|Birth name||Walter Anthony Murphy, Jr.|
December 19, 1952 |
New York City, New York
|Genres||Film score, big band, classical, disco, funk, jazz, R&B, soul, swing|
|Occupation(s)||Composer, arranger, pianist, musician, songwriter|
|Instruments||Piano, organ, keyboard, backing vocals|
|Labels||Amour, MCA, Private Stock, Marlin, TK, RCA, NY Intl., Major, Geffen, RSO, Reprise|
|Associated acts||The Big Apple Band, The Tonight Show Band, Peter Lemongello, Seth MacFarlane|
Walter Anthony Murphy, Jr. (born December 19, 1952) is an American composer, arranger, pianist, musician, and songwriter. He rose to fame with the hit instrumental "A Fifth of Beethoven", a disco adaptation of passages from the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, in 1976, when disco was rising in popularity.
In a career spanning nearly four decades, Murphy has written music for numerous films and TV shows, including Stingray, Wiseguy, Hunter, The Commish, Profit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Channel Umptee-3, Changing Hearts, Looney Tunes, and Foodfight!. He has had a long association with Seth MacFarlane, composing the music for his films and TV shows such as Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, American Dad!, and Ted.
Murphy was born on December 19, 1952, in New York City, New York, and grew up in Manhattan. At age four, he attended music lessons hosted by Rosa Rio, studying an array of instruments, including the organ and piano. Rio frequently opted for him to star in television advertisements for the Hammond organ. Growing up, Murphy studied classical piano, and later attended Mount Saint Michael Academy, where he studied and began to play jazz. Referring to his studies, Murphy stated "There never was a time when I wasn't studying music." Against the objections of his father, who was a real estate agent and wished to pass down his business to his son, Murphy enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music in 1970; recalling his experiences with his father, Murphy stated "He wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer—or something you can depend on." In 1972, he married his wife Laurie, who worked in the plastics industry.
During an appointment with Bobby Rosengarden, bandleader of the Dick Cavett Show orchestra, Murphy convinced the group to play some of his arrangements when he found Rosengarden to be absent. Looking back on the situation, he stated "I still can't believe I did it. I'm not a very forward person." Since the band "wasn't very busy," they performed his arrangements live and enjoyed them, convincing Murphy to write more.
In April 1972, a fellow student from the Manhattan School of Music introduced Murphy to Doc Severinsen, musical director of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Murphy presented his arrangements to Severinsen, who liked them enough to have The Tonight Show Band play them live. However, The Tonight Show moved production to Burbank, California a year later, and a final year of college prevented Murphy from going with them.
In the early 1970s, Murphy was the leader of a band called WAM that played the New York tri-state area. The band was a poor man's Tower of Power and played R&B and soul cover music. They frequently played in a New Rochelle club named Pearly's. Another group that played at this local circuit was The Billy Vera Band.
From 1974 to 1976, he also wrote jingle music for a variety of fashion brands, including Lady Arrow shirts as well as Revlon and Woolworth's, as well as arrangements for the popular television series Big Blue Marble.
In 1974, Murphy was writing a disco song for a commercial, when the producer gave him the idea of "updating classical music," which "nobody had done lately." He then mailed a demo tape to various record labels in New York. Although response was unimpressive, a rendition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony generated interest amongst the owner of Private Stock Records, Larry Uttal. Murphy agreed to produce the song under contract and recorded it in 1976, creatively dubbing it "A Fifth of Beethoven". The record was credited to "Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band" upon encouragement from the company, who believed it would become a hit if credited to a group rather than an individual. However, two days following the record's release, Private Stock discovered the existence of another Big Apple Band (which promptly changed its name to Chic); the record was later re-released and credited to "The Walter Murphy Band", then just "Walter Murphy".
The recording was a smash hit, and reached number 80 on the Hot 100 on May 29, 1976, eventually reaching number 1 within 19 weeks, where it stayed for one week. An album under the same name was released later during the year; the album notably featured a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" entitled "Flight '76", which reached number 44 on the Hot 100. As a result of the single's success, Murphy and his wife were able to move out of their two-room apartment in Yonkers and into a rented ranch house in the same neighborhood. On the success of the single, he said: "It's really sad that the kids today can only relate to Beethoven via a rock version of his music." He hoped "that maybe if they've heard this much of his symphony, they'll go out and buy the original."
Murphy's next release was the album Rhapsody in Blue in 1977. Two singles were released: one was a disco version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", while another was an original composition called "Uptown Serenade." The former narrowly missed the top 100, but received significant play on easy-listening stations, according to Billboard.
A 12" single of "Gentle Explosion" (from Murphy's album Phantom of the Opera), failed to make the club or radio charts in 1978. A move to RCA in 1979 produced one more 12" single, "Mostly Mozart", which proved that Murphy had taken this concept as far as it could go. Murphy was also creator of the Uncle Louie album Uncle Louie's Here which explored a more funk angle (Marlin LP via TK Records, 1979). His last chart entry and final single was in 1982, with a medley of "Themes from E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial)," which climbed to number 47 on the Hot 100.
Film and television musical career
Murphy, back to jingle writing, has written music for numerous TV shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Channel Umptee-3, Family Guy (as well as the album Family Guy: Live in Vegas), the main title music for The Cleveland Show, and the main title music for American Dad!. The song "You've Got a Lot to See", composed for the Family Guy episode "Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows" won the award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics at the 2002 Emmy Awards. Murphy described the orchestral score for Family Guy as "a combination of [big-band swing and action-orchestral]." In 2012, Murphy scored MacFarlane's film Ted, and received an Academy Award for Best Original Song nomination for co-writing "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" with MacFarlane.
|Don Kirshner's Rock Concert||Self||TV series (guest star)
Episode: "Episode #3.5"
Episode: "Episode #4.5"
Credited alongside his orchestra as Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band.
|The Midnight Special||Self||TV series (guest star)
Credited alongside his orchestra as Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band.
|Dinah!||Self||TV series (guest star)
Credited alongside his orchestra as The Walter Murphy Band.
|Family Guy||Various||Main role|
|Score! The Music of 'Family Guy'||Self||Special feature included on the Family Guy volume three DVD.|
|American Dad!||Various||Main role|
|Family Guy: Creating the Chaos||Self|
|Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show||Self||TV Special|
|The Cleveland Show||Various||Main Role|
|85th Academy Awards||Self||TV Special|
|A Fifth of Beethoven
(as The Walter Murphy Band)
|Rhapsody in Blue||
|Phantom of the Opera||
|Walter Murphy's Discosymphony||
|Uncle Louie's Here
(as Uncle Louie)
|Themes from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and More||
|Family Guy: Live in Vegas
(as Walter Murphy and His Orchestra)
|Ted: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(with Various Artists)
|The Best of Walter Murphy: A Fifth of Beethoven||
|"A Fifth of Beethoven"||1976||A Fifth of Beethoven|
|"Flight '76"||1976||A Fifth of Beethoven|
|"Rhapsody in Blue"||1977||Rhapsody in Blue|
|"Uptown Serenade"||1977||Rhapsody in Blue|
|"Gentle Explosion"||1978||Phantom of the Opera|
|"Toccata and Funk in 'D' Minor"||1978||Phantom of the Opera|
|"The Music Will Not End"||1978||Phantom of the Opera|
|"Mostly Mozart"||1979||Walter Murphy's Discosymphony|
|"Bolero"||1979||Walter Murphy's Discosymhpony|
|"Full-Tilt Boogie"||1979||Uncle Louie's Here|
|"I Like Funky Music"||1979||Uncle Louie's Here|
|"Sky High"||1979||Uncle Louie's Here|
|"Themes from E.T. (the Extra-Terrestrial)"||1982||Themes from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and More|
Awards and nominations
- BR-Online Staff (2003-12-29). "One Hit Wonder: Walter Murphy: "A Fifth of Beethoven"". BR-Online (in German). BR-Online.com. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
- Wilmath, Kim (2010-06-06). "Tampa Theatre says goodbye to its queen, Rosa Rio". St. Petersburg Times (Times Publishing Company). Retrieved 2010-09-11.
- Wansley, Joy (1976-09-20). "Roll Over Again, Beethoven; the Hustle's On, and Walter Murphy Has Taken 'A Fifth'". People (Time Inc.) 6 (12).
- Ward, Taylor (1997-03-23). "The queen of the soaps" (Registration required). St. Petersburg Times (Times Publishing Company). p. 1.F. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
- Lassen, Kurt (1976-10-14). "'A Fifth of Beethoven': Murphy Amazed At Success Of Single". The Telegraph: 47.
- Campbell, Mary (1976-10-15). "Beethoven Arranger Having Ball". The News and Courier: 48.
- Wynn, Ron. "Walter Murphy > Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
- IGN Music (2005-04-15). "Family Guy Live In Las Vegas". IGN. News Corporation. Retrieved 2009-12-10.
- Goldwasser, Dan (April 28, 2005). "The Music of Family Guy and American Dad". SoundtrackNet. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- "2002 Emmy Awards: Winners!". Hollywood.com. September 9, 2003. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
- "The Complete List of Grammy Nominations". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). December 8, 2005. p. 1. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
- Morgan, David (January 10, 2013). ""Lincoln," "Life of Pi" lead Oscar race". CBS News (CBS Corporation). Retrieved October 7, 2013.