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© Joe Giron/Corbis
Michael Jackson never wrote a flat-out rocker before, but he penned Beat It because he wanted to write "the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song." After hearing the demo, producer Quincy Jones knew just who ring up for a guitar solo.
Funnily enough, when Eddie Van Halen received that phone call from Jones, he thought it was a prank. “I used to have this old phone system in the studio," he said on the experience. "Phone rang, I picked it up and there’s this voice saying, ‘Yo, Eddie? That Eddie?’ There was lots of crackling and stuff. And I said, ‘Yeah, who’s this?’ But he obviously couldn’t hear me. So I hung up, figuring it was a fan. Phone rings again, and the same voice says, ‘Hey, Eddie.’ So this time I shout ‘Asshole!’ and hang up. Phone rings a third time. ‘Hey, Eddie, Eddie, it’s Quincy Jones.’ Have I ever felt small."
Guitarist Paul Jackson Jr had already laid down the rhythmic bed of the song when Van Halen arrived at the studio. "I love that high fast stuff you do," Michael Jackson told Van Halen, who proceeded to record two rambunctious solos. Telling Jackson and Jones to pick the one they wanted, Van Halen left the studio with as much money in his pocket as when he came in. "I did it as a favor," he said.
While he received no royalties from Beat It, Van Halen did get a letter of appreciation from Quincy Jones, which was signed 'The Asshole.' Van Halen framed the letter, calling it "classic."