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.
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
Filed under: 1970s, Pop · Tags: #1, #1 hit, #1 song, 1976, A Fifth of Beethoven, Apollo 100, Billboard number one hit, disco, disco one hit wonder, hooked on classics, Instrumental, instrumental one hit wonder, Joy, number one song, soundtrack, Soundtracks, Walter Murphy