A Fifth of Beethoven – Walter Murphy and The Big Apple Band – 1974

 Walter Murphy 2  One of the best known pieces of music from the disco era – Walter Murphy’s adaption of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – 1974’s, A Fifth of Beethoven.

Walter murphy 3flying under the radar

Walter Murphy is one of those guys who’s been around the music industry forever, but tends to get very little attention.

Walter was just 20 years old, when a friend introduced him to Doc Severinsen who was musical director of Johnny Carson’s, Tonight Show. He showed Doc some of the jazz arrangements he’d been working on. Doc liked them enough to have The Tonight Show Band play them.

Walter Murphy 4Walter made an early living out of writing advertising jingles (e.g. Revlon and Woolworths) and the occasional television series.


In 1974 (still only 22 years old), Walter was writing a disco song for a commercial. The commercial’s producer mentioned to Walter that it would be great for someone to update some popular classical music.

Walter grabbed hold of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and, being the height of the disco era, gave it a disco beat. And, the rest as they say…

An album under the same name featured a rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee which peaked at #44 on the US singles chart. Three other albums followed. In 1982 a medley of Themes From E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial) reached #47 on the US singles chart, and then, Walter’s hit career was over.

where’s walter?

Walter now writes music for television and movies (and the occasional jingle). His music has been included in, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Family Guy, American Dad, and the 2012 movie Ted.


Walter won Outstanding Music and Lyrics at the 2002 Emmy Awards for You’ve Got A Lot To See from Family Guy.

In 2012, he received an Academy Award for Best Original Song nomination for Everybody Needs a Best Friend, from Ted.

a fifth of beethoven fax

  • A Fifth of Beethoven was written by Walter Murphy and recorded by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band. Just before release, however, it was discovered that their already existed a Big Apple Band and so the artist name was changed to The Walter Murphy Band. The record company believed it had a better chance of being a hit if people thought it was by a band – despite the fact that Walter played almost every instrument. Eventually, they changed yet again, crediting the song solely to Walter.
  • Entering the US top 100 at #80, on May 29, 1976, A Fifth of Beethoven took 19 weeks to reach #1.
  • A Fifth of Beethoven appeared in the movie Saturday Night Fever and the movie The Stepford Wives.
  • A snippet of A Fifth of Beethoven is played during Chicago Bulls games, whenever the opposing team loses possession of the ball.
  • Robin Thicke’s 2002 song, When I Get You Alone, is based on A Fifth of Beethoven.

a fifth of beethoven – walter murphy – 1974 – video

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