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Walter Murphy

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Walter Murphy
Birth nameWalter Anthony Murphy Jr.
Born (1952-12-19) December 19, 1952 (age 71)
New York City, New York, U.S.
  • Keyboardist
  • arranger
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • Keyboards
Years active1970–present

Walter Anthony Murphy Jr. (born December 19, 1952) is an American composer, keyboardist, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known for the instrumental "A Fifth of Beethoven", a disco adaptation of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony which topped the charts in 1976 and was featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1977. Further classical-disco fusions followed, such as "Flight '76", "Toccata and Funk in 'D' Minor" "Bolero", and "Mostly Mozart", but were not as successful.

In a career spanning over five decades, Murphy has written music for numerous films and TV shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Savage Bees, Stingray, Wiseguy, The Commish, Profit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Looney Tunes, and How Murray Saved Christmas. He has had a long-running partnership with Seth MacFarlane, composing music for his films and TV shows such as Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, Ted, Ted 2 and the Ted television series.

Early life[edit]

Murphy was born on December 19, 1952, in New York City,[1] and grew up in Manhattan. At age four, he attended music lessons hosted by Rosa Rio,[2] studying an array of instruments, including the organ[3] and piano.[1][4] Rio frequently opted for him to star in television advertisements for the Hammond organ.[1] In high school, Murphy composed for his band class and orchestra.[5]

Against the wishes of his father, who was a real estate agent and wished to pass the business down to his son,[3] Murphy enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music under a composition major in 1970.[5] recalling his experiences with his father, Murphy stated "He wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer — or something you can depend on."[3] There, Murphy studied jazz and classical piano[6] with Nicolas Flagello and Ludmila Ulehla.[5] His postgraduate studies at the Manhattan School yielded the composition "Chorale and Allegro for Orchestra", which has been performed by orchestras throughout the United States.[5]


1970–1976: Early years[edit]

From 1970 to 1980, Murphy worked as a Manhattan Avenue jingle writer, writing for such clients as Lady Arrow shirts, Revlon, Woolworth's, Viasa Airlines, and Korvette's, as well as arrangements for the popular children's television series Big Blue Marble.[3][7][6]

In the early 1970s, Murphy was the leader of the soul/R&B cover band WAM. They gigged in the New York tri-state area,[8] often at the New Rochelle club Pearly's.

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.[9] Looking back on the situation, he stated "I still can't believe I did it. I'm not a very forward person."[9] Since the band "wasn't very busy," they performed his arrangements live and enjoyed them, convincing Murphy to write more.[9]

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 month later, and a final year of college prevented Murphy from joining them.[9]

In 1974, Murphy joined Thomas J. Valentino's company Valentino, Inc., composing much of their library music for film and television over the years.

In 1976, Murphy played piano on Peter Lemongello's second album Do I Love You.[3]

1976–1979: Private Stock years, breakthrough[edit]

In college, Murphy's interests had included rock music, particularly that which was adapted from classical music, such as "Joy" by Apollo 100 and "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys. Later, in 1976, he was writing a disco song for a commercial, when a producer gave him the idea of "updating classical music," which "nobody had done lately."[9] He then recorded a demo tape of four songs: three were ordinary pop songs, while the fourth was a disco rendition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony titled "A Fifth of Beethoven"[10]—and mailed it to various record labels in New York City. Response was generally unimpressive, but "Fifth" caught the interest of Private Stock Records owner Larry Uttal.

Murphy signed on to Private Stock and recorded the album A Fifth of Beethoven. The first single and title track, "A Fifth of Beethoven", was released on May 29, 1976. It was a hit, starting out at number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually reaching number 1 within 19 weeks, where it stayed for one week. The single sold two million copies, while the album sold about 750,000 copies. The second single, a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" titled "Flight '76", was less successful, reaching only number 44 on the Hot 100[11] and number 35 in Canada.[12]

The single was initially credited to "Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band" upon encouragement from Private Stock, 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). As result, the record was later re-released and credited to "The Walter Murphy Band", then just "Walter Murphy".[11]

Following the success of "A Fifth of Beethoven", Murphy toured with his band and made guest appearances on shows such as Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, The Midnight Special, Dinah!, and American Bandstand. 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."[3]

In 1977, "A Fifth of Beethoven" was licensed to RSO Records for inclusion on the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever, giving the song a new lease on life.[11] Also that year, Murphy recorded the album Rhapsody in Blue, which contained a similar mix of classical-disco fusion and self-penned pop songs.[13] Two singles were released: a disco treatment of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", and the self-penned instrumental "Uptown Serenade." The former narrowly missed the top 100, but received significant play on easy-listening stations, according to Billboard.

In 1978, Murphy recorded the album Phantom of the Opera, a concept album telling the story of The Phantom of the Opera, featuring Gene Pistilli as Erik/The Phantom, B.G. Gibson as Raoul, and Renée Geyer as Christine. The album spawned three singles: "Dance Your Face Off"/"Gentle Explosion" (a double A-side), "Toccata and Funk in 'D' Minor", and "The Music Will Not End". These singles failed to make the Hot 100, club, or radio charts.[14]

1979–1982: RCA and MCA years, Uncle Louie[edit]

Murphy signed on to RCA in 1979, and released the album Walter Murphy's Discosymphony. The album spawned the singles "Bolero" and "Mostly Mozart"; the latter failed to chart, indicating that Murphy had taken the "classical disco" concept as far as it could go.

Also in 1979, Murphy and Gene Pistilli joined with brothers Eddie and Frank Dillard, forming the band Uncle Louie. They signed on to TK Records and released one album, Uncle Louie's Here, which explored a more aggressive, funk-based angle than Murphy's solo albums. The album spawned three singles: "Full-Tilt Boogie", which reached number 19 on the Billboard R&B chart, "I Like Funky Music", and "Sky High".

Around this time, Murphy and Pistilli wrote and/or produced songs for other artists, including "Something to Hold Onto" (1981) by Harry Belafonte and "What's Wrong With This Picture?" (1980) by Lora Lee Cliff. Murphy also contributed arrangements to Jack Jones's Nobody Does It Better (1979) and Pia Zadora's Rock It Out (1984).

In 1982, Murphy signed on to MCA Records and recorded Themes from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and More. The album contained disco- and pop-tinged arrangements of themes to popular movies of the time, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones, and Poltergeist. The album spawned one single, a medley of "Themes from ET (The Extra-Terrestrial)", which climbed to number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1982–1999: Move to behind-the-scenes roles[edit]

Following Themes from E.T., Murphy largely ceased touring and recording studio albums of original material. He instead began focusing more exclusively on composing for film and television, and producing for other artists, in a more behind-the-scenes role.

Artists that Murphy has recorded and/or produced for include Dolly Parton, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Warnes, Siedah Garrett, Tim Schmitt, Richie Havens, Isaac Hayes, Taj Mahal, Paul Williams, and Kenny Rankin. He was also a guest conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, during their successful Summer Pops series.[5]

In 1984, Murphy and television composer Mike Post co-produced Alabama's "Rock on the Bayou", the B-side to the band's hit single "(There's A) Fire in the Night". "Rock on the Bayou" was featured in the independent film The River Rat, which Post also composed the music for.

In 1985, Murphy collaborated with Post, Rick James, and Issac Hayes on scoring music for The A-Team episode "The Heart of Rock 'N Roll".[15]

1999-present: Collaborations with Seth MacFarlane[edit]

Since 1999, Murphy has served as one of the two main composers for the animated series Family Guy, the other being Ron Jones until the 12th season in 2014. He has described his scores for Family Guy as "a combination of [big-band swing and action-orchestral]."[16] The song "You've Got a Lot to See", composed for the episode "Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows", won the award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics at the 2002 Emmy Awards.[17] In 2005, Murphy scored music for the offshoot album Family Guy: Live in Vegas.[18]

Since 2005, Murphy is one of the composers for MacFarlane's American Dad!, the other two being Joel McNeely and Ron Jones, as well as composing the series' theme song "Good Morning USA".[16]

From 2009 to 2013, Murphy composed music for MacFarlane's series The Cleveland Show, including the main title theme.[16]

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.

Murphy is also a longtime collaborator with jazz guitarist Thom Rotella, who had played on Murphy's albums A Fifth of Beethoven and Phantom of the Opera and currently performs with his Family Guy orchestra.[19] In 1989, Murphy arranged the song "The Gift" on Rotella's album Home Again. In 2014, Murphy and Rotella wrote and recorded a four-track big band project, inspired by the Wes Montgomery and Verve-era Oliver Nelson records of the 1960s that the two of them had grown up on. The project was recorded in Capitol Studio A with engineer Al Schmitt, and performed by renown Los Angeles session musicians.[20]


Guest appearances[edit]





Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details
A Fifth of Beethoven
(as The Walter Murphy Band)
Rhapsody in Blue
  • Released: 1977
  • Label: Private Stock
  • Formats: LP, cassette, digital download, 8-track
Phantom of the Opera
  • Released: August 8, 1978 (US)
  • Label: Private Stock
  • Formats: LP, cassette, digital download, 8-track
Walter Murphy's Discosymphony
Uncle Louie's Here
(with Uncle Louie)
  • Released: 1979
  • Label: Marlin/TK
  • Formats: LP, CD, digital download
Themes from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and More
  • Released: 1982
  • Label: MCA
  • Formats: LP, cassette
Family Guy: Live in Vegas
(as Walter Murphy and His Orchestra)
  • Released: April 26, 2005
  • Label: Geffen
  • Formats: CD, digital download
Ted: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(with Various Artists)
Ted 2: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(with Various Artists)
  • Released: June 23, 2015
  • Label: Universal Republic
  • Formats: Digital download

Compilation albums[edit]

Title Album details
The Best of Walter Murphy: A Fifth of Beethoven
  • Released: 1996
  • Label: Hot Productions
  • Formats: CD


Title Year Album
"Disco Bells" 1975 N/A
"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
"Dance Your Face Off"/"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[edit]

Year Award Nominated work Result
1978 Grammy Award for Album of the Year Saturday Night Fever Won
1979 American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Album Saturday Night Fever Won
1999 Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Television Production Family Guy Nominated
2000 Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Television Production Family Guy for "Dammit Janet" Nominated
2002 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics Family Guy for "You've Got a Lot to See" Won
2006 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album[21] Family Guy: Live in Vegas Nominated
2007 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics Family Guy for "My Drunken Irish Dad" Nominated
2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics Family Guy for "Down Syndrome Girl" Nominated
2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series Family Guy for "And Then There Were Fewer" Nominated
2012 ASCAP Award for Most Performed Themes and Underscore Won
2012 International Film Music Critics Award for Best Original Score for a Comedy Film Ted Won
2013 ASCAP Award for Top Box Office Films Ted Won
2013 ASCAP Award for Top Television Series The Cleveland Show Won
2013 ASCAP Award for Top Television Series American Dad! Won
2013 ASCAP Award for Top Television Series Family Guy Won
2013 ASCAP Award for Most Performed Themes and Underscore Won
2013 Georgia Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Song Ted for "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" Nominated
2013 Academy Award for Best Original Song[22] Ted Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c BR-Online Staff (December 29, 2003). "One Hit Wonder: Walter Murphy: "A Fifth of Beethoven"". BR-Online (in German). BR-Online.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  2. ^ Wilmath, Kim (June 6, 2010). "Tampa Theatre says goodbye to its queen, Rosa Rio". St. Petersburg Times. Times Publishing Company. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wansley, Joy (September 20, 1976). "Roll Over Again, Beethoven; the Hustle's On, and Walter Murphy Has Taken 'A Fifth'". People. 6 (12). Time Inc.
  4. ^ Ward, Taylor (March 23, 1997). "The queen of the soaps". St. Petersburg Times. Times Publishing Company. p. 1.F. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e "wmurphy". January 16, 2003. Archived from the original on January 16, 2003. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Lassen, Kurt (October 14, 1976). "'A Fifth of Beethoven': Murphy Amazed at Success of Single". The Telegraph: 47.
  7. ^ Wynn, Ron. "Walter Murphy > Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved August 14, 2010.[dead link]
  8. ^ Rodgers, Nile (2011). Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-385-52965-5.
  9. ^ a b c d e Campbell, Mary (October 15, 1976). "Beethoven Arranger Having Ball". The News and Courier: 48.
  10. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (November 4, 2007). "A Satirical Sit-Com's Memorable Music". The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b c ""A Fifth of Beethoven" - Walter Murphy". www.superseventies.com.
  12. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - January 15, 1977" (PDF).
  13. ^ Walter Murphy (arranger) (1977). Rhapsody in Blue (vinyl) (album). New York, NY: Private Stock Records, Ltd. PS 2028 LP.
  14. ^ "Walter Murphy | Biography, Music & News". Billboard.
  15. ^ Inc, Nielsen Business Media (November 23, 1985). "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. – via Google Books. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  16. ^ a b c Goldwasser, Dan (April 28, 2005). "The Music of Family Guy and American Dad". SoundtrackNet. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
  17. ^ "2002 Emmy Awards: Winners!". Hollywood.com. September 9, 2003. Archived from the original on June 29, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
  18. ^ "Family Guy Live in Las Vegas". IGN. News Corporation. April 15, 2005. Archived from the original on February 2, 2010. Retrieved December 10, 2009.
  19. ^ "Thom Rotella". Conference on World Affairs. February 14, 2019.
  20. ^ "Thom Rotella | Jazz Guitar | Composer". Thomrotella.com. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  21. ^ "The Complete List of Grammy Nominations". The New York Times. December 8, 2005. p. 1. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  22. ^ Morgan, David (January 10, 2013). ""Lincoln," "Life of Pi" lead Oscar race". CBS News. CBS Corporation. Retrieved October 7, 2013.

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