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A Fifth Of Beethoven – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band

When I was a little kid, my dad showed up at the house with a record titled A Fifth Of Beethoven by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band. We played this record to death. Disco meets classical music. A sound so good they added it to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and call it sheer brilliance. Today, with sampling and mash-ups on radio formats like JACK FM, you hear clips from classic records mashed up with new sounds. Back in 1976 when A Fifth of Beethoven was released, this was all pretty novel stuff. Sure, Apollo 100 had recorded their synthesized version of Bach’s Joy. But Murphy put together a full disco band and then dropped a full orchestra on top, playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a near-perfect note-for-note rendition of one of the biggest classical “hit” songs of all time. If you’re a classical music fan, I trust the “hit” reference to Beethoven annoys you. But really, Beethoven, Mozart and others were really writing the pop music of their day. It was just way more complicated than Pia Zadora’s awful and “The Clapping Song.” An awful one-hit wonder and we take awful one-hit wonders very seriously.

“A Fifth of Beethoven” was radical, fun, silly stuff. Today, it still is.

Think about the elements that make this song so compelling: symphony orchestra. Horn section. Whakka-whakka guitar. Electric piano. Wurlitzer organ. Four-on-the-floor disco beat. It’s so perfectly done it’s hard to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

I’m obviously not alone in my assessment of Murphy’s singularly awesome creation because in 1976, “A Fifth of Beethoven” reached #1 on the Billboard Top 100. Deservedly. It’s an absolutely brilliant instrumental one-hit wonder.

Click to hear other Billboard number-one hit one-hit wonders

Click to hear even more amazing instrumental one-hit wonders

The record itself features a discofied version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” titled “Flight 76” that reached #44 on the Billboard Top 40. And some completely forgettable disco songs with ooh-aah vocals. But “California Strut” still satisfies in its sheer cheesiness.

Our favorite trivia around the record? The fact that Walter Murphy pretty much played every instrument on the thing. Pretty awesome, Walt. And yes, he’s the same Walter Murphy who provides music for one of TV’s funniest shows, Family Guy.

Listen to A Fifth Of Beethoven by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band

Watch a rare live version of A Fifth of Beethoven

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I'm an obsessive music collector, cataloger, commenter and trivia nut. Sometimes I'm even a listener. One-hit wonders have always been a guilty pleasure.

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2 Responses to "A Fifth Of Beethoven – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band"

  1. John Wilson says:

    I have been really surprised by the number of instrumental songs you have found that are one hit wonders. I am even more surprised by how many of them I remember once I listen to them.

    How come they don’t make instrumental songs anymore that become big? I don’t remember any instrumentals making the charts recently. Is it a dying (or dead) breed, or am I just out of touch with the instrumental scene of today? When was the last time one of them made it on the charts?

  2. Michael Waterman says:

    The instrumental one-hit wonder is really a 1960s, 1970s and 1980s phenomenon. There are a few 1990s songs. But in the 2000s, there are songs that people think of as purely instrumental but always have a vocal line or two. Perhaps the best recent example (and it’s not really all that recent) is “Start the Commotion” by The Wiseguys. Some of the vocals are actually samples from old jazz records (the “Fire it up baby” is a sample, for instance). Others are sung lines. But the song is primarily instrumental. That’s about the most instrumental one-hit wonder I can think of from the 2000s, and that song hit the Billboard Top 40 in August 2001 when it reached #31. So, yes, in this case, the phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is true. Although I wish an instrumental one-hit wonder could break through again just to mix things up.

    Here is “Start the Commotion” by The Wiseguys:

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