Walter Murphy was a young musical prodigy, making a name for himself as a talented preteen musician. His talent would lead him to a very brief gig on The Tonight Show, but he really made his name in 1976, when he hit upon the unique notion of blending the trendy contemporary sound of disco with classical music. Surprisingly, it worked; his first single, “A Fifth of Beethoven” went to number one. It’s easy to understand why, too; the disco reworking of Beethoven’s well-known Fifth symphony is fun, lighthearted, and simply a pleasure to listen to.
It wasn’t his only attempt at the classical fusion sound. “Flight ’76,” based on Flight of the Bumblebee, did moderately well, even if it didn’t fly as high as its predecessor. Two other songs, “Nightflight” (based upon a Chopin’s Prelude #4 in E Minor) and “Russian Dressing” (based on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto 1 In B-Flat Minor) are nice, but pale in comparison to the other two.
The rest of A Fifth of Beethoven consists of Walter Murphy originals, and while they’re not bad, they do feel quite dated. “(You’ve Got To) Be Your Own Best Friend” is the type of feel-good soft-rock fare with a lyric that feels like a passage in a self-help book. “Suite Love Symphony” shows that Murphy could easily make material as good and as similar to his hit, while the album closing “Just A Love Song” feels like a Kenny Rogers demo.
Walter Murphy’s fifteen minutes of fame resulted in a pleasant little record. He would move on to soundtrack work—primarily on television, with some film—and has been heard by millions, even if they don’t know his name.