“Eddie Van Halen had me play his 5150 guitar, and then he asked me to show the solo to him, because he’d forgotten it”: Jennifer Batten recalls re-teaching EVH the Beat It solo

(from left) Michael Jackson, Jennifer Batten and Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives, Larry Marano/Getty Images)

One of the greatest guitar solos of all time, Eddie Van Halen's sizzling lead break on Michael Jackson's giga-hit, Beat It, was an incredible moment in rock history – a meeting of two generational talents at the absolute peak of their powers. 

Having to play such an iconic solo night after night in Jackson's band was a tall order, but electric guitar hero Jennifer Batten – who toured with the late superstar three times – proved to be more than up to the task.

As Batten told Guitar Player in a 1989 interview, though, playing the solo in front of its author was a far more daunting task.

One day, by coincidence, Van Halen happened to be in a rehearsal studio next to Batten. 

“He’d heard that I played his solo on the tour, and he wanted me to play it for him,” Batten recalled. “Not the most relaxed situation for me! He had me play his red and white 5150 guitar, and then he asked me to show the solo to him, because he’d forgotten it.”

Befitting of his status as by far the biggest pop star of his day, Jackson's concerts were no small affairs, which presented additional challenges for Batten's big solo spot.

“As I played, I was wearing a fiber-optic suit that changed colors, and so did the guitar,” she reflected. “I had to put glow-in-the-dark tape on the neck to mark the frets so I wouldn’t get lost. Lights were flashing, so it was like moving through a strobe-lit disco. A few times, somebody stepped on the cord that connected my suit to the computer, and I almost got whiplash.”

The obstacles in Batten's way weren't just visual, either.

“I’d played the solo for years, but with Michael it was more challenging because the tempo was faster than the record, and the guitars were tuned down two whole steps to C for that song, so I had to use heavy-gauge strings,” she said. “Plus, I had to move around and jump up and down. I usually stand still when I solo.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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