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 successful.
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.
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.
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." There, Murphy studied jazz and classical piano; referring to his studies, he stated "There never was a time when I wasn't studying music." In 1972, he married Laurie Robertson, who worked in the plastics industry.
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, often at the New Rochelle club Pearly's.
1974-78: Private Stock years, success, breakout:
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." 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."
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. 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 joining them.
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.
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." 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. In 2005, he scored music for the album Family Guy: Live in Vegas.
Since 2005, he is one of the composers for American Dad!, as well as composing the theme song.
In 2009, he composed the main title music for The Cleveland Show.
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 (1976),
The Midnight Special (1976-77),
American Bandstand (1976),
The Mike Douglas Show (1976-77; 1979),
The Merv Griffin Show (1976-77),
Dick Clark's Live Wednesday (1978),
21st Annual Grammy Awards (1979),
Score! The Music of 'Family Guy' (2005),
Family Guy: Creating the Chaos (2009),
Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show (2009),
85th Academy Awards (2013),
The Dick Cavett Show (1972),
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1972),
Big Blue Marble (1974),
The Savage Bees (1976),
The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1976),
Raw Force aka Kung Fu Cannibals (1982),
The A-Team (1985),
ABC Weekend Special (1985),
Tickets of the Trade (1988),
The Lady Forgets (1989),
The Commish (1991-96),
Crow's Nest (1992),
Jumpin' Joe (1992),
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997),
Channel Umptee-3 (1997),
Family Guy (1999-2003; 2005-present),
Por un beso (2000),
Changing Hearts (2002),
Looney Tunes (2003-04),
American Dad! (2005-present),
The Winner (2007),
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy (2008-09),
The Cleveland Show (2009-13),
85th Academy Awards (2013),
How Murray Saved Christmas (2014),
Ted 2 (2015)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license