How Eddie Van Halen Reworked a Michael Jackson Song

Eddie Van Halen received a phone call from someone who introduced himself as “Quincy” in 1982.

“I don’t know anyone named Quincy,” the guitarist confidently told the caller. But he did know someone named Quincy: Quincy Jones, who was producing Michael Jackson‘s sixth solo album. Jones wanted to know if Van Halen was interested in playing a guitar solo on one of the LP’s songs, “Beat It.” Jackson had purposefully written the song intending to incorporate a harder rock sound  — “the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song,” as he described it.

Once Van Halen realized he wasn’t being pranked, he agreed and arrived at Los Angeles’ Westlake Recording Studios to lay down a track.

“I asked Quincy, ‘What do you want me to do?'” Van Halen recalled to CNN in 2012. “And he goes, ‘Whatever you want to do.’ And I go, ‘Be careful when you say that. If you know anything about me, be careful when you say, ‘Do anything you want!'”

“Beat It,” the third single from Thriller, was a colossal success, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for three weeks, selling 7 million copies worldwide and becoming one of the most recognizable pop songs in history.

We revisit this unlikely collaboration in the below video from our “Odd Couples” series.

Van Halen Albums Ranked

A ranking of every Van Halen album.

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