Eddie Van Halen broke a Van Halen “band rule” to play the solo on Michael Jackson’s Beat It
Steve Lukather played most of the guitar parts on the Thriller album, but Halen was recruited in to add his own fiery touch on the Beat It solo.
Image: Lynn Goldsmith / Getty
Eddie Van Halen broke a “band rule” to be able to play on Michael Jackson’s hit 1983 track, Beat It, on which he provided the mighty guitar solo.
The track hailed from MJ’s 1982 album Thriller, which went on to become the best selling album of all time. Produced by Quincy Jones, the LP also saw contributions from artists such as Toto’s Steve Lukather, David Paich, and Jeff Porcaro.
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Lukather handled most of the record’s guitar parts, but Jones wanted to enlist another guitarist to tackle the Beat It solo with more oomph. Paich, appearing on the Broken Record podcast, reflects on how Halen’s contribution came to be.
“[Lukather] was happy to play on [the album],” Paich says (via Ultimate Classic Rock). “Then they said they were trying to get Ed Van Halen, which was Luke’s friend. Luke’s like, ‘Right on.’”
When Jones gave Halen a phone call to ask him if he would be up for it, Halen didn’t believe it was really him, and as Paich remembers, he simply hung up the phone. Eventually, he realised it was true and agreed to take part, breaking a key Van Halen band rule in process.
“Ed didn’t want to do it at first because Van Halen had a no-session-band rule,” Paich says. “You can’t play on other people’s records.” Of course, he finally came around and the results were a solo that became recognisable and well-loved globally.
In a recent interview with Guitar World, Lukather recalled how there was no shred culture in the ‘70s when he started out, not until Halen came along.
“We were just trying to make good records,” he said. “But then Eddie Van Halen came along and changed the whole game. I remember him telling me once, ‘Man, I didn’t mean to start all this madness,’ but he really did change the entire game.
“That always cracked me up, as Eddie was the father of shred. But I never tried to do that, and I still don’t. I’m still the same melodic guy I’ve always been.”