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Walter Murphy

For other people named Walter Murphy, see Walter Murphy (disambiguation).
Walter Murphy
Birth name Walter Anthony Murphy, Jr.
Born (1952-12-19) December 19, 1952 (age 63)
New York City, New York
Years active 1972–present
Associated acts
Notable instruments

Walter Anthony Murphy, Jr. (born December 19, 1952) is an American composer, arranger, pianist, musician, 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. Further classical–disco fusions followed, such as "Flight '76", "Rhapsody in Blue", "Toccata and Funk in 'D' Minor", "Bolero", and "Mostly Mozart", but were not as succesful.

In a career spanning over four 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, The Cleveland Show, American Dad!, and Ted.

Early life

Murphy was born on December 19, 1952, in New York City, New York,[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]

Against the wishes 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."[3] There, Murphy studied jazz and classical piano;[5] referring to his studies, he stated "There never was a time when I wasn't studying music."[5] In 1972, he married Laurie Robertson, who worked in the plastics industry.[3]

Musical career

1972–74: Early years

In the early 1970s, Murphy was the leader of a band called WAM, which played R&B and soul covers. They gigged in the New York tri-state area,[6] often at the New Rochelle club Pearly's.

1974–78: Private Stock years, success, breakout

Murphy in 1977, during a photo shoot for Rhapsody in Blue.

Murphy was writing a disco song for a commercial, when a producer gave him the idea of "updating classical music," which "nobody had done lately."[7] 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 Larry Uttal, owner of Private Stock Records.

Murphy signed on to Private Stock in 1976 and recorded "A Fifth of Beethoven". 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. 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 Westchester 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."[3]

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".

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. Following the success of the single, 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.

In 1977, Murphy recorded the album Rhapsody in Blue, which contained a similar mix of classical-disco fusion and self-penned pop songs. 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. 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". The latter was a Top 40 hit, but the former failed to make the club or radio charts.

1979–82: Move to RCA, Uncle Louie, move to MCA

Murphy signed on to RCA in 1979, and released the album Walter Murphy's Discosymphony. The album spawned the single "Mostly Mozart", which failed to chart, indicating that Murphy had taken the "classical disco" concept as far as it could go. That same year, Murphy joined with 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 previous albums.

In 1982, Murphy signed on to MCA Records and recorded Themes from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and More. The album 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 E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial)," which climbed to number 47 on the Hot 100.

Film and television career

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.[7] Looking back on the situation, he stated "I still can't believe I did it. I'm not a very forward person."[7] Since the band "wasn't very busy," they performed his arrangements live and enjoyed them, convincing Murphy to write more.[7]

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 joining them.[7]

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

From 1974 to 1976, 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 television series Big Blue Marble.[3][8][5]

Murphy, back to jingle writing, has written music for numerous TV shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Since 1999, Murphy has served as one of the two main composers for the animated series Family Guy, the other being Ron Jones. He has described his scores for Family Guy as "a combination of [big-band swing and action-orchestral]."[9] 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.[10] In 2005, he scored music for the album Family Guy: Live in Vegas.[11]

Since 2005, he is one of the composers for American Dad!, as well as composing the theme song.[9]

In 2009, he composed the main title music for The Cleveland Show.[9]

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.


Guest appearances




Studio albums

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: June 1, 1978 (US)
  • Label: Private Stock
  • Formats: LP, cassette, digital download, 8-track
Walter Murphy's Discosymphony
Uncle Louie's Here
(as 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)

Compilation albums

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

Year Award Nominated work Result
1979 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[12] 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[13] Ted Nominated

See also


  1. ^ a b c BR-Online Staff (2003-12-29). "One Hit Wonder: Walter Murphy: "A Fifth of Beethoven"". BR-Online (in German). Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  2. ^ Wilmath, Kim (2010-06-06). "Tampa Theatre says goodbye to its queen, Rosa Rio". St. Petersburg Times (Times Publishing Company). Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  3. ^ a b c d e 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). 
  4. ^ Ward, Taylor (1997-03-23). "The queen of the soaps". St. Petersburg Times (Times Publishing Company). p. 1.F. Retrieved 2010-09-11. (registration required (help)). 
  5. ^ a b c Lassen, Kurt (1976-10-14). "'A Fifth of Beethoven': Murphy Amazed At Success Of Single". The Telegraph: 47. 
  6. ^ Nile Rodgers (2011). Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-385-52965-5. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Campbell, Mary (1976-10-15). "Beethoven Arranger Having Ball". The News and Courier: 48. 
  8. ^ Wynn, Ron. "Walter Murphy > Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-08-14. 
  9. ^ a b c Goldwasser, Dan (April 28, 2005). "The Music of Family Guy and American Dad". SoundtrackNet. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  10. ^ "2002 Emmy Awards: Winners!". September 9, 2003. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29. Retrieved 2009-08-31. 
  11. ^ IGN Music (2005-04-15). "Family Guy Live In Las Vegas". IGN. News Corporation. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  12. ^ "The Complete List of Grammy Nominations". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). December 8, 2005. p. 1. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
  13. ^ Morgan, David (January 10, 2013). ""Lincoln," "Life of Pi" lead Oscar race". CBS News (CBS Corporation). Retrieved October 7, 2013. 

External links

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