I don’t know about you guys, but for me nothing facilitates homicide-thirsty adversarial gangs coming together to form a bond more than the art of dancing to Eddie Van Halen guitar riffs and the King of Pop vocals on a momentous record.
Like every wannabe Michael Jackson fanatic out there in the 80s, I owned a multi-zippered red leather jacket, though in the interest of full disclosure my version was less affectionately known as pleather—thanks for nothing, mom.
Why wouldn’t I want that jacket? Michael Jackson was God to many pop music fans in the 80s, including this one on the strength of immortal jams like Beat It. The third single from Jackson’s iconic Thriller album, Beat It became a dancing rock classic for an entire generation.
Back in those days Jackson yearned to pen a pop song fused with a rock edge that would appeal to kids and young adults while encompassing a premise that violence isn’t cool. Jackson’s team were ultimately successful in enlisting Eddie Van Halen to play on it and the renowned guitarist provided riffs and a lengthy solo that took Beat it to a whole other level.
Van Halen’s vibe on the strings needed no introduction as the backdrop to Jackson’s impeccable vocals, and it pooled for one of the more iconic pop/rock songs of this or any generation.
As great as the record was on its own, the accompanying music video was arguably even more historic. The idea that gangs would meet up and dance their issues away rather than stab each other was silly as held, but ultimately incredibly effective in being presented as a West Story type of theme. For the record, there were actually real gang members from both the Crips and Bloods in the background of the group dance sequences.
Beat It played a substantial role in helping break down MTV’s lack of playing videos by black artists during that time. That’s largely because unlike most Jackson songs that were exclusively focused on dance or love, Beat It had an undeniable rock vibe that fit directly into MTV’s lane.
Simply put, it’s one of the biggest crossover hits of all-time—the transformation of a musician at the unadulterated pinnacle of what became the Michael Jackson phenomenon.
Chart Success: Beat It reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed at the top before three weeks before being overtaken by David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. It totaled 25 weeks on the charts and finished 1985 fifth on the year-end Billboard Hot 100.
Great Lyrics: We all know the strength of Beat It isn’t built on great lyrics, but they’re still fun anyway.
“They told him don’t you ever come around here
Don’t want to see your face, you better disappear
The fire’s in their eyes and their words are really clear
So beat it, just beat it
You better run, you better do what you can
Don’t want to see no blood, don’t be a macho man
You want to be tough, better do what you can
So beat it, but you want to be bad”
Fun Fact: Where else would I go to find you a fun fact about this song other than Songfacts.com? Here is something, courtesy of their site that I had no idea about until now, sad considering I loved the group. “Members of the group Toto played on this: Steve Lukather on lead guitar, Steve Porcaro on synthesizer, and Jeff Porcaro on drums. These guys were seasoned studio pros and had the hot sound – the album Toto IV was one of the best sellers of 1982.”
100. Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)
99. Michael McDonald – I Keep Forgetting
97. The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Does Is Magic
96. Madonna – Papa Don’t Preach
94. Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
93. Kenny Loggins – Danger Zone
92. Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
89. Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
87. Debbie Gibson – Foolish Beat
86. Glen Mederios – Nothing’s Going To Change My Love For You
85. John Cougar – Jack and Diane
81. Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
79. Shelia E. – The Glamorous Life
77. Whitney Houston – Greatest Love Of All
76. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say
75. Flock of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away)
74. Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It
73. Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
72. The Police – Every Breathe You Take
71. Survivor – The Search Is Over
70. REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You
68. Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel
67. Kenny Loggins – Meet Me Halfway
66. Irene Cara – Flashdance…What A Feeling
65. Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It
64. Phil Collins – One More Night
63. Europe – The Final Countdown
62. Patrick Swazye – She’s Like The Wind
61. Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
60. Men Without Hats – Safety Dance
59. Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
58. Huey Lewis & The News – Power Of Love
55. Styx – Too Much Time On My Hands
53. Olivia Newton John – Physical
49. Marvin Gaye- Sexual Healing
48. Huey Lewis & The News – Do You Believe In Love
44. New Edition – Mr. Telephone Man
43. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
42. Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
41. Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody
39. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark
38. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
37. Christopher Cross – Sailing
34. Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is
33. Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
32. USA For Africa- We Are The World
30. Kenny Loggins – I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man)
29. Dexys Midnite Runners – Come On Eileen
28. J. Geils Band – Centerfold
27. Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
24. Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now
23. Eddie Murphy – Party All The Time
22. Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off
21. Don Henley – Dirty Laundry
20. Scorpions – Still Loving You
19. Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
18. Billy Vera – At This Moment
17. Phil Collins/Philip Bailey – Easy Lover
16. Tommy Tutone – 867-5309/Jenny
12. Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me
11. Rick Springfield – Jessie’s Girl
10. Survivor – Eye Of The Tiger
7. Phil Collins – Against All Odds