Guitar and Synths layer
“Beat It” was composed by Michael Jackson for his Thriller album. Producer Quincy Jones had wanted to include a rock ‘n’ roll song in the vein of the Knack’s “My Sharona”, 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. The song begins with seven distinct synthesizer notes played on the Synclavier digital synthesizer. While Tom Bahler is credited with Synclavier performance on the song, the intro is taken note for note from a demo LP released the year before, called “The Incredible Sounds of Synclavier II” first published in 1981 by Denny Jaeger Creative Services, Inc and sold by New England Digital, makers of the Synclavier.
Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist of hard rock band Van Halen, was asked 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”.
On the record, right before Van Halen’s guitar solo begins, a noise is heard that sounds like somebody knocking at a door. It is reported that the knock was a person walking into Eddie’s recording studio. Another story has claimed that the sound was simply the musician knocking on his own guitar. The sound, however, is that of Jackson knocking on a drum case, as he is credited in the album’s liner notes. The lyrics of “Beat It” are about defeat and courage, and have been described as a “sad commentary on human nature”.The line “don’t be a macho man” is said to express Jackson’s dislike of violence, whilst also referring to the childhood abuse he faced at the hands of his father Joseph. The song is played in the key of E flat minor at a moderately fast tempo of 132 beats per minute, making it one of Jackson’s fastest songs. In the song, Jackson’s vocal range is B♭3 to D♭5.
Drums on the song were played by Toto co-founder Jeff Porcaro.