Rod Temperton (1949-2016)

by Joseph Sarrington Smith

On 5 October 2016, Rod Temperton’s death was announced. He was 66, and had died in London the previous week. His funeral had already taken place. He’d been suffering from cancer. He was an English songwriter, record producer and musician.

You might not recognise the name, but you’ve probably heard some of the songs he’s written. A prolific songwriter with an impressive CV, his songs have been performed by The Brothers Johnson, George Benson, Patti Austin & James Ingram, Herbie Hancock, Donna Summer, The Manhattan Transfer, and Mica Paris, to name a few.

Originally from Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, he was a full-time musician and in 1974 became a member of the funk and disco band, Heatwave, as the keyboard player. After two successful albums, Temperton decided to concentrate on writing and left Heatwave in 1978.

I’m sure the highlight of his career came in 1979, when he was recruited by Quincy Jones to write for Michael Jackson’s studio album, “Off The Wall”. He wrote three songs for the album, including “Rock With You”, which became a No. 1 single.

Now living in Beverly Hills, Temperton wrote three songs, including the title track, for Jackson’s next LP, “Thriller”, in 1982. It became the biggest-selling album of all time. He also wrote the spoken word section of the song for Vincent Price.

Quincy Jones’ engineer had this to say about Temperton: “I simply loved Rod’s musical feeling – everything about it – Rod’s arrangements, his tunes, his songs – was exceedingly hip. The most disciplined pop music composer I’ve ever met. When he comes to the studio, every musical detail is written down or accounted for in Rod’s mind. He never stops until he feels confident that the music we’re working on is able to stand on its own”.

As I wrote this article, I was listening to Gilles Peterson pay tribute on 6 Music by playing some of his best known tracks. Whoa, what great tunes! He was a very talented songwriter, no doubt about it. I must recommend the BBC Radio 2 documentary: “The Invisible Man: The Rod Temperton Story”. Invisible indeed! It was difficult just finding a decent photo, which is why I went with the “Thriller” album cover.

I’ll finish by sharing something said by Temperton himself in the documentary: “My father wasn’t the kind of person who’d read you a story before you went off to sleep – he used to put a transistor radio in the crib, right on the pillow, and I’d go to sleep listening to Radio Luxembourg and I think that had an influence”.

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