If you grew up in the 70s and 80s as a lover of soul music, Rod Temperton has a special place in your heart. As the keyboardist and songwriter for the uber-popular band, Heatwave, he firmly secured his place in music history. But as the principal writer for a decade for Quincy Jones’s productions – penning such smashes as Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and “Thriller,” he was perhaps the hottest hitmaker of his time.
Temperton was born in the small northern town of Cleethorpes in England and began his working life at a fish processor. After moving to Wurms, Germany, he answered an ad in music paper, Melody Maker, from a band looking for a keyboard player. That band became the internationally popular band Heatwave, and Rod began writing tunes for the group's first album, which was eventually released in 1976. Called Too Hot To Handle, it included the huge international hits, "Boogie Nights" and "Always and Forever."
Following two more Heatwave LPs, Rod was approached by legendary producer Quincy Jones to write songs for an upcoming Michael Jackson LP, which Jones was about to produce. Rod provided three tunes - "Off the Wall" (the title track), "Rock with You" and "Burn this Disco Out." The LP made Jackson an international star -- selling 20 million copies -- and the relationship between Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton was born.
In the early 80s, Rod wrote hits for many of Quincy Jones production projects, including George Benson ("Give me the Night" and "Love x Love"), Brothers Johnson ("Stomp") and Patti Austin ("Baby, Come to Me"). He then penned three more songs for Michael Jackson's follow-up album, Thriller, including the title track. The LP went on to smash all sales records, selling in excess of 70 million copies. The song "Thriller" began life as "Starlight," and the famous Vincent Price rap was written by Rod in the back of a cab on the way to the studio. Temperton followed with compositions for a number of A-List stars, including Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Michael McDonald, Patti Austin, Donna Summer and many more.
Temperton exited from the music scene in the late 90s and after that lived a quiet, relatively secluded life. He rarely appeared in public or speoke to the media. He was conspicuously absent from the Spike Lee documentary about Off The Wall in 2016. But his music was everywhere, and the soundtrack to the lives of so many people around the world is filled with the extremely melodious, often funky, compositions that made Rod Temperton as good as it gets. In October 2016, Temperton died age 66 after a long battle with cancer.
By Chris Rizik with Jed Pitman
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