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Stayin’ Alive” Artist: The Bee Gees Music / Lyrics by The Bee Gees Label: rso, 1977


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Stayin’ Alive”

Artist: The Bee Gees

Music / Lyrics by The Bee Gees

Label: RSO, 1977 (from the soundtrack of the film Saturday Night Fever)

The Bee Gees, three singing brothers from Australia who first came to pop prominence with British Invasion hits such as “The New York Mining Disaster of 1941” and “Massachusetts,” displayed a remarkable acumen at blowing with the changes in the winds of pop. When the collapse of both progressive-rock and the sensitive-singer-songwriter markets in the 1970s coincided with the rise of a cocaine- and polyester-fueled club culture, Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb sniffed the pop winds and moved to appropriate the latest breakthroughs in Black music – most particularly, the relentless four-beat grooves and catchy synthesizer hooks of black pop artists like Chic and Gloria Gaynor. Through the vehicle of the fictional Jolson-esque rags-to-riches film Saturday Night Fever, featuring a dancing John Travolta, the Bee Gees’ white falsetto disco conquered the charts.



Musical style notes

As the name suggests, disco is first and foremost dance music. The driving, steady precision of the disco beat was ensured by the use of electronic drum machines, drum samples, and/or “click tracks” (see sidebar). In the case of “Stayin’ Alive,” the drum part consists of a two-bar sample taken from the drum track on the song “Night Fever.” This pre-digital sampling technique involved the use of a tape loop, which played continuously throughout the track. The use of a prominently-mixed bass line is also an important feature of disco, and in the case of “Stayin’ Alive,” Maurice Gibb’s bass line carries the identifying instrumental “riff.”


Another notable aspect of “Stayin’ Alive” is Barry Gibb’s incredibly powerful and flexible falsetto vocal, heard throughout the song. The use of the male falsetto voice is not specific to disco; it was used extensively in every kind of pop music from doo-wop to the choral extravaganzas of British prog-rock. However, impassioned falsetto-vocal improvisation is an especially important stylistic element in gospel music, from whence it made its way into many African-American popular music styles, disco being no exception.

Music Terminology “De-mystified”:

What’s a ‘click track’?
A click track is an electronically generated beat used during recording sessions to set the tempo (speed) of the music. The steady “click” does not get recorded, but can be heard in the headphones of all the singers and instrumentalists while they are recording. This technique, which has been employed at least since the advent of multi-track recording, is used to provide a very precise beat, and also enables musicians to record on multiple tracks and insure that the tracks will line up. Click tracks are used in the recording of practically every kind of musical style except classical and some traditional music; however, they are especially important in music such as disco, where a mathematically precise, even beat is crucial to the style. Synthesized drum tracks and sampled drum beats can provide the same function as a click track, and eventually became the rhythmic backbone of many styles, including hip hop and related genres.


Musical “Road Map”




Timings

Comments

Lyrics

0:00-0:12

Introduction
Begins directly with the drum track and signature repeating bass riff by which the song is quickly identified. String section effects add orchestral texture to sonic background.





0:12-0:32

Verse 1

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man – no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm;


I’ve been kicked around
Since I was born.



And now it’s all right. it’s ok –

And you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man.


0:32-0:57

Chorus


Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking,
And were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.



Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ ali---ve –

0:57-1:21

Verse 2
Begins with the same instrumental phrase as begins the whole track.

Well now, I get low and I get high –

And if I can’t get either, I really try.
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes –


I’m a dancing man, and I just can’t lose.
You know, it’s all right. it’s ok.
I’ll live to see another day.
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man.


1:21-1:46

Chorus

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin alive.
Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking,
And were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.



Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ ali---ve –

1:46-2:13

Bridge
Begins musically just like a verse, but then introduces a new melody, which bridges the previous chorus and the repeat of Verse 1 that is coming next.



Life going nowhere. somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life going nowhere. somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.

Stayin’ alive…

2:13-2:33

Verse 1 repeats

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man – no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm;


I’ve been kicked around
Since I was born.



And now it’s all right. it’s ok –
And you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man


2:33-2:58

Chorus

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin alive.
Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking,
And were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin alive, stayin alive.



Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ ali---ve –

2:58-4:42

Bridge section repeats
This time used as a “coda” or ending section that repeats over and over, with powerful, sustained vocal improvisations – note Barry Gibb’s falsetto vocal pyrotechnics.


Life going nowhere. somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life going nowhere. somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.

I’m stayin’ alive….


Life going nowhere. somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life going nowhere. somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.

I’m stayin’ alive….
(this section repeats until the track fades)


Angela Mariani would like to thank Dr. Chris Smith of Texas Tech University for his contribution to this Listening Guide.


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