The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #214: I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #214: I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.

“I Will Survive” has become a feminist anthem, an LGBTQ anthem and was Gloria Gaynor’s biggest hit song of her career. Ironically enough, it is a song that was written by someone who was not Gloria Gaynor, not a woman and not even someone on the LGBTQ spectrum. “I Will Survive” was written by a man.

“I Will Survive” was written in 1978 by a man named Dino Fekaris. The inspiration for writing the song was that Fekaris had recently been let go from his job that he for almost a decade. Initially, he was despondent, as one can imagine but then, a new opportunity arose and he was able to get himself quickly back on track in his chosen field as a writer. So, Fekaris wrote a song about the breakup of a relationship in which the feelings of the aggrieved party mirrored how he felt when he lost his job. Then, just to show you how things line up in the universe in your favour sometimes….just as Fekaris had put the finishing touches on his song, “I Will Survive”, his telephone rang. It was Gloria Gaynor’s management team.

Gloria Gaynor had steady success during the 1970s but that success came mostly as a covers singer. She didn’t write her own songs nor did she have a songwriting department at her beck and call, as did the artists who worked for Motown, for example. So, it was left to her management team to work the phones and hustle up any good opportunities that might be available to her. That’s what they were doing on her behalf when they reached out to Dino Fakaris. With “I Will Survive” fresh in his mind, he offered it to Gaynor. The rest, as they say, is history.

With Gaynor now singing those lyrics, the tone of the song took on an entirely new meaning. Every women ever scorned and/or disappointed in her lover immediately understood the power of a female singing about how she will be fine on her own and that she didn’t need a man in order to survive. The timing of the release of this single was perfect because it dovetailed nicely with the heyday of Disco. “I Will Survive” gained airplay first because it was heavily promoted at New York Discos such as Studio 54. Furthermore, because disco music was integrated into the emerging LGBTQ scene (remember The Stonewall Riots in NY that spawned the Gay Pride Movement, launching The Village People and much more, were all happening at the same time as “I Will Survive” hit the airwaves. Read about “YMCA”, here). “I Will Survive” holds a unique distinction in the music industry as a result of the success that Gloria Gaynor had singing the song. She won a Grammy Award for the Best Disco Song of the Year. What is unique about that is that this award has only ever been given out once in the entire history of The Grammy Awards…..that one time was to Gloria Gaynor for “I Will Survive”.

But, as we all know, the connections that certain songs have with our lives varies from person to person. I may not be a woman nor am I on the LGBTQ spectrum anywhere but, none-the-less, this song has always held a special place in my heart because of how it was used in one of the best movies I have ever seen. In 1994, I went through a phase where I watched a lot of foreign films. This included terrific films such as “Cinema Paradiso” and “Babette’s Feast”…(which both had won Oscars for Best Foreign Film), “Run Lola Run”, “City of God”, “Breaker Morant” and many more. But one movie that caught me off-guard in the most delightful way was an Australian movie that I watched at The Oshawa Centre Cineplex (not sure if that is even still there now) with about twelve other people in total called, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. What an absolute riot! This movie starred the great Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving (he played Keanu Reaves’ nemesis in The Matrix movies) and a young Guy Pearce (before Memento and LA Confidential) as three drag queens on a four-week trek across the Australian Outback in a bus they had christened as “Priscilla”. This movie won an Academy Award for Best Costumes and deservedly so.

Anyway, as we learned from the recent post about rock group, “Midnight Oil” (click here) touring the outback and performing for small Indigenous communities along the way, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” follows the same route; ending up at a hotel in Alice Springs, which is the largest tourist area nearest to Uluru (or Ayer’s Rock). In one scene in the movie, they have stopped in a small Indigenous community and decide to throw them for a loop by putting on a full drag show. The song that is performed is “I Will Survive” and what is amazing about this scene is how the worlds of women, the LGBTQ community and the Indigenous community all meld into one as the lyrics are sung. As the song unfolds, the indigenous audience begin smiling and clapping along. Eventually, a didgeridoo is hauled out and plays along and then, the audience sings along in their native language as the song and the show wind down. For my money, it is one of the most joyous scenes I have ever seen in a movie. It fills me up, even as I write these words to all of you.

For a song that was written by a man about losing his job, “I Will Survive” has gone on to touch the lives of all manner of humans who walk this earth, just trying to get through this thing we call Life. If this song has touched your life…and you care to share why….please do so in the comments section below. If this song’s main relevance to you is that it makes you bop then, feel free to bop along as you listen to the video below. This is a dance song, after all.

So, without further delay, here is Gloria Gaynor with her biggest hit, “I Will Survive”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Gloria Gaynor, can be found here.

The link to the video for the “I Will Survive” scene from the movie, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the most joyous music, regardless of genre. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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