“No one wants to be defeated”
Written by Michael Jackson
Produced by Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson
Taken from the album Thriller
Also released on HIStory: Past, Present & Future – Book 1, Greatest Hits: HIStory Vol. 1, 12″ Mixes, Number Ones, The Ultimate Collection, The Essential Michael Jackson, Visionary: The Video Singles, Thriller 25, King Of Pop, The Collection and Michael Jackson’s This Is It: Original Soundtrack
US #1, AUS #2, UK #3
In the early days of my Michael Jackson fandom, ‘Beat It’ was my absolute favourite, and as you can see it hasn’t drifted far from the top over the last ten years. The song manages to be polished and raw at the same time, at once completely removed from everything Michael was known for at that point, yet making total sense and not feeling out of place. It was the closest he ever came to full-on rock music, yet he never let go of the melody or allowed the music to sound less than perfect. Every second is manufactured, for sure, but Michael let loose with the vocal, giving the song an almighty edge.
Between the cartoonish ‘Thriller’ and slinky R&B of ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Beat It’ may have sounded jarring way back when, but it’s now such an important part of the Michael Jackson legacy that Thriller would be unimaginable without it. That ominous noise at the start leading into the slamming beat is amazing enough, but the real kicker comes with his greatest ever riff – possibly the best riff in any rock song, ever. Sorry Keith Richards, sorry Jimi Hendrix, you all got beaten by that guy who sang ‘Ben’ and ‘Heal The World’. Michael makes an anti-violence theme sound dangerous and exciting instead of preachy – this song doesn’t come across as a nagging plea to stop the madness, it comes across as a warning, a knowing sign from somebody who knows better than you do.
The guitar solo. Holy shit, that guitar solo. Eddie Van Halen absolutely kills it, you can visualise the guitar just going up in flames afterwards, combusting from an overload of pure awesome. You can sing along to guitar solo like that, feel it in your bones and memorise every little note. And just to prove the strength of ‘Beat It’, take the video. Two rival gangs have their knife fight interrupted by a skinny guy in a bright red jacket, and instead of just killing him, they allow him to teach them that violence in wrong through the power of dance. Did people laugh at this video, make fun of the concept? No. ‘Beat It’ is widely considered one of the greatest music videos of all time. Michael brings out a new, stronger personality than we’d ever heard or seen before from him, and one that would go to good use on further hits like ‘Dirty Diana’ and ‘Give In To Me’. But for all his future rock and roll moments, none of them ever came close to the magic of ‘Beat It’.