The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” is from the Saturday Night Fever motion picture soundtrack. Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson produced the song 1977 with the band. The week following its release, “Stayin’ Alive” climbed the Billboard Hot 100 chart to reach number one for four weeks in a row. Because of its inclusion in the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever, it became one of the band’s most recognizable songs. In the United States, it was the second of six consecutive number-one singles, tying the record with the Beatles for consecutive number-ones (a record broken by Whitney Houston, who had seven consecutive number-ones).
Writing and recording
Robert Stigwood, the executive producer of the Saturday Night Fever motion picture soundtrack, asked the Bee Gees to write a few songs for the soundtrack. The film was at this point in its development process and had no title. Stigwood’s only source was a New York Times cover story about discomania.
The songwriters wrote “Stayin’ Alive” a few days later while confined to the stairwell of the Château d’Hérouville studio near Paris. For tax reasons, the Bee Gees recorded most of the soundtrack in France as did many other artists in the 1970s.
It was intended for the song to share the then-title of the film, “Saturday Night“, but the Bee Gees refused a title change, stating there were already too many songs with the word “Saturday” in them, and “Night Fever” had already appeared on the album. Stigwood expanded the title of the film to encompass the title of the latter song rather than changing the previous song’s name. The brothers have had mixed feelings about the song, despite a long and varied career before and after.
The Gibbs were inspired to write the lyrics for “Stayin’ Alive” by several words from Robin Gibb’s Concorde ticket. Robin recalls, “The subject matter of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is actually quite a serious one; It’s about survival in the streets of New York, and the lyrics actually say that”. Barry Gibb also recalls, “People crying out for help. Desperate songs. Those are the ones that become giants. The minute you capture that on record, it’s gold. ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is the epitome of that. Everybody struggles against the world, fighting all the bullshit and things that can drag you down. And it really is a victory just to survive. But when you climb back on top and win bigger than ever before, well that’s something everybody reacts to everybody”. “We’d also written a song called ‘Saturday Night'”, Maurice explains, “But there were so many songs called ‘Saturday Night’ even one by the Bay City Rollers, so when we rewrote it for the movie, we called it ‘Stayin’ Alive’.
Blue Weaver added synthesizers, while Barry Gibb and Alan Kendall contributed guitar riffs. The track was finished at Criteria Studios with Maurice Gibb laying down a bass line identical to the guitar riff. The Boneroo Horns parts have been added. There is only one line in the song where Barry sings in falsetto “life’s going nowhere, somebody help me“.
After Dennis Bryon’s mother died, the band began searching for a replacement for the drummer. Due to the lack of qualified drummers in the area, the group tried a drum machine, but it did not provide satisfactory results. Albhy Galuten and the group took two bars from “Night Fever” and recorded them as a recurrent loop on a separate tape in order to proceed with the sessions for “Stayin’ Alive“. “Bernard Lupe” (a play on session drummer Bernard Purdie) was the group’s joking drummer name. Until the discovery that Lupe did not exist, Lupe became a highly sought-after drummer.
Albhy Galuten talks about recording “Stayin’ Alive“:
Barry and I listened carefully to find a bar that felt really good. Everyone knows that it’s more about feel than accuracy in drum tracks. We chose a bar that felt so good that we ended up using that same loop on ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ and ‘More Than a Woman,’ and then again on Barbra Streisand’s song ‘Woman in Love.’ To make the loop, we copied the drums onto one-quarter-inch tape. Karl spliced the tape and jury rigged it so that it was going over a mic stand and around a plastic reel. At first, we were doing it just as a temporary measure. As we started to lay tracks down to it, we found that it felt really great-very insistent but not machinelike. It had a human feel. By the time we had overdubbed all the parts to the songs and Dennis came back, there was no way we could get rid of the loop.http://www.brothersgibb.org/reports-albhy-galuten.html
Galuten explained how Gibb and Galuten had played with a click track during their work together:
While today’s musicians know how to get a good groove with the click, back then, if you used a click track you rarely got a good feel. The loop crossed the boundary giving us music that was in time with a good feel. If I had been working for a technology company then and knew what I was doing, I would have tried to patent the idea. Nonetheless, it changed a lot of things. That first loop was a watershed event in our life and times.http://www.brothersgibb.org/reports-albhy-galuten.html
The concept of the video for this song is completely different from that of Saturday Night Fever. In addition to using Quality Street and the Grand Central Station set used in the films The Band Wagon and “That’s Entertainment” with Fred Astaire, the video was filmed on MGM Studios’ backlot #2 in Culver City, California, while the group was simultaneously filming Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the same lot. The words “New York Central” can be seen printed on the side of the train above a passenger window as the group walks past one of the railway cars in the video. The art directors at MGM added this authenticity because the real New York Central Railroad operated several lines from Grand Central Terminal in New York City throughout the 20th century.
And here’s the cover of Dasha putting her own spin on “STAYIN’ ALIVE – Bee Gees“. Her entire band “Vile Vendetta“, who has already had a few live performances, will be there again.
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