“A Fifth of Beethoven” is a disco instrumental recorded by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band. It was adapted by Murphy from the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The record was produced by noted production music and sound effects recording producer Thomas J. Valentino. It was one of the most popular and memorable pieces of music from the disco era. 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. The song when released entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 80 on May 29, 1976, and took 19 weeks to reach number 1, where it stayed for one week becoming Murphy’s best known work and his only Top 40 hit. Early in 1977, it was licensed to RSO Records for inclusion on the soundtrack to the movie Saturday Night Fever. Even though Murphy played nearly every instrument on the instrumental, his record company cautioned that the record would stand a better chance if credited to a group rather than an individual. To Murphy’s annoyance, they came up with the name Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, only to discover two days after its release that there was already a Big Apple Band. The name on the label was changed to The Walter Murphy Band and then simply to Walter Murphy. In 1974, Murphy was in the process of writing a disco song for a commercial, when the producer gave him the idea of “updating classical music,” which “nobody had done lately.” He then mailed a demo tape to various record labels in New York. Although response was unimpressive, the rendition of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in ‘C’ Minor” generated interest from the owner of Private Stock Records, Larry Uttal. Murphy agreed to produce the song under contract and recorded it in 1976. An album under the same name was released later during the year; the album notably featured a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” entitled “Flight ’76”, which reached number 44 on the Hot 100.
[via Lars Villemoes]