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31 Years Ago: Eddie Van Halen Joins Michael Jackson on ‘Beat It’

Eddie Van Halen Michael Jackson
Hulton Archive / Larry Morano, Getty Images

Eddie Van Halen didn’t even get a mention on Michael Jackson’s mega-smash album ‘Thriller,’ which celebrates it’s 31 year anniversary today (Nov. 30), 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, ‘OK, 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. 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.

“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.)

Next: Top Van Halen Songs

Watch Eddie Van Halen and the Jacksons Perform ‘Beat It’ Live

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