Pete Townshend Turned Down Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ Invite
Pete Townshend remembered being asked to appear on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album in 1982.
The Who guitarist chose not to accept the invitation, but recommended Eddie Van Halen instead, which led to the late guitar legend’s classic contribution to the 1983 hit “Beat It” – one of the most successful singles of all time.
“I said I couldn’t do it but recommended Eddie, who called, and we chatted,” Townshend told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “He was utterly charming, happy about the connection, but told me how much he was enjoying playing keyboards.”
At the time, Van Halen was working on his band’s own single, the synth-laden “Jump,” which was released in late 1983.
"Beat It," which topped the singles chart for three weeks, also featured Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and marked Jackson's first attempt at a rock song. "I wanted to write …the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song," Jackson told Ebony in 1984. "That is how I approached it, and I wanted the children to really enjoy it – the school children as well as the college students."
Watch Michael Jackson's ‘Beat It’ Video
Townshend said of Van Halen: “His smile was just classic. A man in his rightful place, so happy to be doing what he did. … As he got older, he became more generous and amusing and self-effacing about his enormous gifts. He shared so many tricks through guitar workshops, online and on TV shows. Immense talent.”
He called Van Halen's death on Oct. 6 “completely tragic." “He was not just an innovative and stylish player with great taste, he was also a laidback virtuoso showman who just blew us all away every time," Townshend noted. "Every shredder today has lost their master teacher and guide.”
Calling Van Halen the “Great American Guitar Player,” Townshend concluded, “I was hoping he might be president one day.”