Eddie Van Halen’s solo on Beat It is one of the most recognizable solos in rock history – it’s fluid and yet aggressive, and says in 20 seconds what other guitarists struggle to say their whole lives.
In a recent CNN interview with Eddie, he talks about doing that iconic solo:
CNN: Did Quincy give you any direction about what he wanted you to do?
Van Halen: Michael left to go across the hall to do some children’s speaking record. I think it was “E.T.” or something. So I asked Quincy, “What do you want me to do?” 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!”
I listened to the song, and I immediately go, “Can I change some parts?” I turned to the engineer and I go, “OK, from the breakdown, chop in this part, go to this piece, pre-chorus, to the chorus, out.” Took him maybe 10 minutes to put it together. And I proceeded to improvise two solos over it.
I was just finishing the second solo when Michael walked in. 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.”
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. 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.”
He was this musical genius with this childlike innocence. He was such a professional, and such a sweetheart.
CNN: That collaboration surprised a lot of people.
Van Halen: I’ll never forget when Tower Records was still open over here in Sherman Oaks. I was buying something, and “Beat It” was playing over the store sound system. The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, “Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen.” I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “That IS me!” That was hilarious.
Today, that kind of superstar collaboration would have seen hundreds of guest appearances with the two artists to try and sell more records – but back in the day, EVH only played it live with Michael ONCE. Here is that video – the quality is a little iffy, but hey, I guess they didn’t have no HD recording back in those days!
Also, here are some photos from that historic gig, thanks to Van Halen News Desk:
And for you guitar junkies, here’s the isolated version of that amazing solo. I still haven’t learned to play it properly.