Songwriter came up with Thriller in a taxi

NEW YORK • Rod Temperton, who wrote the 1970s disco classic Boogie Nights and went on to compose some of Michael Jackson's biggest hits, including Rock With You and Thriller, died last week. His family gave his age as 66.

Mr Jon Platt, chairman of Warner/Chappell, his music publisher, said he died after a "brief but aggressive battle with cancer".

The keyboardist and songwriter, who was born in England, was a member of the disco-funk group Heatwave when he caught the ear of producer and composer Quincy Jones with Boogie Nights and other songs on the group's debut album, Too Hot To Handle, released in 1977 in the United States.

When Jones began working with Jackson in 1978 on his first solo album in four years, he invited Temperton to submit songs. Temperton responded with Off The Wall, which became the title track of the album, released in late 1979, as well as Rock With You, which reached the top of the pop and R&B charts and became one of the biggest hits of 1980, and Burn This Disco Out.

For Jackson's next album, Temperton wrote another three songs, Baby Be Mine, The Lady In My Life and Thriller, the title track.

He is said to have come up with much of Thriller in a taxi as he travelled to the recording studio. It became the best-selling album of all time. "Originally, when I did my Thriller demo, I called it Starlight," he told The Sunday Telegraph of London in 2007. Jones sent him back to the drawing board for a better title. After coming up with several hundred alternatives, he settled on Midnight Man.

"The next morning, I woke up, and I just said this word. Something in my head just said, this is the title. You could visualise it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as Thriller."

Rodney Lynn Temperton was born in Cleethorpes, a seaside resort in Lincolnshire, England. Although his family has said that he was born on Oct 9, 1949, many sources give his birth year as 1947.

"My father wasn't the kind of person who'd read you a story before you went off to sleep; he used to put a transistor radio in the crib, right on the pillow, and I'd go to sleep listening to Radio Luxembourg and I think that had an influence," he said in a BBC documentary on his life.

Temperton also wrote hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s for Rufus and Chaka Khan (Live In Me), the Brothers Johnson (Stomp!), George Benson (Give Me The Night), Donna Summer (Love Is In Control) and Patti Austin and James Ingram (the duet Baby, Come To Me).

He is survived by his wife Kathy.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Songwriter came up with Thriller in a taxi'. Print Edition | Subscribe