Eddie Van Halen received a phone call in 1982 from someone named “Quincy.” He didn’t know anyone named “Quincy.”
“Is this Eddie?,” the voice on the phone asked.
“Who the hell is this?,” a very suspicious Eddie replied.
“Quincy. Quincy Jones, man.”
Eddie Van Halen gulped and smiled to himself. “Oh! I’m sorry.”
The famed composer, songwriter and producer asked if Eddie would be interested in adding a bit of guitar to “punch up” a song that Michael Jackson was working on. “Michael Jackson?,” thought the guitarist, “The kid who sang ‘A-B-C. Easy as 1-2-3?'”
Eddie was game, although he had his doubts. What on earth could he do, as a white heavy metal guitarist, to help a guy who’s known for R & B pop songs? Regardless of how he felt, Eddie arrived at the studio and in just under an hour, cranked out an iconic 20 seconds of a fiery guitar solo that effortlessly fit into “Beat It,” Jackson’s early foray into the rock music genre. As Eddie was packing up his gear, the soft-spoken pop singer came into the studio. Eddie stood by silently as the technicians played the cut back for the two of them. Eddie thought that either he’d love it or Jackson would sic his bodyguards and have the guitarist tossed out. Happily, it was the former, as Jackson smiled from beneath his sunglasses and said, “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.”
Eddie didn’t think much of this little piece of work or the song itself, for that matter. He didn’t want any compensation, nor did he accept any credit in the album’s liner notes. However, sometime later, Eddie was shopping at Tower Records in Hollywood when “Beat It” came over the store’s PA system. He overheard a group of teens giggling while pantomiming guitar actions. One of them blurted out dismissively, “Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen!”
Eddie turned to them and said, “That is me!” He laughed and walked away.
Eddie Van Halen passed away in October 2020, after a battle with throat cancer. He was 65. He never made any money from “Beat It.”