Saturday, April 30, 1983

“Beat It” became Michael Jackson’s second #1 from Thriller

Beat It

Michael Jackson

Writer(s): Michael Jackson (see lyrics here)


Released: February 3, 1983


First Charted: February 26, 1983


Peak: 13 US, 12 CB, 11 RR, 11 RB, 14 AR, 3 UK, 13 CN, 2 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 5.5 US, 0.5 UK, 7.95 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 654.04 video, 520.58 streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Michael Jackson was already a star before 1982’s Thriller, but the one-two punch of “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” from that album sent him into the superstar stratosphere. Only a one-week run by Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” prevented “Beat It” from bumping “Billie Jean” from the top of the U.S. pop charts. It was the first time since the Beatles knocked themselves from #1 in 1964 that an artist followed one chart-topper so quickly with another. BR

More importantly, the song “rocked more than anything else Jackson had ever done,” RS500 largely because it “mated the top pop hero of revitalized Top 40…with Edward Van Halen, guitar king of heavy metal.” MA He refused pay for his services, unless one counts the two six-packs of beer producer Quincy Jones brought to him in the studio. SF Eddie told Q magazine in 2009 that he thought, “maybe Michael will give me dance lessons someday” SF and informed Musician magazine, “I didn’t care, I did it as a favor.” BR

That favor gave Michael garnered a rarity for a black, R&B/pop artist – airplay on album-rock stations. The song also snagged a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal. Jackson said, “I wanted to write the type of rock song that I would go out and buy…but also something totally different from the rock music I was hearing on Top Forty radio.” RS500

Also crucial to promoting “Beat It” to iconic status was its video. With “Billie Jean” the King of Pop broke down the racial barriers of the new video era. With “Beat It” he became the king of the video, giving viewers a mini-movie version of West Side Story with rival gangs facing off in a choreographed rumble. The dancing drew raves from Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire. BR


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Michael Jackson
  • DMDB page for parent album Thriller
  • BR Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 571.
  • MA Dave Marsh (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 351.

Last updated 6/28/2021.

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