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. 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.” Upon hearing the first recorded vocals, Jones stated that it was exactly what he was looking for. Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist of hard rock band Van Halen, was then requested to add a guitar solo.
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.” 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.” 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”.