Most casual music fans are not likely to recognize the name (indeed, his nickname was “The Invisible Man,”) but behind the scenes, Rod Temperton was one of the most highly regarded songwriters within the music industry during the better part of the Eighties. He was also one of the more unlikely songwriters to regularly grace the R&B charts, originally hailing from Lincolnshire, England, first rising to prominence after an American serviceman named Johnnie Wilder recruited him in the U.K. to join his newly-formed dance band Heatwave. Temperton would remain the band’s keyboardist and primary songwriter for its first two albums before leaving to concentrate on songwriting full-time, though he’d continue to compose material for the band after departing the lineup. Temperton had more or less retired by the ‘90s, typically only re-emerging to work on albums for his longtime friend and champion, Quincy Jones, but during the late ‘70s and ‘80s, he was one of the most in-demand songwriters in the business, regularly scoring hits on both the pop and R&B charts. Not familiar with what songs he’s responsible for? Let us walk you through just a few of the albums that helped to put his name on the musical map …
Heatwave, Too Hot to Handle (1976, Epic)
The debut album from disco/funk outfit Heatwave was a must-own for any club deejay in the late Seventies, and Temperton (who penned all nine tracks here) helped to make the band an international phenomenon immediately thanks to two massive and timeless hits, the slippery disco of “Boogie Nights” and the gentle balladry of “Always and Forever,” which would make the Top 40 a second time around in the ‘90s, courtesy of a cover by R&B vocal group Whistle. [The song would nearly make the Top 40 a third time, in the form of a cover by Luther Vandross.]
Heatwave, Central Heating (1978, Epic)
Heatwave’s sophomore outing would turn out to be Temperton’s last album with them as an official band member (he never stopped writing material for them, and later hits of theirs, including “Gangsters of the Groove,” would similarly come from his pen), and this disc gave the band their third and final American Top 40 pop hit with the “Boogie Nights”-flavored disco/funk of “The Groove Line.”
Michael Jackson, Off the Wall (1979, Epic)
The album that sent Temperton’s career into the stratosphere and caused him to become an in-demand composer outside of the confines of Heatwave, Temperton penned three cuts here. “Burn This Disco Out” would become the album’s closing cut, but the ominous grooves of the title cut would become a Top Ten hit, while the sophisticated and lovely disco of “Rock with You” would send Michael to the top of the charts for four weeks in 1980 and become one of his most enduring dancefloor classics.
George Benson, Give Me the Night (1980, Warner Bros.)
The legendary jazz guitarist had already had some sizable crossover success on the pop charts in the late ‘70s with his covers of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” the Drifters’ “On Broadway,” and L.T.D.’s “Love Ballad,” but he’d never made a conscious play for the dance or disco market until he hooked up with producer Quincy Jones, hot off his success as producer of Off the Wall. Jones would bring Temperton in to pen three cuts. The excellent “Love X Love” would make it to #61, but that was nothing compared to the lite disco of the title cut, which would crack the Top Five, reaching #4 and ultimately becoming the biggest hit of Benson’s career.
Brothers Johnson, Light up the Night (1980, A&M)
Brothers George and Louis Johnson (the latter of whom was also a wildly in-demand session bassist and would be responsible for the iconic bass riff in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”) had scored a small handful of hits in the mid-‘70s with the sultry grooves of “I’ll Be Good to You” and their cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23” and the nasty funk of “Get the Funk Out My Face,” but their 1978 album Blam! became their first album to fail to produce a Top 40 hit. For the follow-up, Quincy Jones brought in Temperton to write or co-write all but two of the nine tracks here. The title track would be a sizable R&B hit and “Treasure” a minor pop hit, but it was the song “Stomp!” that truly – if only briefly – revived the duo’s career, sending the brothers back to the top of the R&B charts and the Top Ten on the pop charts. Disco may have died, but “Stomp!” never quite did, and the song remains a dancefloor favorite and a must-own for any mobile disc jockey.
Quincy Jones, The Dude (1981, A&M)
Though none of the three Top 40 hits from this disc were penned by Temperton (although Rod would eventually pen a Top 40 hit for Quincy himself with “The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)” from 1989’s Back on the Block), Temperton would compose four tracks for this multiple-Grammy-award-winning album, and his contributions remain some of the finest examples of the kind of R&B and lite-disco that Temperton excelled at writing. “Somethin’ Special” is lovely and “Turn on the Action” a great closer, but even those are eclipsed by the sheer fun of the title cut and the catchy Patti Austin showcase “Razzamatazz.”
Patti Austin, Every Home Should Have One (1981, Qwest)
The vastly underrated Austin remained little-known outside the jazz world until she left CTI Records for Quincy Jones’ imprint Qwest in 1981. Temperton would pen four songs for Austin’s label debut. While his song “Do You Love Me?” would top the dance charts and become Austin’s biggest R&B hit yet, that was nothing compared to what would happen after ABC’s General Hospital (which had already been responsible for making a Number One hit out of Herb Alpert’s “Rise”) would take the Temperton-penned ballad “Baby, Come to Me” (a duet with James Ingram) and use it on its show, the song subsequently becoming the first Number One pop hit for Ingram and Austin both.
Michael Jackson, Thriller (1982, Epic)
For their follow-up to Off the Wall, Michael and Quincy brought Temperton back to pen three songs. Two of those cuts (the fun post-disco of “Baby Be Mine” and the sultry closer “The Lady in My Life”) would strangely be the only two cuts from Thriller to not be released as singles, but the third Temperton-penned cut would prove to be a monster (and in more ways than one!) – the album’s iconic title cut, which would not only become a Top Five hit and enduring dancefloor classic but the soundtrack for what might very well remain the single-greatest music video of all-time.
Donna Summer, Donna Summer (1982, Geffen)
For her self-titled sophomore outing for Geffen, Summer, at her label’s insistence, employed the production services of Quincy Jones, who’d, in turn, bring in Temperton to co-write three cuts. For Summer, whose last several singles for Geffen had underperformed (only barely managing to squeak into the Top 40) and whose most recent recording for the label had been rejected outright, the move paid off, and the contemporary funk of the Temperton-co-write “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)” gave Summer her first Top Ten hit in several years.
Manhattan Transfer, Bodies and Souls (1983, Atlantic)
Perhaps Temperton’s most unlikely client of all during the ‘80s was this veteran co-ed jazz-vocal combo, who’d manage to score a few unlikely crossover hits in the previous eight years (including the gospel-laced “Operator” and a remake of the Ad Libs’ classic “The Boy from New York City”) but typically stuck to a hodgepodge of jazz (“Birdland,” “Four Brothers”) and doo-wop (“Trickle Trickle,” “Gloria”) and only rarely made something that was deliberately contemporary-sounding. So it must have been completely jarring to the quartet’s many jazz fans to slip this disc on and immediately be greeted with the neo-disco of Temperton’s “Spice of Life,” which was not all that distant a cousin of Thriller’s “Baby Be Mine.” The single lost the band some fans, but it also gave them their hippest-sounding single yet and took the band back into the Top 40 just when it seemed they might be fading out of style. The song (which also sports a typically memorable harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder, which just makes the single all the more irresistible) remains one of Temperton’s most underrated songs (and Janis Siegel does a phenomenal job of handling the demanding vocal range of the melody). The second Temperton tune here, “Mystery,” would strangely miss the Hot 100 entirely but would later be covered to great success by Anita Baker on her breakthrough album Rapture.
James Ingram, It’s Your Night (1983, Qwest)
By the time Ingram’s first album finally arrived in 1983, he had already scored three sizable Top 40 hits (“Just Once,” “One Hundred Ways,” and “Baby, Come to Me”), all as a featured artist on someone else’s record (in the case of the former two songs, Quincy Jones; in the case of the latter, Patti Austin) and never as the lead artist. While this album strangely sold only modestly, one of Temperton’s two songs here would finally give Ingram his first hit as the top-billed artist, the synth-heavy soulful pop of “Yah Mo B There,” a duet with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald.
Original Soundtrack, Running Scared (1986, MCA)
While both the Gregory Hines/Billy Crystal flick itself and this soundtrack to the film have become somewhat forgotten to time, this disc – largely written (as well as produced) by Temperton – would add two more sizable hits to Rod’s resume as a songwriter: Klymaxx’s “Man Size Love” and, even more significantly, Michael McDonald’s most recent Top Forty hit to date, the Top Ten smash “Sweet Freedom.”