on Nov. 30, 1982, however, Van Halen discovered that he wasn't mentioned.
He said he did the solo on the project's third radio single for free, and even wound up arranging the chords underneath his solo while Jackson was out of the room.
Producer Quincy Jones initially reached out, asking the guitarist 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," Van Halen told CNN in 2012, "and I immediately go, 'Can I change some parts?' 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."
Watch Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen Perform 'Beat It' Live
Jackson loved the changes, and appreciated that he cared enough to worry about more than just his parts in the song. Still, the guitarist wasn't credited on the album.
Van Halen 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."
Van Halen also paid tribute to Jackson, who died in 2009. "I have a lot of respect for Michael," he said, via Van Halen News Desk. "He's going to be sorely missed. I'd be curious as to what he'd be doing right now."