In the 1970s, I was a big disco fan. I was in college in Boston at the time and the dance scene up there was raging. Mid-week I went to see jazz artists like Bill Evans and Sonny Stitt at the Jazz Workshop, but from Thursday forward I'd be at 15 Lansdowne, Lucifer's, Kix, Yesterdays and other clubs. Disco was and remains superb and under-appreciated. [Photo by Adam Golfer for The Wall Street Journal]
It wasn't the dance thing so much for me, though that was fun. Instead, I loved the music's bouncy production, the overwhelming sound pouring out of the oversized speaker systems, the soulful vocals and the vinyl experience. Major labels test-marketed and broke the latest dance singles at clubs up there, since most radio stations ignored the genre in the college town.
Every night at the clubs A&R execs brought 12-inch singles for DJs to play, and you'd be the first to hear songs that would go on to become hits. Then the A&R folks would estimate their promotion budgets based on how many people abandoned their drinks for the dance floor.
One of those singles in 1978 was Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, which has an interesting history. To club-goers in '78, though, Gloria was hardly a newcomer. Her albums Experience (1975), I've Got You (1976), Glorious (1977) and Park Avenue Sound (1978) were already out, and everyone was hip to Let's Make a Deal; How High the Moon; Talk, Talk, Talk; and This Love Affair among others.
In today's Wall Street Journal (go here or please pick up the paper), I interview Gloria on her New Jersey home for the "House Call" column in the Mansion section. During our conversation, I asked her about I Will Survive...
"My husband and I divorced in 2005. It was a hard time. My hit I Will Survive helped me through it. The song has been my mantra for years. Back in 1977, a year before I recorded it, I fell off the stage at the Beacon Theater in New York. I jumped back up, finished my concert and went out to eat with the band.
"But when I woke up the next morning, I was paralyzed from the waist down. I had to have a back operation, and my record company wasn't going to renew my contract. Then the label switched presidents and the new one asked me to record a song he liked called Substitute, which had been recorded by the Righteous Brothers. I Will Survive was a last-minute decision for the B-side.
"When you hear me sing on my recording of I Will Survive, I was actually at the mic in a back brace, believing the song would save my career—and it did. I still love singing it in concert, and on tour I save it for last. Even at home, I sing the song to myself every time I face a problem. It works."
When I Will Survive became a club sensation in late '78, Gloria said DJs all over the country began frantically calling Polydor asking for it. "The label told them, 'You already have it. It's on the B-side of Substitute." Gloria remains disco's queen and one of a kind.
JazzWax clip: Here's the 12-inch single of I Will Survive (1978) in all its sonic glory...
And here's Let's Make a Deal from 1976...