Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stayin' Alive - The Bee Gees - "Free To Be You and Me"

Stayin' Alive - The Bee Gees - 1977 by Kaitlyn Evangelista and Sydney Newman

“Stayin’ Alive” was written and performed by the Bee Gees for the opening credits of the film Saturday Night Fever: released in 1977. The film characterized their song as disco even though the Bee Gees said they were not disco. The film helped its popularity because it was in the trailer for the film so it became popular and familiar to people before the film even came out. Since Saturday Night Fever did so well, a sequel was created called Staying Alive. Staying Alive did not do as well as Saturday Night. Since the song was originally from the trailer, many people were requesting the song to radio stations after hearing it from the trailer. The song went on to win a Grammy for Best arrangement for Voices and was the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1978, where it stayed there for four weeks. The song is now used for its beat to perform chest compressions on someone during CPR. The ideal amount of beats are 100-120 per minute and this song has 103 per minute. Other songs have similar beats, but the lyrics to this song are more relevant than other songs. The song is meant to be upbeat, as its lyrics literally encourage you to stay alive.

Stayin’ Alive is similar to Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are A-Changin” (1964). In his song he says that the times are changing and you have to swim or you will sink like a stone. And in “Stayin’ Alive” the Bee Gees say they are staying alive and getting through life as they can “feel the city breakin’” and “everybody shakin’.” “Stayin’ Alive” is about getting by when the times are hard, similar to Bob Dylan who says in the song there is a battle outside because of the change coming that will soon shake the windows.
For most people, the genre of music most associated with the 1970s was disco. Disco first appeared in dance clubs in the early 70s and many singers like Donna Summer and Anita Ward helped popularize the sound. When Saturday Night Fever came out in 1977, it helped further breathe life into the trend and expand it into commercialization. For this reason Stayin’ Alive really fits well into music trends of the time but was innovative in the sense of its popularity and revitalizing of the trend.

         Disco as a genre was a reaction against the dominance of rock music and can be considered a counterculture movement of the period. Disco’s initial audience was African American, Italian American, and Latin club-goers. Disco thrived for much of the 70s but then towards the early 80s many disco artists, like the Bee Gees, struggled trying to get their music played on mainstream radio. An “anti-disco” movement popped up and soon popular songs like Stayin’ Alive and Disco Inferno became unfashionable.
         The popularity of Stayin Alive, a song about survival in a big city, tells us that 70s Americas wanted and needed an upbeat sound. The song is quite literally called Stayin’ Alive and its no coincidence the 120 beats per minute coincides with the heartbeat of your heart when you’re excited. Dance clubs and dance movements reached their peak in the 70s and songs like Stayin’ Alive catered to that attitude. This song served the purpose of helping Americans “loosen up” and “relax” on the floor after the stress of the day. By keeping its lyrics and rhythms upbeat, Stayin’ Alive helped rise disco’s popularity and became a soundtrack and radio icon for the 70s. 

The movement of disco was more than just a style of music but a culture. A counter-culture to the rock sound and heavy social and political unrest of the 60s. Stayin’ Alive’s upbeat sound and positive message was a direct response to this era and expressed that the mainstream audience was ready for something happier and uplifting. Disco provided an environment where many cultures could come together and interact. People were free to be themselves and express so with whatever moves they wanted on the dance floor judgment free. This free-to-be attitude was the attitude of the 70s and illuminates how this decade highlighted different cultures and movements of people through song.

Question: Why do you think the song was popular during the time of its release, other than since it was in a popular film?

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