Did Michael Jackson really use a sampler demo riff for the intro to Beat It?

Anthony Marinelli is the well respected synth expert and player with a long career programming and performing with some of the biggest musicians in the world. He's played on albums by the likes of Michael Jackson, Kenny Loggins, Lionel Richie and Supertramp, and contributed to film scores including Young Guns, Internal Affairs and the mighty Planes, Trains & Automobiles. 

Over the last few months Marinelli has been releasing a series of Youtube videos with interesting revelations about how he put together famous keyboard parts, most notably for Michael Jackson's Thriller album, on which he worked on several songs. One of the videos covers how Marinelli put together the intro to the title track, while another covers its famous Theremin sound.

One of Marinelli's most recent posts is about Jackson's Beat It , where he and Synclavier expert Kevin Maloney sit down and discuss the origins to the intro to the track. Maloney has a blue vinyl demonstration record called 'The Incredible Sounds of the Synclavier 2' which people could buy through Keyboard magazine for a dollar back in the 80s!  

Anthony Marinelli and the synclavier demo rtecord

(Image credit: Anthony Marinelli)

Kevin Maloney then claims that the intro to Beat It is actually on the vinyl he has and that Michael was inspired to use it from the record. 

"The story I heard was Michael liked it, put it on the beginning of Beat It," Maloney says. "When they found it was actually off of a record and had been recorded by somebody else, they decided they wanted to recreate that sound from the Synclavier. It was one of the presets that Denny Jaeger had programmed. And Denny Jaeger actually performed the notes."

Maloney then plays the record and, yes, it's incredibly similar to the Beat It intro and something he claims that Denny never got credit for. 

Here's the Synclavier part that Denny Jaeger played on the demo record (around 10 seconds in).

Now compare it to the intro to Beat It (around 21 seconds in).

There's no doubting the similarity and it's not the first time the comparison has been revealed. Back in 2009, the engineer on Thriller, Bruce Swedien, told us a similar story about the intro to Beat It. 

"Oh boy - the intro synth was a stock Synclavier patch; any Synclavier will make that sound. We liked it but we wanted everything to be unrecognisable, unique, so we didn't want to use that sound, but Michael loved it and made us keep it."

So the only question remains, has Denny Jaeger received any credit for the seven note riff? This is where the story, and the legalities, get a bit murky. As the original record was a demo record, it might well have had the status that today's sample collections have where the sounds can be used without worries about copyright. 

However there are various accounts about what happened next, one being that Jaeger did get a credit and also got to work on the Jackson album Bad because of his contribution. And this somewhat happier ending is given some credence with Jaeger's Synclavier credits on the tracks Dirty Diana and Smooth Criminal from Bad, although we're yet to find Jaeger's name credited on the track Beat It.

Jaeger himself went on to produce more sample collections for E-mu and Korg and worked on film soundtrack's including The Hunger. 

Andy Jones

Andy has been writing about music production and technology for 30 years having started out on Music Technology magazine back in 1992. He has edited the magazines Future Music, Keyboard Review, MusicTech and Computer Music, which he helped launch back in 1998. He owns way too many synthesizers.

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