Years before Run-DMC invited Aerosmith to make crossover music history, Michael Jackson roped in Eddie Van Halen to provide the ripping solo on "Beat It."
Van Halen's distortion was allegedly toned down in production to make it more palatable to 47 million record buyers. Still, not even Quincy Jones' polish is enough to numb the ferocity of an Eddie solo. This was also years before hard rock and glam metal dominated the top 40, and for better or worse, "Beat It" may have significantly expanded pop metal's audience.
Nowadays, Slash will lend his guitar-playing and persona to anyone with a buck and no credibility. But in 1991, it wasn't just anyone who could get the world's most well-paid functioning alcoholic to perform.
Skip the video's overlong, unfunny intro, and you get a simple but effective riff from the most recognizable biracial guitarist since Jimi Hendrix. Between being in the world's biggest rock band and providing living proof of "Black or White's" chorus, Slash would've been a natural choice to appear in the video, although I imagine that the Use Your Illusion tour was pretty incapacitating.
At an MTV Awards show in 2003, Metallica performed a medley of rock riffs that included songs from Nirvana and the White Stripes. At the 1:22 mark, Kirk Hammett launches into "Beat It."
It's nothing too special, other than a great metal band unironically playing a few measures of a great pop song. Still, the ease at which the two artists blend accentuates the aggressive edge to Michael Jackson's music. So what if he was the biggest star in the world--doesn't belligerence often help sell records?
Axl from Metalsucks may have made the best point--who didn't own Thriller before owning Reign in Blood?