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Michael Jackson-Beat It (1982)

The story of Michael Jackson's most "gangster" hit!

One Song Story: Michael Jackson - "Do Your Feet!"

This composition is very familiar to Eddie Van Halen fans, because it was he who played the great guitar solo for "Beat It"... And yes: he was not paid anything (apart from the two beers brought to the studio). He did it at Quincy Jones' request.

Eddie believed that no one would ever know that he had played for Michael Jackson. Quincy Jones was unbelievably lucky: Eddie's bandmates were in another city and could not prevent him from taking part in another project.

Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson!
Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson!

According to Eddie, we had to rearrange the song to accommodate his solo. And Michael Jackson was quite concerned about it... Van Halen later recalled:

"Michael was a musical genius with a childlike innocence...He was so professional, and so sweet at the same time..."

History of creation

The song was written by Michael Jackson himself. One day Quincy Jones advised him to write something in the vein of "My Sharona," the big hit of The Knack (1979).

The lyrics are about life on the streets and gang activity, something Jackson was very detached from. This is what Michael himself later recounted:

"Everybody says 'Beat It' was inspired by 'West Side Story'... That's not true. I had no idea what West Side Story was at the time! My inspiration was the streets of Paterson, New Jersey... I listened to that song over and over... And I realized it referred to all those bullies trying to be tougher than they are. But really, we're all cowards at heart..."

About 2:45 into the song you hear a banging (just before Eddie Van Halen starts his guitar solo). Rumor had it that it was an angry and drunken Eddie himself making the noise! But as it turned out, the sound was deliberate - created by Michael Jackson banging on the drum shell.

Quincy Jones said that when he called Eddie Van Halen to offer to play a guitar solo, he said: "I'm not going to tell you what to play, because I'm calling you specifically because of what you play..."

Eddie Van Halen recalled:

"My guys (from the Van Halen band) were out of town, and I thought, 'Who's going to know what I'm going to play for this kid?' I didn't want to be a part of it, but I thought maybe Michael would give me dance lessons someday..."

Music video

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 be broadcast regularly on the network! The music video for "Beat It" remained in the hot ten for most of the summer of 1983!

The director of the clip (which, by the way, involved members of the real gang) was Bob Giraldi - the same one who later directed the infamous Pepsi commercial where Jackson's hair caught fire...

Giraldi talked about how the gang members strained the studio environment... So the clip (at least the episodes involving them) was shot in one day!

Interesting Facts…

As we said, Jackson was the first black artist to be broadcast regularly on MTV! But it was this song that helped expand his audience by attracting Van Halen listeners. "Beat It" was a key track in Jackson's rise to fame.

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Michael Jackson for Rolling Stone magazine:

"I wanted to write the equivalent of a rock song that I would buy and listen to. But I also wanted to do something completely different from the rock music I heard on the Top 40 on the radio..."

"Beat It" earned Jackson a Grammy Award and was also heard in the 1989 film Back to the Future 2!

Rumor has it that mysterious flames lit up in the control room when Eddie Van Halen played his guitar solo... Everyone who watched it said that "the speakers literally lit up!" At the time, someone also said: "That solo must have been pretty darn good!"

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