Where were you in '82? Chances are good that, if you were into popular music at all, you were checking out the new Michael Jackson album, Thriller, which was released 30 years ago today.
At the time I'd been writing for the Georgia Straight for a few months--my story on Toronto rockers Coney Hatch (!) was published in a November '82 issue--and I remember scoring a free review copy of Thriller from Straight mainman Dan McLeod. Not sure what happened to the LP in the intervening three decades, though. I just checked my alphabetized stacks in the basement, and it's not there where it should be--right between Joe Jackson's Look Sharp! and Jason & the Scorchers' Lost & Found.
The thing I always remembered most about Thriller was surprise guest Eddie Van Halen's nifty guitar wipeout on "Beat It". It took him half an hour to record the 20-second solo, which he did for free as a favour to producer Quincy Jones. In a new interview posted on cnn.com today, Van Halen recalls laying down the track.
"Michael left to go across the hall to do some children's speaking record," he says. "I think it was E.T. or something. So I asked Quincy, 'What do you want me to do?' And he goes, 'Whatever you want to do.' And I go, 'Be careful when you say that. If you know anything about me, be careful when you say [that].'
"I listened to the song," he adds, "and I immediately go, 'Can I change some parts?' I turned to the engineer and I go, 'OK, from the breakdown, chop in this part, go to this piece, pre-chorus, to the chorus, out.' Took him maybe 10 minutes to put it together. And I proceeded to improvise two solos over it."
"Beat It" was released as Thriller's third single in February of '83, and that's when the music world really took note of Van Halen's intense contribution.
"I'll never forget when Tower Records was still open over here in Sherman Oaks," he recalls. "I was buying something, and 'Beat It' was playing over the store sound system. The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, 'Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen.' I tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'That is me!' That was hilarious."
Speaking of hilarious, one of the finest things derived from Van Halen's work on "Beat It" was the part in "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody video, "Eat It", where the guy playing the solo blows up from the sheer rockingness of it.
Quick: who can tell me which one of my fave rock guitarists from the '70s recorded that parody of Van Halen's smokin' solo? First person to answer correctly wins a copy of the new Peter Criss autobiography, Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss.
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