Van Halen’s most famous cameo is his work on Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It.” The guitarist later revealed that he not only played the solo, but also made a few suggestions to the arrangement,
“I listened to the song, and I immediately go, ‘Can I change some parts?’” he said. “I turned to the engineer and I go, ‘Okay, from the breakdown, chop in this part, go to this piece, pre-chorus, to the chorus, out.’ Took him maybe 10 minutes to put it together. And I proceeded to improvise two solos over it.”
But “Beat It” is merely the tip of the iceberg. His guitar work features on albums by fellow rock legends like Queen‘s Brian May, Roger Waters and Toto‘s Steve Lukather, and he helped out on some demos for Gene Simmons of Kiss. But he frequently moved outside his hard-rock comfort zone, playing on records by artists as diverse as Thomas Dolby, rapper LL Cool J, Nicolette Larson and pianist Rich Wyman, and worked behind the glass to produce a couple of albums by Private Life.
Kiss / Gene Simmons Demos (1977)
One of Van Halen’s earliest supporters was Gene Simmons of Kiss, who saw them perform in 1976, signed the band to his production company and financed their 15-song demo. A year later, the bassist recruited Eddie and Alex to help him out on some demos. In one overnight session, they cut early versions of “Christine Sixteen,” “Tunnel of Love” and “Got Love for Sale.” “We recorded those three songs in about two hours,” Simmons said in 2017, “and the solo Eddie played on “Christine Sixteen” was so wonderful that I, unfortunately for Ace [Frehley], forced him to play note-for-note that solo.” The three songs eventually saw official release in 2017 as part of the Gene Simmons Vault collection.
Nicolette Larson, “Can’t Get Away From You” (1978)
Nicolette Larson’s 1978 debut solo album, Nicolette, is best remembered for her chart-topping rendition of Neil Young‘s “Lotta Love.” But it was a different track, “Can’t Get Away From You,” that featured an appearance by Eddie Van Halen. The rocker provided a searing guitar part for the song, including an energizing solo roughly 1:45 into the song. “He didn’t want his name used because they were Van Halen and that’s all there was to it,” Larson explained years later of the guitarist’s uncredited appearance. “That was when they were just starting, and they were very much into being just Van Halen and nothing else.” Larson’s LP was produced by Ted Templeman, Van Halen’s longtime cohort, explaining the likely link between the two projects.
Brian May, ‘Star Fleet Project’ (1983)
In 1983, after being introduced to the TV show Star Fleet by his son, Queen guitarist Brian May assembled a collection of his rock-star friends to create the Star Fleet Project EP. The three-song collection featured a cover of the show’s theme song, along with an old May composition (“Let Me Out”) and an original tune called “Blues Breaker.” While the release was strange and certainly loaded with ‘80s ridiculousness, it was notable for bringing two of rock’s greatest guitarists together. Throughout each song, May and Van Halen trade riffs, each contributing their own signature sound. The scope of hearing such vaunted artists teaming up was almost enough for listeners to forget the cheesy, sci-fi video that accompanied “Star Fleet.”
Sammy Hagar, ‘I Never Said Goodbye’ (1987)
In order to receive his record label’s blessing to join Van Halen, Sammy Hagar had to release one last solo album after the band finished its first tour together. Released in 1987, I Never Said Goodbye would fulfill that requirement, while also delivering one of the most diverse albums of the Red Rocker’s career. Hagar enlisted Eddie Van Halen as bassist and backing vocalist for the LP, which included the popular tracks “Give to Live” and “Eagles Fly.” The latter even features a quick and uncredited Van Halen guitar cameo. Eddie, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony all also appear in the video for the song “Hands and Knees.”
Private Life, ‘Shadows’ and ‘Private Life’ (1988)
In 1988, Van Halen began an association with a Los Angeles band called Private Life, whom he knew because lead singer Kelly Breznik was friends with Van Halen’s wife Valerie Bertinelli. He and Ted Templeman co-produced their debut LP, Shadows, and Eddie helmed their self-titled second album by himself. One of the songs from Private Life, “Touch Me,” was covered by Tia Carrere in Wayne’s World, although it wasn’t included in the film’s soundtrack.
Steve Lukather, “Twist the Knife” (1989)
When Toto guitarist and studio session ace Steve Lukather released his first-ever solo album in 1989, his longtime friend Eddie Van Halen was there to help, co-writing and performing bass on the opening track. The song actually began life as “I Want Some Action,” an unreleased song from the sessions for Van Halen’s 1986 album 5150.
Thomas Dolby, ‘Astronauts & Heretics’ (1991)
In 1991, Thomas Dolby, who scored a hit with “She Blinded Me With Science” the previous decade, asked Van Halen to record two tracks, “Close but No Cigar” and “Eastern Bloc,” for his Astronauts & Heretics album. The two had known each other through their wives (Dolby has been married to actress Kathleen Beller since 1988). In his 2016 autobiography, Dolby described the surreal weekend he spent at Van Halen’s home studio, which involved For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge co-producer Andy Johns crashing his car into a statue and Alex Van Halen telling Dolby he wasn’t happy with the idea of the two working together. Dolby later told UCR that the time they spent together was “very fun experience. … I loved jamming with him, and I think he enjoyed it, too, sort of being drawn out and playing a different type of music.”
Black Sabbath, “Evil Eye” (1994)
For years, fans have argued whether Van Halen delivered a searing guitar solo on Black Sabbath’s 1994 song “Evil Eye.” As the story goes, Van Halen was in Europe around the same time Sabbath were in their U.K. studio. Van Halen called Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and invited himself over for a jam session. “[Eddie] played on ‘Evil Eye,’” Iommi recalled in his 2012 memoir. “I played the riff, and he played a great solo over it. Unfortunately, we didn’t record it properly on our little tape player, so I never got a chance to hear it!” Despite this assertion – and the lack of a song credit – many fans continue to insist that the song’s solo is performed by Eddie. In 2018, Tony Martin, who was fronting Sabbath at the time, revealed he’d found a recording of the jam session, though the tape has yet to see the light of day.
Rich Wyman, ‘Fatherless Child’ (1996)
Pianist Rich Wyman’s second album, 1996’s Fatherless Child, featured Van Halen on both guitar and bass on three tracks: “The Little Things,” “Blinded by Pain” and the instrumental “The Water Sings.” Van Halen also produced the closer, “Even the Dog Knows.” According to Wyman’s bio, the guitarist saw him playing in Park City, Utah, and brought him to Van Halen’s 5150 Studio, where Van Halen and producer Andy Johns began work on the record.
Alex Van Halen, “Respect the Wind” (1996)
The final days of Van Hagar were drawing near when Van Halen agreed to record material for the 1996 film Twister. The project – which Hagar didn’t want to be a part of, because his wife was pregnant at the time – was initially supposed to include two Van Halen originals on the soundtrack. The first was a heavy-hitting rocker titled “Humans Being,” while the second was a tender ballad called “Between Us Two.” Following recording, Hagar left to head back to his Maui home when he was told the latter track was going to be dropped. “As I’m leaving, Eddie goes, ‘No, no, no. You can’t leave yet. They aren’t going to use the ballad in the movie now!’” the Red Rocker explained to Guitar World. With Hagar unwilling to record something new, Eddie teamed with his brother Alex to create a second contribution to the soundtrack, an instrumental called “Respect to the Wind.”
Roger Waters, “Lost Boys Calling” (1999)
In 1999, Roger Waters returned from a seven-year recording hiatus by contributing a song to the soundtrack of La Leggenda del Pianista Sull’Oceano, an English-language Italian film renamed The Legend of 1900 for its American release. Waters collaborated with the film’s composer, Ennio Morricone, for the song “Lost Boys Calling,” which featured as the soundtrack’s closing tune. Eddie Van Halen played guitar on the track, delivering an emotional swell to the piece.
Steve Lukather, “Joy to the World” (2003)
In 2003,Lukather released a Christmas album called Santamental. The Toto guitarist recruited many of his famous friends for the project, including Slash, Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. “Ed and I have been friends for 24 years or so,” Lukather explained years later. “I got him out of seclusion to come rip up one of the Xmas tunes.” Eddie would play on “Joy to the World,” a powerful update of the Christmas classic that Lukather modeled after Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” and Jeff Beck’s “Space Boogie.”
LL Cool J, ‘Authentic’ (2013)
Van Halen branched out even further from his typical sound when he collaborated with hip-hop legend LL Cool J on “We’re the Greatest” and “Not Leaving You Tonight” from 2013’s Authentic. “The diversity of the songs on this album and the other artists he has collaborated with is outstanding, appealing to multiple genres of music and maybe even creating a few of our own,” Van Halen said. “I feel blessed to not only have had the opportunity to work with LL, but also to call him a great friend.” The rapper returned the favor, noting that he contacted the guitarist because he “just really wanted to work with the best, work with people that I respect, people that I look up to, people that impress me, people that I believe are truly super-talented.”