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Artist: Weird Al Yankovich
Label: Scotti Brothers
Writers: Michael Jackson, Al Yankovic
Just as Michael Jackson’s album Thriller and the mega-hit Beat It was reaching its height, propelled by MTV and the 1984 Grammy Award for Record of the Year as well as a vocal performance Grammy for Jackson, Weird Al Yankovich released his equally legendary parody of the song, Eat It. Well, perhaps it’s not as legendary as Beat It, but it should be. Everything about it is brilliant, in true Yankovic fashion. Eddie Van Halen famously contributed the guitar solo to Michael Jackson’s take on the rock song but the solo that was reproduced on Eat It is fantastic in its own right. Who played it?
First, let’s be clear about something. Eddie Van Halen’s efforts would have never paid off if it hadn’t been for the herculean efforts of Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro (both of Toto), who had to fix timing problems incurred by Eddie’s improvised solo (and something about cutting the tape) and somehow blend additional guitar parts while satisfying the demands of Quincy Jones that it should not be ‘too hard.’
Who Played the Solo on Eat It?
While it’s true that Van Halen’s solo is seen as one of the best ever, some people say that the solo on Eat It is better. It was performed by guitarist and producer Rick Derringer, whom you might know from the songs Hang On Sloopy (by his band The McCoys) and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo (solo).
I am not one of those people who believe that the solo on Eat It is better although I do agree it is a great solo. Sometimes an off-the-cuff solo is better than a carefully worked out one, like the one on Eat It. But some folks state that the more carefully worked out solo is better. They may be picking up on some of the fixes that the recording of Beat It had to undergo because apparently it was a hot mess and required some careful work to salvage.
Weird Al Yankovic began working with Rick Derringer in 1983 and continued doing so throughout the eighties on projects such as the Police parody “King of Suede” and “I Lost on Jeopardy,” which was a take-off of Jeopardy by Greg Kihn. For the Eat It solo, Derringer slowed down the Beat It tape to learn Van Halen’s solo. As always for Yankovic, there was meticulous attention to detail.
Equally meticulous was the making of the Eat It video, which is still a joy to watch. It cost $40,000, not cheap for a parody. Yankovich had a crew recreate the Beat It set. They employed a method similar to Derringer’s, according to Yankovich: “We had a videotape and monitor on stage and we’d freeze a scene from ‘Beat it’ and the set people would duplicate it.”
How did Jackson feel about Eat It? Well, as you may know, Yankovich actually asks permission of all the artists he parodies. He doesn’t really have to in every case. He could just license the song as a cover. But he doesn’t want to disrespect or piss off anyone he spoofs. As far as I know, only one person has ever said no: Prince. You’d think Michael Jackson would be a bit hesitant, too. But, on the contrary, Yankovich said he was a delight to work with and had a sense of humor about it. He apparently really enjoyed Eat It and he also made some decent money from it.