Behind Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen's Near-Missed Connection

Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson in 1984
Photo Credit
Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

One of the most mind-blowing moments in '80s pop history - and a major moment of discovery for suburban kids - was Michael Jackson's "Beat It," featuring a blistering guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen. The track became the third of an unbelievable seven Top 10 hits from Thriller and primed the pump for Van Halen to take over the charts the following year courtesy of 1984.

And to think, a bad telephone line almost prevented it from happening.

Read More: January 1983: Michael Jackson Moonwalks His Way to No. 1 with "Billie Jean"

In 2012, the late guitarist told CNN he thought he was on the receiving end of a prank call when producer Quincy Jones recruited him. "I went off on him," he said. "I went, 'What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!'" But Eddie did head to the studio to lay down two takes of an improvised solo in the track's bridge. According to legend, the solo was so powerful that a speaker caught fire during the recording.

Read More: January 1984: Van Halen Releases "1984"

Amazingly, Van Halen received no fee for his work, figuring it was a favor while the rest of his band was out of town. "I said to myself, 'Who is going to know that I played on this kid's record, right? Nobody's going to find out,'" he recounted. "Wrong! Big-time wrong."

And while Van Halen didn't appear in the track's successful video, he did join Michael once more to play "Beat It" on an early stop on The Jacksons' Victory Tour in Dallas on July 14, 1984.

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Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
With the arrival of hit single "Billie Jean" in January 1983, the world watched the King of Pop launch the Michael Jackson era with his enigmatic persona and groundbreaking moonwalk.
(Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
The album produced five top 10 singles and a pair of #1 hits.
Pete Still/Redferns
35 years ago today, 1.5 billion people tuned into the biggest concert in rock history.

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