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Beat It” was written by Michael Jackson for his Thriller album. Producer Quincy Jones had wanted to include a rock ‘n’ roll song, though Jackson reportedly had never previously shown an interest in the genre.[5][6] Jackson later said of “Beat It”, “I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song… That is how I approached it and I wanted the children to really enjoy it—the school children as well as the college students.”[7] Upon hearing the first recorded vocals, Jones stated that it was exactly what he was looking for.[5] Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist of hard rock band Van Halen, was then requested to add a guitar solo.[6][8]

When initially contacted by Jones, Van Halen thought he was receiving a prank call. Having established that the call was genuine, Van Halen recorded his guitar solo free of any charge. “I did it as a favor”, the musician later said. “I was a complete fool, according to the rest of the band, our manager and everyone else. I was not used. I knew what I was doing – I don’t do something unless I want to do it.”[9] Van Halen recorded his contribution following Jones and Jackson arriving at the guitarist’s house with a “skeleton version” of the song. Fellow guitarist Steve Lukather recalled, “Initially, we rocked it out as Eddie had played a good solo—but Quincy thought it was too tough. So I had to reduce the distorted guitar sound and that is what was released.”[9] The song was among the last four completed for Thriller; the others were “Human Nature”, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and “The Lady in My Life”.