RIP: Rod Temperton

Posted October 5, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Heatwave member and legendary songwriter dies of cancer at the age of 68

Rod Temperton, the legendary hit-making songwriter for music giants like Michael Jackson, died in London at the age of 68 after a short bout with cancer. Always elusive from the music scene, the songwriter/singer died last week, with reports of his death kept quiet. A private funeral attended by family and close friends has already transpired.

Nicknamed by some as the Invisible Man for keeping such a low profile, Temperton was born in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire and jumped into the world of music after joining a multiracial band named Heatwave as a keyboardist. Eventually the group went on to record a number of his songs in the late ’70’s, with many of them becoming their biggest hits. Some of them included the disco-funk ditties “Boogie Nights” (#2 pop, #5 R&B) and “The Groove Line” (#7 pop, #3 R&B). “Always and Forever,” a beautiful love ballad later covered by Luther Vandross, quickly became one of the earliest examples of Quiet Storm torchbearers.

Temperton’s skill attracted the attention of renowned producer Quincy Jones. At the time, Jones was constructing Michael Jackson’s comeback solo album Off the Wall. That disc contained many of Temperton’s songs, one of which including the crossover hit “Rock With You” (#1 pop, R&B), which became the fourth biggest single of 1980. Temperton also scored the album’s infectious title track (also a hit single, #10 pop) and the blistering closing track “Burn This Disco Out.” Throughout the early ’80’s, many of his compositions fell upon projects designed by Jones, which included acts like Rufus, Brothers Johnson (“Stomp!) and George Benson (“Love X Love”). Jones also used him mightily on his own solo projects, pumping out favorites like the Patti Austin-helmed “Razzamatazz,” the mighty all-star Quiet Storm classic “The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)” (featuring R&B crooners El DeBarge, James Ingram, Al B. Sure and Barry White) and yet another career staple, the Tamia-powered “You Put a Move On My Heart” for the Q’s Juke Joint album (1998).

Other notable tracks cut during this period included Donna Summer’s “Love Is In Control (Finger on the Trigger)” (another Jones production, also Grammy nominated), Anita Baker’s “Mystery” for her acclaimed Rapture album, the best-selling Patti Austin-James Ingram duet “Baby, Come to Me,” Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” and co-writing the Grammy-winning inspirational jam “Yah Mo B There” for James Ingram and Michael McDonald.

But Temperton’s greatest claim to fame may very well be his contributions on the best-selling album of the world, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Along with the B-side gem “Baby Be Mine,” Temperton provided some of the album’s glowing highlights such as the love ballad “The Lady In My Life” and the Vincent Price-guested title track. The latter came assembled with a critically-acclaimed, John Landis-directed mini-movie, transforming the music video industry forever. It’s now impossible to shake around Halloween, with its infectious zombie-themed choreography becoming the subject of social media video firestorms and dance mobs worldwide.

Musicians and music lovers all over posted their tributes to the late songwriter on social media. Nile Rodgers tweeted a photo featuring him with Temperton and Jones, adding “Your genius gave us a funkier world!”

Temperton once summed up his approach to songwriting by saying “the first criteria is write something you love first, and once you feel those hairs standing up on the back of your hand, you can go to the world.”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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