Songwriters could be considered among the back-room boys of the hit single. They don’t have to have an image, they don’t have to be cool, they just need to have the gift of plucking words and tunes out of the air, or putting on paper and recording musical ideas that come into their brain from who knows where. Which is a long-winded way of saying Rod Temperton was an unlikely-looking figure in the glamorous world of pop music.
Temperton’s songs, though, were as cool and funky as a summer’s day in a sharp suit.
The first fruits of Temperton’s talent came with Heatwave, the UK-based multinational funk band that spread quality pop over the 70s and early 80s, and they announced themselves with a solid gold Temperton composition, Boogie Nights, which should be put in one of those time capsules for future generations or aliens to discover. From the second it bursts out of the swirly introduction it sums up the world of disco with an irresistible dance groove and the vocals singing the title in imitation of the guitarist’s riff. It’s not just hip, it’s happy, and it set the mood for much of the writer’s work, which brims with the enjoyment of life.
Although Temperton didn’t write all of Heatwave’s material, he did contribute two more of their best, in the tear-inducing love song Always and Forever and a sort of Boogie Nights mark II: The Groove Line.
The sheer quality caught the attention of producer Quincy Jones, and soon enough Temperton was writing songs for Michael Jackson. And not just album tracks, but some of the wayward entertainer’s biggest hits, like Rock With You, Off The Wall and Thriller. Again, the sheer exuberance of the songs provides the energy, with singer and producer just needing to do their bit.
The Jackson connection brought the name of Rod Temperton well and truly into the limelight, and commissions rolled in: Stomp for The Brothers Johnson, Give Me The Night and Love x Love for George Benson, Baby Come To Me for Patti Austin and James Ingram and Love Is In Control for Donna Summer.
James Ingram and Michael McDonald had a big hit with Yah Mo Be There, in which Temperton had a hand along with Ingram, McDonald and Quincy Jones.
Songwriting royalty, then: that’s Rod Temperton, who died in 2016 after what seems like a whirlwind 40 years as a conduit of beautiful, life-affirming songs.