When Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson were ready to record the epochal “Thriller” LP, Quincy called the best of the best, among them, songwriter Rod Temperton. In his autobiography “Q”, Quincy says that Rod was “one of the best songwriters who ever lived, with the melodic and contrapuntal gifts and instincts of a classical composer…He was absolutely the best to work with-always totally prepared, not one drop of b’s. We have always kept it very real with each other, exchanging strong opinions and comments without ever “throwing a wobbly” – British slang for “losing it”. He’s the kind of warrior you want at your side on the battlefield.”
Keith and Johnnie Wilder formed the group Heatwave in Germany and hooked up with Rod (who was born in Cleethorpes) when they moved to the UK. And they released their first album “Too Hot To Handle” in 1976 which went straight to number 11 on the US charts. All of the nine tracks were written by Rod Temperton, among them “Boogie Nights” and “Always And Forever”. Their second album “Central Heating” (1977) went to number 10 and featured seven of Rod’s songs, among them the immortal “Star Of A Story” which was later recorded by George Benson for his groundbreaking “Give Me The Night” album.
Rod left the band in late 1978, but their “Hot Property” album, released in 1979, was almost entirely written by him with “Razzle Dazzle” becoming one of the hits off that LP. And even though he was no longer with the group to start his career as a prolific songwriter mostly working with Quincy Jones, the “Candles” album from 1981 still had five of his tracks, with “Gangsters Of The Groove” probably the most well-known. And “Current” from 1982 also had a few of his songs, among them the irresistible “Lettin’ It Loose”, which was somehow typical of his skills – all of his songs had this certain fluidity and openness that were very easy to recognize and always a thrill to explore.
His most famous coup was his writing of many of the “Thriller” cuts, of course. He wrote the title track, “Baby Be Mine”, “P.Y.T.”, and “The Lady In My Life”. In the years before, he had tremendous success with several other Quincy Jones-produced albums and wrote epic and phenomenal songs for Michael Jackson (“Rock With You”, “Burn This Disco Out” and the title track), George Benson (“Give Me The Night”, “Love X Love”, “Off Broadway”, “Turn Out The Lamplight”), Patti Austin (“Do You Love Me?”, “Love Me To Death”, “The Genie”, and “Baby, Come To Me”, one of the most beautiful love songs ever written), The Brothers Johnson (“All About The Heaven” and more) and Rufus with Chaka Khan (“Masterjam”, “Live In Me”).
And then of course he was part of the team on one of my all-time favorite LPs: For the 1981 album “The Dude” by Quincy Jones, he wrote the title track (with Quincy and Patti), “Somethin’ Special”, “Razzamatazz”, and “Turn On The Action”. In the liner notes for the album, Quincy wrote: “To my buddy and the man I feel is truly the songwriter of the 80s, Rod Temperton, the only things bigger than your woolie are your talent and your heart”.
Herbie Hancock‘s “Lite Me Up” LP from 1982, heavily criticised for being too disco-pop, also featured some unforgettable Temperton tunes: the title track, “The Bomb”, “Gettin’ To The Good Part”, “The Fun Tracks”, “Motor Mouth”, and “Give It All Your Heart”, all of them little masterpieces. Remember “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald from 1986? That’s Rod Temperton, too. And “Mystery” by Anita Baker. “Living In The Streets” by Aretha Franklin and four songs for the 1993 album “Whisper A Prayer” by Mica Paris.
He died after a brief and aggressive battle with cancer in London last week at the age of 66.