In 1897 H. G. Wells published his science-fiction novel called The Invisible Man which was also serialised in a magazine called Pearson’s Weekly. In 1993 Universal made it into a movie where we saw (or didn’t more like) Claude Rains portraying Dr. Jack Griffin aka The Invisible Man. In the music world there was another man known as the invisible man and that man passed away at the beginning of October, his name was Rod Tempterton.
Rod was born in Cleethorps in 1949 and learned to play drums while playing truant from school and would play along to the test card on the television. He also taught himself to play the piano and then began his career as the keyboard player and songwriter with the disco band Heatwave in the 1970s. He played on all their hits up until the 1979 track Razzle Dazzle and solely wrote all their hits with the exception of Mind Blowing Decisions which was written by another band member, Johnnie Wilder.
It was their big disco songs like Boogie Nights, The Groove Line and the beautiful ballad Always and Forever that caught the ear of Quincy Jones who invited him to come and write songs for his artists. Rod jumped at the chance as he was publicity shy and hated being on stage, “he was never comfortable with it hence his nickname” his cousin told me. Rod recalled of their first meeting, “I’m from Cleethorpes and he’s from Seattle, where’s the meeting of minds there? But as soon as we met it was like I’d known him all my life. I love him to death.”
His first hit as a writer, outside of Heatwave was Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and Rock With You which both featured on the album Off The Wall. Rock With You was originally offered to Karen Carpenter for her fist solo album but she turned it down. He had three further his in 1980; Stomp by The Brothers Johnson and George Benson took two of them into the top 10 in the shape of Give Me The Night and Love X Love. In 1982 he charted as the writer of Donna Summer’s Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger) and six months later was in the chart again with Baby, Come to Me courtesy of Patti Austin and James Ingram.
He didn’t only contribute music, when it came to writing Thriller, the title track for the world’s biggest selling album he came up with a multitude of suggestions, he originally wanted to call the song something else but felt it needed something more commercial. “I went back to the hotel,” he once recalled, “wrote two or three hundred titles and came up with 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 at the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as Thriller.” It was also Rod’s idea to have a classic voice doing the ‘rap’ and so he brought in Vincent Price and wrote Price’s lines in a taxi on the way to the studio.
Life after Thriller continued with him writing hits like Spice of Life for Manhattan Transfer, Yah Mo Be There for James Ingram and Michael McDonald and a solo hit for the latter in 1986 – Sweet Freedom. Later the same year he was nominated for the best original song Oscar for Miss Celie’s Blues, a song he co-wrote with Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie for the film The Color Purple.
Rod once said, “Songwriting was a very personal experience: You have to please yourself first. Once you feel the hairs stand up on the back of your hand – you can go for the world. Writing a song is the biggest moment of all. Yesterday it didn’t exist. Today it does.”