The Songwriters – Rod Temperton

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.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Sex

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
tina
Rock you, Tina? I hope you mean what I think you mean

Sex. The very essence of rock, pop, soul and r’n’b music. Along with its more reserved sister, Love, it accounts for approximately 99.9% of all song lyrics.

The only problem facing people who want to write and sing about the oldest preoccupation is that to be explicit is to invite trouble, criticism, being banned and so on, which may or may not have an adverse effect on sales.

This, along with the usual need to rhyme, and the equally restrictive need to keep it simple, has resulted in certain innocent words being misused and eventually misconstrued.

Exhibit A: charms. The evidence against this is due entirely to its so often keeping company with the word arms, itself a harmless enough item except for its involvement in romantic clinches leading to intimacy.

Thus in the 1960s tale of a straying husband, 24 Hours from Tulsa, Gene Pitney tell us
All of a sudden I lost control as I held her charms
And I caressed her, kissed her
Told her I’d die before I would let her out of my arms

You held her ‘charms’ did you, Mr Pitney? And where were these ‘charms’ located? On her chest? Or at the top of her legs at the back?

The very term rock’n’roll is itself a reference to the sorts of motions made by those engaged in making love.

And talking of making love, is love really what people are talking about when they say that? It’s a euphemism that has made its way into the spoken word.

When Bad Company sang Feel Like Making Love, they weren’t suggesting merely saying a few romantic words in their lover’s ear, and nor was Roberta Flack in her very different song with the same title.

etta
Put them away, Etta. We get the idea

In the UK, Frankie Goes To Hollywood had their hit single Relax banned when people listened closely to the lyrics, as did Max Romeo with his ska smash Wet Dream.

At the beginning of her career Donna Summer made a fortune as much out of moaning and groaning suggestively as actually singing, while a few years later Olivia Newton John attempted to lose her nice-girl image by recording Let’s Get Physical, although many listeners were not convinced. She persevered by asking ‘will a little more love make you stop defending?’ when what she was really asking was if she would find her way into his heart by letting him have his wicked way with her again.

Notice how the ones sung by girls seem more brazen than the guys’ Neanderthal posturing. 1980s mini-star Charlene gave us I’ve Never Been to Me, in which she confides

I’ve been undressed by kings
And I’ve seen some things
That a woman’s not supposed to see

Oo err, girl, steady on.

Grace Jones, too fearsome a character for most men to make a pass at, took matters into her own hands with Pull Up to the Bumper, which had little to do with squeezing into a parking space. ‘In your long black limousine’, indeed.

grace
Where I come from you have a cigarette afterwards, not during

While so many songs of the past few years, particularly in the hiphop genre, are astonishingly sexist, with the bad muthas singing about ho’s and what they’re going to do to them, the world champion of the dirty lyric has to be the female rapper Khia, who came to prominence/notoriety in 2002 with My Neck My Back. The hit was with a cleaned-up version, but even on the raunchy original, she attempts to throw us off the track by mouthing different words on the video. While one person’s sexual interests are entirely their own business and the practices advocated in this song should not be condemned, you will have to look it up yourself, alone, preferably using headphones to protect the innocent. Or don’t.

So impressed was Miley Cyrus, Newton-John-like in her determination to redefine herself, that the former Hanna Montana recorded her own version of the song.

olivia
Give it a rest, Olivia – you’re just embarrassing yourself

It wasn’t an entirely original thought – is there anything that hasn’t been sung about before? In 1995 a UK indie duo called Scarlet had a hit with Independent Love Song, although its censor-evading urging to ‘go down, go down’ seems positively mild compared to what Khia and Miley are suggesting.

One can’t help wondering if, 20 years later, the Scarlet girls are living quietly in suburban obscurity, taking their own daughters to school and glossing over their brief brush with fame. After all, every generation of teenagers think they have exclusive rights to sex and it’s okay if they do it, but their parents?

God, Mum. You keep quiet about that or I’ll die.