Ok, sorry for that title but my inner 12 year old got the best of me.
I had Michael Jackson's Beat It come up on my iPod this morning (not my usual thing, but i do have that and Billie Jean on there) and wondered if there was any story behind Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo. So i did a little googling and found this CNN interview from 2012 that i thought was interesting. It's the sort of thing that i fear will link rot away so i'm going to quote liberally.
Van Halen was a surprise guest on "Beat It," the album's third single. His blazing guitar solo lasted all of 20 seconds and took half an hour to record. He did it for free, as a favor to producer Quincy Jones, while the rest of his Van Halen bandmates were 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.' Wrong!" he laughs. "Big-time wrong. It ended up being Record of the Year."
[Quincy Jones] said, "How would you like to come down and play on Michael Jackson's new record?" And I'm thinking to myself, "OK, 'ABC, 1, 2, 3' and me. How's that going to work?"
I listened to the song, 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.
I was just finishing the second solo when Michael walked in. And you know artists are kind of crazy people. We're all a little bit strange. I didn't know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, "Look, I changed the middle section of your song."
Now in my mind, he's either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he's going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, "Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better."
He was this musical genius with this childlike innocence. He was such a professional, and such a sweetheart.
I'll never forget when Tower Records was still open over here in Sherman Oaks. 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.