A Fifth of Beethoven

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"A Fifth of Beethoven"
A Fifth of Beethoven Walter Murphy single.jpg
Single by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band
from the album A Fifth of Beethoven and Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track
B-side"California Strut"
LabelPrivate Stock
Producer(s)Thomas J. Valentino
Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band singles chronology
"Disco Bells"
"A Fifth of Beethoven"
"Flight '76"

"A Fifth of Beethoven" is a disco instrumental recorded by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, adapted from the famous first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The record was produced by noted production music and sound effects recording producer Thomas J. Valentino.[2] The "Fifth" in the song's title is a pun, referencing a liquid measure approximately equal to one-fifth of a gallon, a popular size for bottles containing hard liquor, as well as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony from which the song was adapted.

Released as a single by Private Stock Records in 1976, the song debuted at number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and climbed to number 1 within 19 weeks, remaining there for one week. In 1977, it was licensed to RSO Records for inclusion on the best-selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack; the song is one of Murphy's few Top 40 hits.

Background and recording[edit]

In college, Murphy's interests included rock music, particularly that which was adapted from classical music, such as "Joy" by Apollo 100 and "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys. Later, in 1976, while writing a disco song for a commercial, a producer suggested the idea of "updating classical music", which "nobody [has] done lately",[3] he then recorded a demo tape of five songs—three were ordinary pop songs, while the fourth was a disco rendition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony titled "A Fifth of Beethoven"[4]—mailing it to various record labels in New York City.

The response was underwhelming, but "Fifth" caught the interest of Private Stock Records owner Larry Uttal. Murphy signed on to Private Stock and recorded the album A Fifth of Beethoven, containing the title track and first single of the same name; the single was credited to "Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band" upon encouragement from Private Stock, which believed it would be more successful if credited to a group rather than an individual. However, two days following the record's release, Private Stock discovered the existence of another Big Apple Band (which promptly changed its name to Chic); the record was later re-released and credited to "The Walter Murphy Band", then simply to "Walter Murphy".[5]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Following its release, "A Fifth of Beethoven" was a hit, starting out at number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually reaching number 1 within 19 weeks, where it stayed for one week. The single sold two million copies, while the album sold about 750,000 copies; the second single, a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" titled "Flight '76", was less successful, reaching only number 44 on the Hot 100.[5]

The song was featured in the video games LittleBigPlanet 2, Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 and DJ Hero 2 (mixed with "Welcome to Jamrock") and the movies Mystery Men, Semi-Pro, The Stepford Wives, and American Made, it was featured in the 2006 Family Guy episode "Hell Comes to Quahog", where at the roller rink scene, Peter Griffin and his friends dance to the song. This is a tongue-in-cheek gag, as Murphy is also one of the composers for Family Guy,[6] it was also featured in the American Dad! episode "Wheels & the Legman and the Case of Grandpa's Key". It also served as the background music in a disco club scene in the fourth season episode "Pieces of a Broken Mirror" of the TV series Gotham.

Robin Thicke's 2002 song "When I Get You Alone" and A+'s 1999 song "Enjoy Yourself" both sample "A Fifth of Beethoven". A snippet of "A Fifth of Beethoven" can be heard during Chicago Bulls games, whenever the opposing team loses possession of the ball.

Charts and certifications[edit]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Thomas J. Valentino Is Dead; Early Sound Effects Producer". The New York Times. August 6, 1986. Retrieved April 23, 2010.
  3. ^ Campbell, Mary (October 15, 1976). "Beethoven Arranger Having Ball". The News and Courier. p. 48.
  4. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (November 4, 2007). "A Satirical Sit-Com's Memorable Music". The New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  5. ^ a b ""A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy". Superseventies. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  6. ^ MacFarlane, Seth (2006). Family Guy Volume 5 DVD commentary (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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  13. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  14. ^ "Charts.nz – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  15. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven". VG-lista. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  16. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (M)". Rock.co.za. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  17. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven". Singles Top 100. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  18. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  19. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  20. ^ a b c "A Fifth of Beethoven – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  21. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 169.
  22. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles – Week ending October 9, 1976". Cash Box. Archived from the original on September 2, 2012.
  23. ^ "The Singles Chart" (PDF). Record World. September 25, 1976. p. 25. ISSN 0034-1622. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  24. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth Of Beethoven". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  25. ^ "Top 200 Singles of '76". RPM. Vol. 26 no. 14 & 15. January 8, 1977. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  26. ^ "End of Year Charts 1976". Recorded Music New Zealand. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  27. ^ "Top 100 Hits for 1976". The Longbored Surfer. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  28. ^ "The Cash Box Year-End Charts: 1976". Cash Box. Archived from the original on August 25, 2012.
  29. ^ "Canadian single certifications – The Walter Murphy Band – A Fifth of Beethoven". Music Canada.
  30. ^ "American single certifications – Murphy_ Walter and The Big Apple Band – A Fifth of Beethoven". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH.