Beat It

Album: Thriller (1982)
Charted: 3 1
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  • Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo on "Beat It." He did it as a favor for Quincy Jones and was not paid, unless you count the two six-packs of beer brought into the studio.

    Eddie connected to Quincy through Ted Templeman, who was Van Halen's producer and friends with Jones. It was good timing because Eddie's bandmates were out of town, so they couldn't give him any static for taking on another project. He figured nobody would ever know it was him on the record.

    According to Eddie, he had the engineer restructure the song to accommodate his solo, then blasted out two takes. Jackson showed up after the second take and was thrilled that Eddie cared enough about the song to rework it. Eddie told CNN: "He was this musical genius with this childlike innocence. He was such a professional, and such a sweetheart."

    When Van Halen's 1984 album rose to #2 in America for three weeks in March 1984, it was held off the top spot by Thriller.
  • Part of Jackson's legacy was his crossover success with white audiences, something 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. (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), demonstrating her idea of good music to her hippie parents, sings, "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: Steve Lukather on lead guitar, Steve Porcaro on synthesizer, and Jeff Porcaro on drums. These guys were seasoned studio pros and had the hot sound - the album Toto IV was one of the best sellers of 1982.
  • 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's signature sound, which is evident on the solo, incorporates tapping on the fretboard. He built his own guitars and developed his own style, so getting him on "Beat It" meant the song would have a guitar section distinct from anything heard outside of a Van Halen record. It also brought his innovative technique to the ears of pop fans.

    "The technique of tapping the fingerboard had been around for decades, but it was sparsely practiced, and almost always as a novelty," Guitar Player editor Jas Obrecht explained. "Eddie brought finger tapping into mainstream rock'n'roll. He spread the gospel of tapping even further with his solo on Michael Jackson's 'Beat It,' which was heard by millions of people around the world. And credit where credit is due: the distinctive rhythm guitar on that song was played by Steve Lukather."
  • 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 Rod Temperton, who wrote the title track to Thriller, 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 Temperton 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."
  • Anyone who knew their way around a Synclavier at the time probably thought the song's intro synth sounded familiar. According to the album's engineer, Bruce Swedien, it was a stock Synclavier patch.

    "Any Synclavier will make that sound," he told MusicRadar. "We liked it but we wanted everything to be unrecognizable, unique, so we didn't want to use that sound, but Michael loved it and made us keep it."
  • Swedien was in awe of Eddie Van Halen's powerful guitar solo, but he didn't dare record it himself. Fearing the blast would damage his hearing, he left the studio while Eddie was still warming up. "It was so loud I would never subject my hearing to that kind of volume level!" he said. "I didn't record that solo, I hired his engineer - I figured his hearing would probably be a little suspect right now anyway. I then did the mix after it was recorded."

Comments: 69

  • Michelle from Sc, UsaA great song with a great message!! He had so many great hits. The cruel world didn't deserve him. RIP King Of Pop
  • Exobscura from NycThanks for everything Weird Al
  • Josh from Tumwater This song is about you don’t want a bully to pick on you tell em beat it
  • Jay from Vancouver WaSteve Lukather also played bass on the song.
    Also Eddies solo was recorded at his studio 5150.
    Only Eddie and Don Landee were there.
    They had to splice the tape so Ed had a section he could play over.
    The cut screwed up the time code on the tape which resulted in the need to rerecord the track.
    Quincy called Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather in to rerecord the basic track, literally rebuild it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 31st 1983, the cable channel MTV added Michael Jackson's video for "Beat It" to its rotation schedule, thus becoming the first black artist* included in their regular rotation...
    At the time the song was at #14 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; twenty-four days later on April 24th, 1983 it would peak at #1 {for 3 weeks} and spent all most a half-year on the Top 100 {25 weeks}...
    It had entered the Top 100 on February 20th, 1983 at #78, and at the time his "Billie Jean" was at #4...
    * The first black artist to have a video air on MTV was the Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie" in September 1982.
  • Delphi from UsaNo actually Michael didn't play drums on this track - Jeff Porcaro - a very famous, drummer from the band Toto and a top studio musician at the time played the drums on this.
  • Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaAn 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 !
  • Kunal Somaiya from Mumbai, India2 Grammys for Billie Jean and for Beat it, and Total 8. Jackson rocked the 1984 Grammys. A record.
  • Cory Stoczynski from Lancaster, NyAlvin From The Alvin And The Chipmunks Danced With Him
    On Rockin' With The Chipmunks In 1990!
  • Johnny D from La, BermudaThe 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.
  • Allen from New York, CaPablo Ferro was the Supervising Editor on this landmark video, for which he received the nomination for "Best Editor"during the AVA awards.
  • Squigle from Columbus, OhMy favorite Micheal Jackson song. And normally I hate this music! There's a reason Thriller was the best-selling album EVER!!
  • Nathan from Warsaw, NyI first heard this gond on guitar hero world tour. then at one of my soccer games they played this.(it was at perry to)
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiOne of my favorite Michael Jackson songs, He turned 51 in heaven. RIP-King of Pop.
  • Abdullaah from Kuala Lumpur, the way, Michael played the drums himself on this song......
  • Abdullaah from Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaHi 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 Pop
  • Abdullaah from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysiatry listening to the solo with headphones, the sound of the tremolo & eddie's fingers sliding on the fret board are crystal solo....
  • Marcus from Aberdeen, MsMaybe 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.
  • Cathe from Los Angeles, CaI 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.
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxActual gang members were used in the video - it was part of their probation or community service agreements.
  • Emily from Toronto, OnThis is a very good song! The guitar solo rocks!
  • Karlitos from Ottawa, OnI 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.
  • Jeff from Concord, CaSorry 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!!
  • Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnGreat choreography, killer guitar solo.
  • Roberta from Carleton, MiNot mentioned in here, I remember hearing that some actual gangmembers were used in Michael's video for this song
  • Matt from York, VaSomeone "knocking on the studio door" before EVH's solo??
    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.
  • Xavier from Santa Fe, Nmi dont really listen to him but i like this song cause Van Halen did an awesome job on guitar
  • Nick from Cairns, AustraliaThe 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.
  • Guitarhero from San Fran, Cathere 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 solo
  • Emily from Around Chicago, IlI 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!
  • A.c. from Auckland, New ZealandGuitar 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.
  • Sly from Durban, South AfricaThis 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.
  • Austyn from Racine, Western SaharaMicheal was awarded Billboards #1 album of 1983 & 1984 for "thriller".Quite an accomplishment!
  • Sam from Lexington , KyEddie 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...
  • Cynthia from Scranton, Pathe 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.
  • John from Nashville, TnWhen 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".
  • Jake from Columbia City, InI like this song because I'm a major Van Halen fan, even though I'm only a teenager.
  • Matt from Nyc, Nythis song was also featured in the movie Undercover Brother during a fight scene
  • John from Brisbane, Australiaa 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 from 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..
  • Jason from Denver, CoAlthough Michael Jackson has been called the "King of Pop", this song sounds more metal to me than pop to me.
  • Cristina from Long Beach, Cai think that this song is great it is so kool and forget all haters
  • Joe from Gallipolis, Ohi 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 cover
  • Rob from Bingham, Nmthat 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.
  • Allox from Qld, AustraliaMy fav guitar solo!!!!!!! And fav Michael Jackson song
  • Heather from Birmingham, United KingdomIs 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.
  • Andrew from Bartlett, TnWow! MJ and Eddie Van Halen in one song. awesome!
  • Max from Laconia, NhMichael 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.
  • Defy from Wellington, New Zealandwow one take for the solo. Respect...
  • Stratis from Brighton, EnglandIt is said that Van Halen solo was done in just one take!
  • Mike from Chicago, IaThis 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".
  • Fredrik from UmeÃ¥, SwedenActually, 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.
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhThe 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.
  • Rachel from South Point, OhWhat 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.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoOne of the best songs of the 80's. Why couldn't Jackson have left his face as it was at this point in time?
  • Eric from Phx, AzTHis song is bomb!!! But the only problem is the faggy lyrics!!! But the solo makes up

    White Power!!!!!!!!!!
  • Grace from Fairfax Station, VaWhen 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.
  • Sarah Floyd from Bloomingdale, Ili 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.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Camichael 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.
  • Brently from Los Molinos, CaThis is one of Michael Jackson's best hits!
  • Elson from Los Angeles, CaI'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.
  • Stephanie from Denver, CoYes Michael Jackson was the man back in the 1980s, he did have a good voice but now he is just a so-so musician.
  • Aj from Cleveland, GaIt'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.
  • Craig from Guildford, EnglandAlthough 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 guitarist
  • Peter from Montrose, DcEddie is a God!
  • Jam Kemal from Lindua, South AfricaPutting 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.
  • Jules from London, United Statesthis 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 consequently
  • Cio from Lithonia, GaIn 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 from Lithonia, GaMichael was awarded Billboard's #1 album of 1983 and 1984 for "Thriller". Quite an accomplishment!
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