Eddie Van Halen is a man who has spent so many years shredding the ever-loving shit out a guitar on stage that his name is now synonymous with the instrument. Highly in demand for his skills, Van Halen is understandably able to charge a premium for mere minutes of his time provided he’s holding a guitar. A fact that make sit kind of amazing that one of the most famous pieces of music credited to Van Halen is one he didn’t charge for and was even made fun of for recording.
That piece of music was the solo for Michael Jackson’s seminal number, Beat It, a chart dominating hit that regularly tops lists ranking the greatest pop songs ever recorded and is widely considered to be one of the artist’s best songs.
Now the story behind how Van Halen came to work with Jackson is kind of weird because while Van Halen was aware of Jackson, he wasn’t exactly familiar with his musical output due to the fact he was busy being a big dick rock star. As a result, when producer Quincy Jones contacted Van Halen about potentially appearing on a track for Thriller, he initially assumed it was a prank call and told him to fuck off.
After being convinced that the offer was legit Van Halen turned up to the studio to hear a “skeleton version” of the track, which we’re disappointed to inform you was just a version that hadn’t been properly mixed yet and not a version played by cool skeleton.
Anyway, after listening to the track Van Halen told Jones that while he was happy to record a solo for it, he wanted to do it at a different point in the song. A request that would require Jones to alter the entire track just to accommodate Van Halen’s solo. Which he did, because, well, yeah, Van Halen.
A gesture Van Halen reciprocated by ripping a solo so sweet the speakers in the recording studio literally caught on fire. The smell of which caught the attention of Jackson who thanked Van Halen for his professionalism and giving enough of a shit to suggest changes to better suit his sound before shaking his hand. All in all, Van Halen was in the studio for 30 minutes and he promptly forgot all about the solo, right up until he heard it playing on the radio when hanging out with his band.
You see, Van Halen never bothered to tell his band that he’d agreed to work with Jackson and they were reportedly pissed when they found out. Largely because Van Halen didn’t bother to ask for any money, something his band endlessly mocked him for, calling him a fucking moron. A fair point considering Jackson’s fabulous wealth. We mean, the guy wore a diamond pimp glove and crown on stage so it’s not like he was hurting for money or anything.
However, Van Halen heroically refused to give one iota of a shit about this, telling his band mates that he did it as a favour. An explanation they initially accepted, albeit begrudgingly, right up until the success of Beat It helped Thriller top the charts ahead of their newest album.
The universe wasn’t quite done stomping Van Halen’s balls just yet though because fans of his music were initially in disbelief that he’d collaborate with the King of Pop and as a result, many people didn’t even realise that it was him on the track.
Something you’d think Van Halen would have been annoyed about but according to him he actually found it funny, especially when it allowed him to absolutely dunk on shitty gate-keeping fans. You see, according to Van Halen he once overheard a couple of fans shit-talking the track in a record store, making fun of the solo and describing it as sounding “like a guy trying to be Eddie Van Halen“. Prompting Van Halen to tap the kids on the shoulder and say “It is me!” before gliding out of the store like a boss.