‘Beat It’: Eddie Van Halen Never Saw a Penny From His Iconic Guitar Solo on the Michael Jackson Hit: ‘I Was A Complete Fool’
In 1982, when Michael Jackson recorded his generation-defining Thriller, nearly every song on that album was a hit.
“Beat It” was no exception.
Van Halen lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who died this week at age 65, played the unforgettable guitar solo on what became a five-times Platinum No. 1 single, selling seven million copies worldwide.
But the guitarist never received a cent from that success. Here’s why.
How Eddie Van Halen was recruited to play guitar on ‘Beat It’
In Edward Van Halen: A Definitive Biography, author Kevin Dodds reported that in 1982, “Edward received a late-night phone call from famed producer Quincy Jones who was producing Thriller” throughout most of that year.
Dodds, a contributing writer on the website Van Halen News Desk, noted in his biography of the guitarist that Van Halen “thought the call was a prank and hung up.”
As it turned out, Van Halen’s friend Steve Lukather was the main guitarist on “Beat It.” It’s not clear if Lukather or Jones or even Michael Jackson himself came up with the idea, but it was decided to get Eddie Van Halen for the track.
“When it was discussed,” Dodds wrote, “Ed eventually revealed that he had done [his guitar solo] as a favor, for no money at all, for no points on the record at all.”
Eddie Van Halen could have made a chunk of money off ‘Beat It’
At the time of his death, Van Halen’s net worth was reportedly $100 million. Who knows what it would have been had he insisted on receiving a cut of the royalties from the enormously successful “Beat It”?
Van Halen said, according to Dodds, “I was a complete fool, according to the rest of the band, our manager, and everyone else. I was not used. I knew what I was doing – I don’t do something unless I want to do it.”
His ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli, according to Dodds, said, “Ed never saw a dime; nor do I believe that he ever thought to ask to get paid. That was Ed.”
Quincy Jones’ tribute to Eddie Van Halen
On Twitter this week, the legendary music producer who worked with Michael Jackson on Thriller paid tribute to the late guitarist.
“RIP to the GREAT @eddievanhalen,” Jones said. “Even though it took a couple calls to convince U it was actually me on the phone :) U killed it on Thriller, & your classic guitar solo on “Beat It” will never be matched. I’ll always smile when I think of our time working together. Eternal love & props.”
Rolling Stone in 2009 reported that the only direction Jones gave Van Halen on “Beat It” was “I’m not gonna sit here and try to tell you what to play – the reason you’re here is ’cause of what you do play.”