How Michael Jackson Reacted When Eddie Van Halen Changed ‘Beat It’

During their peak years in the 1980s, Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen collaborated on a hit song. Interestingly, Van Halen told Jackson he wanted to change the song considerably. Afterward, Jackson made it clear how he felt about Van Halen’s proposed changes. 

Michael Jackson smiling
Michael Jackson | Chris Walter/WireImage

How Michael Jackson reacted when Eddie Van Halen altered one of his songs

Though Jackson was the King of Pop, he knew how to craft an awesome rock song. Songs like “Dirty Diana” and “Give In to Me” show Jackson understood hard rock as well as anyone. “Beat It” was one of his first forays into the genre — and one of his memorable tunes. “Beat It” definitely wouldn’t be the same without Van Halen. In an interview with CNN, Van Halen recalled how Quincy Jones asked him to work on “Beat It” and he agreed.

“I was just finishing the second solo when Michael walked in,” Van Halen said. “And you know artists are kind of crazy people. We’re all a little bit strange. I didn’t know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, ‘Look, I changed the middle section of your song.’” Van Halen wondered how Jackson would react.

“Beat It”

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“Now in my mind, he’s either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it,” Van Halen recalled. “And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better.’”

Later, Van Halen heard “Beat It” playing on the radio. Kids in front of him said whoever played guitar on the song was attempting to sound like Van Halen. Little did they know it was Van Halen himself playing.

“Jump”

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How Eddie Van Halen and the public reacted to ‘Beat It’

Van Halen collaborated with a number of other artists including Geezer Butler, Queen’s Brian May, and Thomas Dolby. However, Van Halen still told Smithsonian Magazine “Beat It” is the favorite of all the collaborations he’s done. That’s certainly a huge compliment to “Beat It.” He opined “It’s crazy that something could take such a short amount of time and can grow into something beyond anything you could ever imagine.”

“Beat It” certainly became very big. It became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Although several singles from Thriller became enduring classics, only “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” topped the chart. Interestingly, the band Van Halen only has one Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single: “Jump.” Regardless of who sang “Beat It,” the song definitely stands as part of Eddie’s musical legacy —  especially since he had such a significant role in its creation.