'Thriller' Songwriter Rod Temperton Dies At 66 Temperton wrote some of the most iconic pop songs of the 1970s and '80s, including Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Rock With You."
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'Thriller' Songwriter Rod Temperton Dies At 66

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'Thriller' Songwriter Rod Temperton Dies At 66

'Thriller' Songwriter Rod Temperton Dies At 66

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Rod Temperton has died from cancer at the age of 66. He was called pop music's Invisible Man. His songs, on the other hand, were mega-hits in the 1970s and '80s, so big you probably know them even if you weren't on the dance floor back then. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this remembrance.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Donna Summer, George Benson, Michael Jackson - so many artists recorded songs by Rod Temperton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIE NIGHTS")

HEATWAVE: (Singing) Boogie nights. Ain't no doubt. We are here to party.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK WITH YOU")

MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) I want to rock with you all night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS IN CONTROL")

DONNA SUMMER: (Singing) I've got my finger on the trigger. Love is in control.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE ME TONIGHT")

GEORGE BENSON: (Singing) Just give me the night - all right - tonight.

BLAIR: The music defined the disco era, along with big hair, wide lapels and bell bottoms. Rod Temperton was English, and he hooked up with an American R&B band living in Germany when he answered an ad for a keyboard player. The songs he wrote for Heatwave were considered more sophisticated than what was on the radio at the time and funkier.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GROOVE LINE")

HEATWAVE: (Singing) 'Cause rain, shine don't mind. We're riding on the groove line tonight.

BLAIR: Songs like "Groove Line" got the attention of Quincy Jones, who was working with Michael Jackson. Temperton once said he was shocked to get a call from the producer and bandleader. Jones asked him for a few songs. All three ended up on the classic album "Off The Wall." Then a couple of years later, Temperton wrote this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRILLER")

JACKSON: (Singing) 'Cause this is thriller - thriller night. And no one's going to save you from the beast about to strike. You know it's thriller.

BLAIR: The accolades and sales were off the charts. In 2001, on a remastered recording of "Thriller," Temperton talked about how he'd always envisioned some talking at the end of that song. The plan was for horror legend Vincent Price to improvise. But the night before the recording, Temperton and told him to write something.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON TEMPERTON: I got a piece of paper and frantically started to write some stuff. And just one of those lucky times - it just flowed out of me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRILLER")

VINCENT PRICE: The foulest stench is in the air - the funk of 40,000 years. And grizzly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom.

BLAIR: Rod Temperton was known for his modesty and for being something of a recluse. His funeral was private. Tributes are all over social media. As Nile Rodgers of Chic put it, your genius gave us a funkier world. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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