"Certain people in the band at that time didn't like me doing things outside the group" – remembering when Eddie Van Halen joined Michael Jackson onstage to play Beat It without a rehearsal

Eddie Van Halen plays guitar on stage with Randy Jackson, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson during the Victory Tour
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

By the second half of 1984 the original Van Halen dream was fading fast; but their album named after that year was one a hell of last gasp and proved to be their final record with David Lee Roth before the dawn of the Van Hagar era. But that final year of the classic lineup also witnessed a one-off occurrence for Eddie Van Halen outside of the band; he played Beat It with Michael Jackson onstage.

By then the song and Eddie's guest guitar solo had been in the collective consciousness of popular music for two years, and it had lost none of its impact, hitting the No.1 spot in April of 1983. The Van Halen guitarist's histronic solo wasn't so much jaw-dropping as beamed from another reality. It remains a feat of prowess for pretenders to this day but back then the idea of Eddie performing it live with the biggest popstar in the world seemed a pipe dream.

Eddie Van Halen plays guitar on stage with Randy Jackson, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson during the Victory Tour

(Image credit: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Somehow the two artists paths crossed with The Jacksons played the first of a three-night stand at Texas Stadium in Irving on July 14 as part of their Victory tour. As coincidence would have it Van Halen were playing the Reunion Arena in Dallas then for their own trio of sold-out shows there – and it was just 20 minutes drive away. 

As the Van Halen News Desk notes, the performance was unrehearsed, and Van Halen was unable to guest for the following two nights due to his own band's commitments. Luckily this never to be repeated collaboration was filmed with Eddie's Kramer high in the mix.

Time hasn't been kind to the tape quality but let's be grateful for what we have, and Jackson's ecstatic "You got it Eddie! Eddie! Eddie", encouraging the guitarist as he goes into the solo. It's all a little truncated compared at the end compared to the original but the spirit is all there, and we get to hear Eddie play on the whole song. Both musicians' joy is undeniable. 

The backstory of their collaboration makes the moment all the more pure; Van Halen declined payment or even royalties for his appearance on the Thriller song. The guest spot, requested by producer Quincy Jones, may have contributed to the bad vibes that were starting to swirl in Van Halen's chemistry at the time.

"Certain people in the band at the time didn't like me doing thing outside the group," the Van Halen News Desk reported Eddie as saying. "But Roth happened to be in the Amazon or somewhere, and Mike [Anthony, bass] was at Disneyland and Al [Van Halen, drums] was up in Canada or something. So I thought, well, they'll never know."

How wrong Eddie was – he was guesting on what would become one of the best-selling albums of all time. The guitarist tracked two solos, and left him and Jones to select whatever they wanted. 

"I didn't ask for anything – it was 20 minutes out of my day," Eddie reflected to Piers Morgan in 2013. But his impact in that short time went beyond the solo. 

"The funny thing was I actually rearranged the song. The section they wanted me to solo over, there was no chord changes underneath so I had to rearrange the song. Then Michael came in and I said, 'I hope you don't mind but I had to rearrange your song.' And he listens and he goes, 'I really like that high fast stuff you do.' And that was it."

Not quite – Thriller session guitarist Steve Lukather and drummer Jeff Pocaro then had to come back and re-track parts underneath. 

But that's another story

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.