The first academically trained multi-instrumentalist ever to set the nation's disco dance floors on fire, Walter Murphy turned his knowledge of the classical repertoire and his commercial ambitions into a smash-hit record called "A Fifth Of Beethoven," which reached the top of the Billboard pop chart on this day in 1976.
Walter Murphy took his musical training further than most, studying jazz and classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music before setting out on a career as a commercial jingle-writer in the early 1970s. Both aspects of his experience would come into play in achieving pop stardom. Murphy's acumen in spotting a potential trend is what gave him the idea to create his masterpiece. Apparently inspired by the success of The Toys' 1965 adaptation of a Bach minuet into a minor pop hit called "A Lover's Concerto," Murphy booked himself some studio time and set about trying to craft a hit of his own by "disco-fying" the classics. Playing all the instruments himself, Murphy recorded a variety of samples on a demo tape and circulated it among New York record labels, receiving only one response, from Private Stock Records. With Private Stock's blessing, Murphy adapted Ludwig Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor into "A Fifth Of Beethoven," which was released in the spring of 1976 under the name Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band.
"A Fifth Of Beethoven" took both Murphy and his label by surprise by rocketing up the charts to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1976. As great a success as that was for Walter Murphy, his record had an even bigger second life after its initial fall from the pop charts when it was selected for use in the film Saturday Night Fever and on the multi-platinum Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album.
Follow-up disco singles by Walter Murphy based on works by Rimsky-Korsakov and George Gershwin failed to repeat the success of "A Fifth Of Beethoven." Murphy continues to have a successful career in commercial music, however, with his most recent significant credit coming as the composer of the theme song from television's animated series Family Guy.