Songwriter extraordinaire Rod Temperton dies

In more sad news Rod Temperton, the man behind some of the greatest soul and R&B songs of all time, has died aged 66. 

He was known as ‘the invisible man’ of the music world. For decades the intensely private songwriter Rod Temperton has kept an incredibly low profile, despite writing hit songs for some of the world’s biggest artists. And only now, a week after his death and a private funeral, has the death of Mr Temperton has been announced to the world. A spokesman from Warner Music provided a statement to the BBC in which he said Temperton had died after “a brief aggressive battle with cancer”. He was 66.

Born in Cleethorpes, Temperton’s first job was working in a frozen food company. He then began gigging as a keyboardist, and in 1974 saw an advert to join a group called Heatwave. Here he cut his teeth as a performer and developed his songwriting skills, contributing the disco classic ‘Boogie Nights‘ to the group’s 1976 album Too Hot To Handle along with the ballad ‘Always & Forever’, which would become one of the great ballads of all time.

His songwriting talents caught the eye of none other than Quincy Jones. Temperton had quid Heatwave as a keyboardist but continued to write for the group, including their smash ‘The Groove Line‘. Impressed by his writing skills, Quincy Jones asked him to contribute to Michael Jackson’s first post-Motown solo album; Temperton delivered the goods, contributing ‘Rock With You‘, ‘Off The Wall‘ and ‘Burn This Disco Out‘.

The collaboration with Quincy Jones continued into the eighties,  scoring big again with jazz-turned-soul singer George Benson with ‘Give Me The Night‘ and ‘Love X Love‘ in 1980; The Brothers Johnson with the fast-paced boogie classic ‘Stomp‘; James Ingram and Michael McDonald on ‘Yah Mo Be There‘; and on Quincy Jones’ solo album Razzamatazz, with Temperton writing the title track.

But if there’s one thing that has cemented Temperton’s place in music history it is his involvement in Michael Jackson’s follow-up to Off The Wall, the mega-selling ThrillerTemperton contributed three songs to the album: ‘The Lady in My Life‘, the brilliant ‘Baby, Me Mine‘, and the title track itself. In an interview quoted in Rolling Stone, Temperton said of Thriller:

“You could visualize it on top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandizing of this one word; it jumped off the page at you. So I knew I had to write it as ‘Thriller,’ and I wrote all the words very quickly, then went to the studio and we did it.”

Thriller was a global hit, buoyed by Jackson’s epic 13 minute music video directed by John Landis. Yet, it is still a footnote in Michael Jackson’s history that the song wasn’t written by him: it was written by a man from Cleethorpes in the north of England. For all his success in the industry Temperton remained an incredibly private man, rarely granting interviews and rarely speaking out; he didn’t even make many public statements on the death of Michael Jackson. His illness was kept from the public eye although in the summer he did reportedly attend the Quincy Jones prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Guarded and intensely private to the end, Rod Temperton leaves behind an incredible musical legacy that has brought joy to millions the world over.

Published
8 months ago
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George Haffenden
Written by George Haffenden
Brought up on a healthy diet of soul and funk, Haff's dream was to become the first British member of The Temptations. Realising that this dream could never be realised, he is now the curator of The Funk & Soul Revue.