You might not know his name, but you surely know the songs of Rod Temperton, the British soul songwriter born on Oct. 9, 1949. Known informally in some circles as "The Invisible Man," this unassuming white songwriter from the seaside town of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, England wrote monster soul and disco hits for some of the biggest names in the genre during the '70s and '80s.
Here are 10 of Temperton's classic compositions that prove his groove.
Heatwave, "Boogie Nights" (1977)
Temperton first came to prominence as the keyboardist in Heatwave, an international dance band (members were British, American, Swiss, Czech and Jamaican) signed to the British GTO label. It was Temperton who wrote nearly every one of the band's songs, even after he stopped performing with the group after 1980. Debut Too Hot to Handle features nine of his works, including the pulsating "Boogie Nights," which climbed to #2 on the U.S. and U.K. charts. It also offered the title of the 1997 drama, also set during the '70s and starring Mark Wahlberg as an adult film star.
Heatwave, "Always and Forever" (1978)
If the pulsating bass and rhythmic guitar of "Boogie Nights" showcased Temperton's command of the dance floor, Heatwave's second U.K. Top 10 single "Always and Forever" proved he was a master of slow jams as well. This sensuous track later became a radio hit for Luther Vandross in 1994.
Michael Jackson, "Rock with You" (1979)
One of Heatwave's biggest fans was producer Quincy Jones, who hired Temperton to pen tracks for the artists he was working with. At the top of the list: Michael Jackson, then 21 years old and about to record his first solo album as an adult. "In the end, I wrote three songs, in order for Michael and Quincy to choose one song," Temperton recalled in 2001. But the duo dug all three, and not only included them on Off the Wall but released two of them as singles. "Rock with You," featuring a killer horn arrangement from trumpeter Jerry Hey, was the album's second single after the chart-topping disco delirium of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." It too became a #1 hit in 1980.
Michael Jackson, "Off the Wall" (1979)
While the bottom-heavy groove of "Off the Wall" would've been home on a Heatwave album, Temperton shared some secrets for making a Michael Jackson song in 2001. "The melodies he would sing on uptempo songs, he's very rhythmically driven," he said. "And so I tried to write melodies that...had a lot of short notes, to give him some staccato rhythmic things he could do." Combined with the blissful layered harmonies of Michael's voice, "Off the Wall" became the album's fourth Top 10 single.
The Brothers Johnson, "Stomp!" (1980)
Quincy was, of course, a super producer in the R&B world, and was keen to work with his most successful collaborators. So it wasn't long before Temperton found himself working with Q once again, this time on the fourth and final album he'd produce for The Brothers Johnson. Punctuated by killer disco strings and a typically propulsive bass line from Louis "Thunder Thumbs" Johnson, "Stomp!" marched all the way to the Top 10 in America - their third single to do so - while also giving them their sole Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom.
George Benson, "Give Me The Night" (1980)
The Q train kept rolling through 1980 with Give Me the Night, a killer soul-pop album by jazz guitarist George Benson - the first on Jones' new Qwest record label. The album netted Benson three Grammys, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental (for "Off Broadway," one of several Temperton tracks on the album). The title track, which Rod also composed, became Benson's biggest-ever chart hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 in England.
Patti Austin and James Ingram, "Baby, Come to Me" (1982)
Another classic Temperton collaboration with Quincy Jones, "Baby, Come to Me" featured a smooth blend from two of Q's top discoveries in the late '70s and early '80s: jazzy singer Patti Austin and smooth soul man James Ingram, introduced a year before on Jones' bestselling album The Dude. Though only a modest chart hit on initial release, it gained additional exposure in 1983 after soundtracking General Hospital's new breakout character Luke Spencer; his captivating romance and wedding to Laura Webber on the soap opera helped propel the song all the way up to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 - Temperton's second #1 as a songwriter.
Michael Jackson, "Thriller" (1982)
Rod penned three more songs for Michael Jackson's follow-up to Off the Wall, but it was the title track that may be his crowning achievement for the King of Pop. Originally titled "Starlight," Temperton rewrote the lyrics to reflect Michael's love for the macabre - famously penning a closen spoken-word rap hours before horror film star Vincent Price arrived to read the passage. Accompanied by a groundbreaking short film music video, "Thriller" was the album's unprecedented seventh Top 10 single (of nine tracks total!), helping the album become the best-selling long-player in history.
James Ingram & Michael McDonald, "Yah Mo B There" (1983)
Rod and Quincy Jones paired up once more on a track from James Ingram's It's Your Night, where Temperton - playing synthesizers alongside blue-eyed soul legend Michael McDonald - added his rhythm and charm to the duet "Yah Mo B There." Ingram has said that the unconventional title came from an idea of "how to say 'God will be there' without scaring most of the audience away" - "Yahweh" being the Hebrew name for the divine. (Others have had different explanations.) Whatever the origin, all parties got another Top 20 single in the U.S. and the U.K. for their trouble.
Michael McDonald, "Sweet Freedom" (1986)
In 1986, Temperton got his first and only job writing a film score for Running Scared, a buddy cop comedy starring Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. Rod also got his pick of singers to collaborate with on the film's accompanying soundtrack album, and tapped Michael McDonald to croon the film's theme song. Paired with many of the session pros he'd met through Quincy Jones, including legendary keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and another stellar horn section led by Jerry Hey, "Sweet Freedom" became a carefree smash, reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100.