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Beat It by Michael Jackson

Album: ThrillerReleased: 1982Charted:
1
3
  • Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo. He did it as a favor for Quincy Jones and was not paid, unless you count the two 6-packs of beer Jones brought into the studio for Eddie.
  • Part of Jackson's legacy was his crossover success with white audiences, something that many Motown artists achieved, but Jackson took to a new level. He was the first black artist to get regular airplay on MTV, and this song helped expand his audience further by bringing in some of the Van Halen listeners. "Beat It" was a key track in Jackson's rise to superstardom.
  • Jackson wrote this song. He came up with it when his producer, Quincy Jones, encouraged him to write something like "My Sharona," which was a huge hit for The Knack in 1979. (this and the first Songfact are confirmed in Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones)
  • The lyrics are about life on the streets and gang activity, something Jackson was very detached from. He was schooled by tutors his whole life and became a star at a young age, so his interpretation of "two gangs coming together to rumble" was based on the celluloid interpretations that he'd seen, specifically West Side Story, which used gangs as musical art.

    West Side Story was a 1957 musical that was made into a popular movie in 1961. Starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, the film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Some of the first dialogue heard in the movie - in a scene where some gang members have encroached on rival territory - is the emphatic line, "beat it."
  • The lyric "Show me how funky and strong is your fight" is often misheard as something you can't say on the radio. That line also has the distinction of being misquoted on one of the most popular sitcoms of the era, when Mallory on Family Ties (Justine Bateman), when demonstrating her idea of good music to her hippie parents, sing, "Show me what's funky, show me what's right..."
  • About 2:45 into the song, there is an audible knocking noise just before Eddie Van Halen starts his guitar solo. Rumors were that an angry and drunk Eddie made the noise, that he was telling the assistant producer to f--k off, or that it was the sound of his guitar tremolo being bent. The truth is more mundane, as it was an intentional sound created by Michael Jackson banging on a drum case. On the Thriller credits, Jackson is listed on "Beat It" as "Drum Case Beater."
  • Michael Jackson is quoted in Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 songs issue as saying of this, "I wanted to write the type of rock song that I would go out and buy. But also something totally different from the rock music I was hearing on Top 40 radio."
  • This won 1983 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Rock Vocal Performance.
  • The music video for this song was one of the most popular and memorable of the MTV era. Jackson became the first black artist to get regular airplay on the network when "Billie Jean" went in rotation. When the clip for "Beat It" was delivered, both videos were in hot rotation for much of the summer of 1983.

    It was Bob Giraldi who directed the clip, which featured real gang members. Giraldi, who later directed the infamous Pepsi commercial where Jackson's hair caught fire, said in the book I Want My MTV: "Everybody says 'Beat It' was taken from West Side Story. It's not true. I had no idea what West Side Story was. My inspiration was the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, where I'm from. I listened to the song over and over, and realized it was about all the Italian hoodlums I grew up with - everybody trying to be tougher than they are, but really, we're all cowards at heart."

    Giraldi adds that Jackson asked to use members of the rival gangs Bloods and Crips as extras in the video, which they did. He says that on the first day of shooting, things got a little tense, so Giraldi had them shoot all scenes with the gang members on the first day.
  • When Jackson reunited with his brothers for two shows at Madison Square Garden, Slash from Guns N' Roses played guitar during the performance of this and "Black And White."
  • Weird Al Yankovic did a parody of this song called "Eat It." Rick Derringer played the guitar solo on his version.

    Yankovic also did a video for his song where he appeared dressed like Jackson but with a voracious appetite. Yankovic says that Michael Jackson had a great sense of humor and gave him permission to do the parody. This gave him validation with other artists who had a hard time declining a parody when Michael Jackson said yes.
  • Members of the group Toto played on this, including Steve Lukather on lead guitar. They helped out with the Thriller album. (thanks, Dias - Sao Paulo, Brazil)
  • The US Department of Transportation used this in messages to discourage drunk driving. In exchange, Jackson was invited to the White House where he met President Reagan. Jackson showed up in his sequined suit and sunglasses, which made for an interesting photo with the president.
  • Fall Out Boy recorded this in 2008 for their album ****: Live in Phoenix. Their version, which hit #19 in the US, was first performed this during the 2007 MTV Music Video Awards. Excluding tracks that sample any of Michael Jackson's songs, it became the second highest-charting remake of a Jackson song in Hot 100 history. The highest-ranked cover of a Jackson original was SWV's 1993 medley of "Right Here/Human Nature," which peaked at #2. In this cover of "Beat It," John Mayer joined Fall Out Boy, performing Eddie Van Halen's part on lead guitar. Fall Out Boy released a video for the song that contained many allusions to Michael Jackson and the original video.
  • Quincy Jones said that when he called Eddie Van Halen to play the guitar solo, "I said, 'I'm not going to tell you what to play, the reason you're here is because of what you do play…' So that's what he did. He played his ass off."
  • Eddie Van Halen recalled: "Everybody (from Van Halen) was out of town and I figured, 'who's gonna know if I play on this kid's record?' I didn't want nothing. Maybe Michael will give me dance lessons someday." (Source of above two quotes Q magazine August 2009).
  • This was featured in the 1989 film Back To The Future 2.
  • According to Jackson's co-songwriter Rod Templeton, a mystery blaze broke out in the control room as Eddie van Halen played his guitar solo. "Eddie was playing and the monitor speakers literally caught on fire," recalled Templeton to Q magazine. "The speaker caught fire and were all thinking, like, 'This must be really good, this solo!' That technicians had to race into the control room with fire extinguishers and put it out."
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Comments: 63

An ideal anthem for the non violent movement !
Although the lyrics were aimed at the avoidance of gang fights, it could be expanded to cover many areas as well such as the avoidance of getting into arguments and quarrels or maybe even war
"It doesn't matter whose wrong or right just get out of it !"
Kudos Mike !
Adrian - Johor Bahru, Malaysia
2 Grammys for Billie Jean and for Beat it, and Total 8. Jackson rocked the 1984 Grammys. A record.Kunal Somaiya - Mumbai, India
Alvin From The Alvin And The Chipmunks Danced With Him
On Rockin' With The Chipmunks In 1990!
Cory Stoczynski - Lancaster, Ny
The knocking sound was covered in the May 1984 issue of Rolling Stone. Steve Templeman, VH producer at the time was PO'd that Eddie had volunteered his time for free without consulting anyone. They actually got in a fight in the studio, and the tech kept the tape rolling. You can actually hear Eddie say "F#ck off" right before he starts his solo.Johnny D - La, Bermuda
Pablo Ferro was the Supervising Editor on this landmark video, for which he received the nomination for "Best Editor"during the AVA awards.
http://www.pabloferro.net
Allen - New York, Ca
My favorite Micheal Jackson song. And normally I hate this music! There's a reason Thriller was the best-selling album EVER!!Squigle - Columbus, Oh
I first heard this gond on guitar hero world tour. then at one of my soccer games they played this.(it was at perry to)Nathan - Warsaw, Ny
One of my favorite Michael Jackson songs, He turned 51 in heaven. RIP-King of Pop.Jennifer Harris - Grand Blanc, Mi
......by the way, Michael played the drums himself on this song......Abdullaah - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Hi Guys....the knocking sound we hear just before the EVH solo is NOT the sound of a door being knocked....IT IS the sound of Eddie's Tremolo being pushed all the way down making the strings bent loose...& as he springs@pulls the tremolo up slowly & skillfully, therefore making the strings turn from being loose to becoming tighter thus this effect produces that fascinating & cool knocking sound just before Eddie's Iconic solo.....try putting on a set of headphones & listen to it carefully, u can hear the tremolo arm bending & eddie's finger's slide upon the fretboard crystally clear...i am a guitar player & you can ask any pro guitar player & they will explain to you this.... this technique is very skillfully played by Eddie & needs much practice & u can hear this played by many Heavy Metal Guitar players such as Kirk Hammet, Marty Friedman, Akira Takasaki, Dan Spitz, Buckethead etc.... for this unique sound it is best played with a Floyd Rose Tremolo type.... R.I.P. King Of PopAbdullaah - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
try listening to the solo with headphones, the sound of the tremolo & eddie's fingers sliding on the fret board are crystal clear.....cool solo....Abdullaah - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Maybe its just me...But i thought the knocking was intentional...Really...Because if u pay attention to the first notes he hits...Its sounds like an old door opening, meaning there would b knocking before it...Kind of hinting to the people that..."hey, eddie's in the room...Im bout to turn this bad boi out!!!" (and showing of skills too)...Kind of an intro to a perfect solo...Jus my theory.Marcus - Aberdeen, Ms
I remember an interview about this song in which MJ told the story that The Gang members used were the famed LA CRIPS AND BLOODS. Michael convinced them to put down thier differences and do the video. They did not get paid and they did not get credit for community service.
In addition, In the 80's, the studio rooms were not as sophistically build as they are today. Some of the materials used for soundproofing today were not even created yet. The audible knock, (listen for it) is there and if Quincy JOnes said that is what happened--that is what happened.
Cathe - Los Angeles, Ca
Actual gang members were used in the video - it was part of their probation or community service agreements.Linc - Beaumont, Tx
This is a very good song! The guitar solo rocks!Emily - Toronto, On
I also find the "knocking on the door" thing hard to beleive. Most studio doors are thinkly padded for soundproofing purposes and dont sound like plywood.

Plus, most of these microphones capture sound in a set pattern. For example cardoid mics will capture sound from an area the size of a basketball. So a knock on the door would not be audible.

Lastly, any dope who'd be around would notice a red "ON AIR" lighted sign if they were recording (or something similar).

I think this is just an urban legend.
Karlitos - Ottawa, On
Sorry sly. You should check your facts before saying: This is the true story about Beat It. Yes, it was written by Michael Jackson. Steve Lukather played on the album and did some arranging but did not write Beat It. All you have to do is check the album credits. And where'd you get all the BS about Eddie being drunk? Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But to say "That's the reason Eddie can never play that exact same solo again" is crap. Of course he can! Just go to YouTube to see many amateur guitar players playing the same solo. P.S. Eddie Rules!!Jeff - Concord, Ca
Great choreography, killer guitar solo.Theresa - Murfreesboro, Tn
Not mentioned in here, I remember hearing that some actual gangmembers were used in Michael's video for this songRoberta - Carleton, Mi
Someone "knocking on the studio door" before EVH's solo??
Not.
It is deliberate percussion. It is on the beat.
Also, the final EVH solo is an edit of several different solos. Notice the gaps between phrases.
Matt - York, Va
i dont really listen to him but i like this song cause Van Halen did an awesome job on guitarXavier - Santa Fe, Nm
The solo rules!! But don't get me wrong, the rest of the song is great, and now the king of pop is dead. It's a shame that people only acknowledge his estranged lifestyle and make more jokes rather than look back on the life he had musically.Nick - Cairns, Australia
there is a knocking noise just before Eddie Van Halen starts his guitar solo .. that is EVH giving the signal to punch-in and that he will begin playing the soloGuitarhero - San Fran, Ca
I heard this song on the radio minutes after I heard the news of Micheal Jackson's death. Since it was in honour of him, I thought it might be appropriate to recognize him on songfacts in the comments of this song. Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop", died on June 25th 2009. Born in 1958, he was 50 years old. We'll miss you!Emily - Around Chicago, Il
Guitar World magazine named this solo "best of the decade". In an interview for the same magazine Eddie Van Halen stated that originally the piece of music just before the solo, the heavy staccato rhythm mainly on an E chord, played by Steve Lukather, was the planned backing for the solo. But Eddie found this too bland and uninspiring so suggested he solo over the verse music. Eddie was apparently very pleased with the solo and the song, but was hassled by David Lee Roth (Van Halen singer) for it, who said he was an idiot for not getting paid.A.c. - Auckland, New Zealand
This the true story about beat it.It was never written by Michael Jackson it was written by Steve Lukather and the guitar solo was done by Eddie Van Halen he did it as a favour to Steve not Quincy.Now here the good part Eddie Van Halen was drunk when he did the solo for Beat it.They just gave him a guitar and he didnt know he was been recorded.You see even the solo was supposed to be done by Steve but he sound wasnt just quite right so he called on Eddie.Now Eddie was drunk so when the song played for the first time on radio Eddie didnt even know it was him playing the solo.Thats the reason Eddie can never play that exact same solo again.Sly - Durban, South Africa
Micheal was awarded Billboards #1 album of 1983 & 1984 for "thriller".Quite an accomplishment!Austyn - Racine, Western Sahara
Eddie Van Halen's solo is incredible in this song. That's the only reason that half the people who like this song like it!! I just don't see how anyone could like this song for anything but the solo. EVH deserves more credit on this song than Michael Jackson if you ask me, considering he is pretty much the one who made it a hit. I think that Michael Jackson was a little on the ??? side anyway, if you know what i mean. But that's just my opinion...Sam - Lexington , Ky
the best memory for me with this song is the walk-off scene in the movie "Zoolander". it is quite possibly the best scene in that hilarious movie.Cynthia - Scranton, Pa
When Quincy Jones called Eddie Van Halen to play the guitar solo on this song, Eddie thought it was a joke and said "who is this asshole?". After the song hit, Quincy sent Eddie a thank you note and signed it as "the asshole".John - Nashville, Tn
I like this song because I'm a major Van Halen fan, even though I'm only a teenager.Jake - Columbia City, In
this song was also featured in the movie Undercover Brother during a fight sceneMatt - Nyc, Ny
a question for Jackson experts: what is the name of the "disco clappers" MJ plays on this song, the only instrument he played on the album, as he also played on "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney?John - Brisbane, Australia
"About 2:45 into the song, there is an audible knocking noise just before Eddie Van Halen starts his guitar solo. This noise is the result of a technician accidentally knocking on the studio door, as he didn't realize the take had started...". i find this a bit hard to believe..John - Brisbane, Australia
Although Michael Jackson has been called the "King of Pop", this song sounds more metal to me than pop to me.Jason - Denver, Co
i think that this song is great it is so kool and forget all hatersCristina - Long Beach, Ca
i am not a fan of fall out boy but their cover of this is pretty good! not as good as michael though. john mayer plays guitar in the coverJoe - Gallipolis, Oh
that knocking on Beat It has been bothering me for years - now i have closure (if its true) i even asked Steve Lukather (Toto) he explains on his website he actually did most of the production not QJ, however but he didn't reply. He would be the one who could definitively answer the question i suppose.Rob - Bingham, Nm
My fav guitar solo!!!!!!! And fav Michael Jackson songAllox - Qld, Australia
Is the story true about a technician knocking on the door of the studio, unaware that Eddie had started doing his take. You can hear the knocking sound just before the guitar solo starts.Heather - Birmingham, United Kingdom
Wow! MJ and Eddie Van Halen in one song. awesome!Andrew - Bartlett, Tn
Michael Jackson's jacket is so cool! I want one. This was also way before the time that he freaked out and turned "white". Not cool anymore. But the video is super cool, too.Max - Laconia, Nh
wow one take for the solo. Respect...Defy - Wellington, New Zealand
It is said that Van Halen solo was done in just one take!Stratis - Brighton, England
This song was based on the movie West Side Story (early 1960's), which was based on the Broadway play. The "fight scene" between the Jets and Sharks is somewhat similar to the dancing in the video.

Anyway, the very first words spoken in that movie are "Beat it".
Mike - Chicago, Ia
Actually, I don't care how he look. If he still write good songs (like this)it doesn't matter. But after Dangerous, he haven't written any good song. Hope his next album will be better with some more pop/rock songs.Fredrik - Umeå, Sweden
The reason Jackson was the first black artist on regular airplay on MTV is because the only people making videos at the time were a handfull of British new wave bands. It wasn't until after MTV that artists saw value in making videos.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
What is it with people bringing up the race issue and Michael Jackson? I mean, did anybody ever *not* like Michael because he's black? Because he's not exactly black anymore... And he's darn talented.Rachel - South Point, Oh
One of the best songs of the 80's. Why couldn't Jackson have left his face as it was at this point in time?Steve - Fenton, Mo
THis song is bomb!!! But the only problem is the faggy lyrics!!! But the solo makes up

White Power!!!!!!!!!!
Eric - Phx, Az
When I first heard this song, I thought it was about a guy telling off someone, but when I read the lyrics, it sounds almost verbatim what my elementary guidance school counselor told my class: don't fight, just walk away. I still like this song, though.Grace - Fairfax Station, Va
i like this song because its my favorite song. and its judging. because it tells you if you are going to be bad then you should beat it somewhere else. and playing truth or dare they are going to beat and kick you and tell you its fair so beat it. and thats what i like about michael jackson.Sarah Floyd - Bloomingdale, Il
michael jackson still wrote it so whether or not eddie had a big part in the song...its still michael jackson's when it comes down to it.Jeanette - Irvine, Ca
This is one of Michael Jackson's best hits!Brently - Los Molinos, Ca
I'm sorry Craig, but in my vinyl copy of "Thriller," in the musician's credits for "Beat It," it clearly says, "Featuring: Guitar Solo by Eddie Van Halen." And it's mentioned before all the other musicians credited on this song.Elson - Los Angeles, Ca
Yes Michael Jackson was the man back in the 1980s, he did have a good voice but now he is just a so-so musician.Stephanie - Denver, Co
It's more of Michael's song than Eddie's. If Black Sabbath fans listen to it just because of the guitar solo, then that's stupid. It's still Michael Jackson, and yet some people act like Eddie owns the song.Aj - Cleveland, Ga
Although Eddie Van Halen did play the guitar in this song, this is not mentioned on the Thriller album. Eddie just doesn't get enough credit, he is an amazing guitaristCraig - Guildford, England
Eddie is a God!Peter - Montrose, Dc
Putting Beat It on Thriller was an amazing desicion. Remains a rock/pop classic till this day. It's Michael's diversity as a musician what makes him so unique and great. I have friends that are Black Sabbath fans, that listen to Jackson because of Beat It Dirty diana, Give Into me etc.Jam Kemal - Lindua, South Africa
this is a albumfact really but 'thriller' which eddie van halen played on 'beat it' actually managed to keep his own album '1984' off the US top spot... and may have contributed to dave leaving the band consequentlyJules - London, United States
In the spring of 1983, Michael Jackson was ATOP all of Billboard's major charts, and #1 in the UK. This was a first in chart history. WOW!Cio - Lithonia, Ga
Michael was awarded Billboard's #1 album of 1983 and 1984 for "Thriller". Quite an accomplishment!Cio - Lithonia, Ga