On this DAY, February 14, 1983, The King of Pop, Michael Jackson released the GROUNDBREAKING, ‘Beat It’ song!
The song was produced by Quincy Jones together with Jackson. Following the successful chart performances of the Thriller singles “The Girl Is Mine” and “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” was released on February 14, 1983 as the album’s third single. The song is also notable for its famous video, which featured Jackson bringing two gangs together through the power of music and dance, and for Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo.
“Beat It” received the 1984 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, as well as two American Music Awards. It was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame. The single, along with its music video, helped propel Thriller into becoming the best-selling album of all time. The single was certified platinum in the United States in 1989. Rolling Stone placed “Beat It” on the 344th spot of its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The song was also ranked number 81 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”!!
The music video for “Beat It” helped establish Jackson as an international pop icon. The video was Jackson’s first treatment of black youth and the streets. Both “Beat It” and “Thriller” are notable for their “mass choreography” of synchronized dancers, a Jackson trademark.
The video, which cost Jackson $150,000 to create after CBS refused to finance it,was filmed on Los Angeles’ Skid Row—mainly on locations on East 5th Street—around March 9, 1983. To add authenticity to the production but also to foster peace between them, Jackson had the idea to cast members of rival Los Angeles street gangs Crips and Bloods. In addition to around 80 genuine gang members, the video, which is noted for opening up many job opportunities for dancers in the US, also featured 18 professional dancers and four breakdancers. Besides Jackson, Michael Peters, and Vincent Paterson, the cast included Michael DeLorenzo, Stoney Jackson, Tracii Guns, Tony Fields, Peter Tramm, Rick Stone, and Cheryl Son.
The video was written and directed by Bob Giraldi, produced by Antony Payne and Mary M. Ensign through production company GASP. The second video released for the Thriller album, it was choreographed by Michael Peters who also performed, alongside Vincent Paterson, as one of the two lead dancers. Despite some sources claiming otherwise, Jackson was involved in creating some parts of the choreography. Jackson asked Giraldi, at the time already an established commercial director but who had never directed a music video, to come up with a concept for the “Beat It” video because he really liked a commercial Giraldi had directed for WLS-TV in Chicago about a married couple of two elderly blind people who instead of running from a run-down neighborhood all the other white people had fled from, chose to stay and throw a block party for all the young children in the area. Contrary to popular belief, the concept of the video was not based on the Broadway musical West Side Story; in reality Giraldi drew inspiration from his growing up in Paterson, New Jersey.
The video had its world premiere on MTV during prime time on March 31, 1983 though it should be noted that neither Beat It nor Billie Jean was, as is often claimed, the first music video by an African-American artist to be played on MTV. Soon after its premiere the video was also running on other video programs including BET’s Video Soul, SuperStation WTBS’s Night Tracks, and NBC’s Friday Night Videos. In fact, Beat It was the first video shown on the latter’s first ever telecast on July 29, 1983!