Rod Temperton, 1949 – 2016: A Thrilling Heatwave Of Hits

The legendary songwriter Rod Temperton passed away earlier this week, as reported on October 5, extinguishing one of pop/soul music’s guiding lights and further solidifying 2016 as one of the toughest years yet in terms of music’s greatest losses.

Rod Temperton, keyboardist and songwriter for the group Heatwave, died last week at age 66.
Rod Temperton, the legendary songwriter who got his start as keyboardist and songwriter for the group Heatwave, died last week at age 66.

To say 2016 has been a tough year in terms of the music industry’s losses would be an understatement at this point, especially with the deaths of Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard and Maurice White all happening in rapid succession earlier in the year.  But those musicians were clearly frontmen whose names far exceeded their individual accomplishments, whether those accomplishments be behind the mic or in some cases behind the production boards.

The more recent losses of R&B singer Kashif and now songwriter/keyboardist Temperton are opportunities to remember the great contributions of music men whose songs (mostly those recorded by others) are sometimes more remembered than the people who actually created them.

Rod Temperton, who was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1949, was best known for either of two things: (1) being the keyboardist and principal songwriter of the funk/dance/R&B group Heatwave from 1976-78 (their prime years I might add); or (2) being the man who wrote some of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, including “Rock With You” and the title tracks to his first two Epic Records albums, “Off The Wall” and “Thriller.”  For the latter contributions, most have always cited Jackson himself and mega-producer Quincy Jones for being the masterminds that made Thriller and Off The Wall the iconic albums that they eventually became – and rightly so.  But without those key songs, and the man who penned them, particularly “Rock With You,” which took MJ to another level in 1980 against a post-disco backdrop that could’ve seen the artist’s success go either way, who knows what the albums’ fates might have been?  In other words, without the unqualified success of Off The Wall, would there have even been a Thriller?

Rod Temperton wrote "Thriller" and several of Jackson's other big hits.
Rod Temperton wrote “Thriller” and several of Jackson’s other big hits.

But Rod Temperton did far more than Thriller, Off The Wall and Heatwave’s biggest hits.  The list of songs this unlikely soul man either wrote or cowrote is off the charts!  The Jackson tunes only tell a small fraction of the story…even the Quincy Jones chapter of it.  Most notably, Temperton connected with Jones for some of the legendary producer’s other protégés as well, including the Brothers Johnson, George Benson, and James Ingram.  He even wrote big hits for “the Dude” Q himself.

In 1980 alone, Rod Temperton wrote three #1 R&B songs produced by Quincy: “Rock With You,” “Stomp” by the Brothers Johnson and “Give Me The Night” by George Benson.  He later penned the #1 pop tune: “Baby, Come To Me” by Patti Austin & James Ingram.  He also wrote the Quincy Jones helmed tunes “Yah Mo Be There” for Ingram and Michael McDonald in 1983, and “The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)” for Jones’ own album, Back On The Block in ’89.

The unique combination of producer Quincy Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton resulted in some huge hits in the 1980s.
The unique combination of producer Quincy Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton resulted in some huge hits in the 1980s.

To call Temperton Jones’ go-to man for hits would be an accurate statement, as Quincy was reportedly impressed with Rod’s Heatwave work when he commissioned the British musician to pen songs for Jackson’s first Epic solo release in ’79.  Their synergistic relationship continued right on through the 1980s and beyond, providing pop and R&B fans the soundtrack of a lifetime and making Rod Temperton one of the greatest in music to ever put pen to paper.

As a tribute to this legend, and the music world’s latest great loss, I’ve created a countdown of the 25 Greatest Songs Written or Cowritten by Rod Temperton.  This list is mostly based on opinion – mine – but it’s also informed by how well the songs did on the Billboard charts, how iconic they’ve been off the charts (i.e., how well they’ve aged in the many years since their original release), and how much impact they’ve had on music lovers worldwide, both musicians and fans alike.

I know it’s hard to rank some of these, like “Always and Forever” and “Rock With You” against one another, but I’ve taken the risk and done just that.  It’s likely you’ll have different opinions, so please feel free to comment below the article.

In addition to the djroblist countdown, I’ve created a special playlist of Rod Temperton’s greatest songs, which you can access here.

Rod Temperton, rest well with the angels.  We will light a candle for you – always and forever.

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25 Greatest Songs Written or Cowritten by Rod Temperton

Oct 05, 2016 - youtube.com - 69
25. Ain't No Half Steppin' - Big Daddy Kane

Rod Temperton wrote many of Heatwave's most memorable hits, including "Ain't No Half Steppin'" off their first album, Too Hot to Handle. Of the many hip-hop songs that sampled the tune (for which original songwriters always get credit), this one by Big Daddy Kane was the most successful in 1988.

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DJRob

Rod Temperton, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson in 1982.
Rod Temperton, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson in 1982.
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