Michael Jackson’s Guitarist Was ‘Proud to Play’ Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Beat It’ Solo
Both Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen changed the world of music. For that reason, it was a pretty big deal when Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson collaborated together on Jackson’s song “Beat It.” However, Van Halen wasn’t able to follow Jackson around on tour to perform his solo. So what did Jackson’s touring guitarist do when it came time to play “Beat It”?
Eddie Van Halen records his ‘Beat It’ guitar solo for Michael Jackson
Jackson wrote and recorded “Beat It” in 1982 for his album Thriller. He wanted to have something that was more of a rock song, though rock was never really Jackson’s genre. Nonetheless, he penned “Beat It,” trying to come up with something that would have a wide appeal. After recording an early version, producer Quincy Jones decided an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo would add to the song.
Van Halen didn’t believe that he was being asked to collaborate with the King of Pop, but Jones meant it. And when Van Halen showed up to record, Jones decided to give him a large amount of freedom with the solo. With Jackson’s writing and performance, Van Halen’s killer guitar chops, and Jones’ expert production, the song became a huge hit.
Guitarist Jennifer Batten learns Van Halen’s ‘Beat It’ solo
Guitarist Jennifer Batten wasn’t touring with Jackson when she heard “Beat It” for the first time. In fact, she was still playing with a local cover band. However, the solo entranced her, and she quickly bought a cassette so that she could learn the solo by ear.
The solo is incredibly technically difficult, and Batten had to slow down the cassette to be able to play it. But learning Van Halen’s technique was important to her. Batten told Guitar World:
“Somebody asked me the other day if I was told to play it that way or if it was my choice. It was definitely my choice because I thought it was one of the most perfect solos in history. I knew I couldn’t do better than Eddie. I was proud to play it as it was. And it was challenging. It’s still challenging.”
Her tenacity and discipline in learning the difficult solo paid off for her career, and she became Jackson’s touring guitarist. “Later on that solo bought me a house!” she remarked.
Batten reminds Van Halen how to play his ‘Beat It’ solo
Ironically, Van Halen actually forgot how to play his iconic solo. He hadn’t asked to have his name on the record and never received royalties. He just played the solo as a favor to Jones and Jackson.
The solo wasn’t something he was playing regularly after the studio recording. However, it seems to have been important to him. In the late 1980s, he contacted Batten and asked her to show him the solo. She did, and he was able to remember how to play it. The events of Batten learning the solo from his recording ultimately had come full circle.