Eddie Van Halen famously provided the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s 1982 hit song “Beat It,” but the Van Halen legend had to break a band rule to do it.

Jackson enlisted a cavalcade of top-tier musicians for his Thriller album. Among them were Toto members Steve Lukather, David Paich, Jeff Porcaro. Lukather handled a lot of the LP’s guitar parts, but producer Quincy Jones wanted someone else for the fiery “Beat It” solo.

“[Lukather] was happy to play on [the album],” Paich said on the Broken Record podcast. “Then they said they were trying to get Ed Van Halen, which was Luke’s friend. Luke’s like, ‘Right on.’”

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When Jones first tried recruiting Van Halen for the project, he was given a gruff response. “This is Quincy Jones,” Paich recalled the conversation starting. “Yeah, sure,” Eddie responded, “and he hung up on him.”

Listen to Eddie Van Halen on ‘Beat It’

How Eddie Van Halen Changed 'Beat It'

Eventually, Van Halen was convinced that it truly was Jones giving him a call. Yet he was reluctant to participate. “Ed didn’t want to do it at first because Van Halen had a no-session-band rule,” Paich explained. “You can’t play on other people’s records.”

Van Halen agreed to take part anyway, then added his own flair to “Beat It.”

“I listened to the song, and I immediately go, ‘Can I change some parts?’” Van Halen said in 2012. “I turned to the engineer and I go, ‘Okay, 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” became a chart-topping mega-hit, ranking among the best-selling singles of all time. Van Halen was not officially credited on the track, but later named it the favorite collaboration of his career.

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