Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: BEE GEES (and more)
Album: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER – THE ORIGINAL MOVIE SOUND TRACK
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
My pre-teen self is grimacing at the notion of me writing about an album that turned the already famous Bee Gees into megastars and defined the late-‘70s disco movement, which was anathema to any self-respecting rock ‘n roll fan. I was eleven when Saturday Night Fever (the movie and soundtrack album) was unleashed on the world, so I hadn’t yet chosen a side of that musical battle line. In fact, at my Bar Mitzvah a few weeks prior to my 13th birthday, where the theme was rock ‘n roll, I joined the band for a rousing rendition of “Night Fever.” Well, rousing is how I remember it but stiff & undisciplined was more likely the case. I’m just glad there’s no video footage from that day. Within a year I was a full-fledged rock fan and I proudly wore a “Death Before Disco” button on my denim jacket with the cover of Cream’s Disraeli Gears painted on the back. For a brief time I loved Bee Gees songs before turning on them, like so many others did during the inevitable backlash of their multi-platinum success, and it would be another decade before I reappraised the trio of brothers Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb with more mature ears. There’s no denying that their contributions to the soundtrack are some of the most impressive records of that era, and they’ve stood the test of time. Of course they had already released a dozen albums over the previous decade (Odessa being a particular favorite), with numerous Top 40 singles, so their Saturday Night Fever success was no fluke.
Of the multiple #1 songs here, three were Bee Gees recordings: the aforementioned “Night Fever,” album opener and career-defining track “Stayin’ Alive” and lush pop ballad “How Deep Is Your Love.” They also wrote & performed “More Than A Woman,” which wasn’t released as a single, but the version recorded by Tavares (also featured on the soundtrack) was a hit. Yvonne Elliman, who had been Eric Clapton’s backing vocalist for a few years, scored a #1 hit with the Bee Gees-penned “If I Can’t Have You.” Add in two earlier dance-oriented Bee Gees #1 singles (“Jive Talkin’” and “You Should Be Dancing”) and it’s understandable why the group was so ubiquitous in the aftermath of Saturday Night Fever’s unprecedented success (it was the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time, eventually surpassed by The Bodyguard 15 years later). Composer David Shire contributed three excellent dance floor instrumentals: “Manhattan Skyline,” “Salsation” and “Night On Disco Mountain,” the latter a disco arrangement of a classical piece (“Night On Bald Mountain”) that I performed with an orchestra at around that time. The remainder of the album featured previously-released songs, some of which were already hits and others that subsequently grew in popularity. I bought the single of Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth Of Beethoven” when it was released in 1976, and I still love this disco-fied homage to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. KC And The Sunshine Band were already hit makers, but “Boogie Shoes” didn’t reach the Top 40 until it was featured on the soundtrack. The 1971 near-classic “K-Jee” by MFSB bridges the gap between the steady grooves of most disco songs and the slightly funkier Philly Soul sound from earlier in the decade. Kool & The Gang’s “Open Sesame” already had booties shakin’ in 1976 and was a nice addition to the track listing. Album closer “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps, in its glorious nearly 11-minute extended version, is probably as well-known as any of the Bee Gees’ songs. Ralph MacDonald’s “Calypso Breakdown” is the only inessential track for me. I’ve only seen Saturday Night Fever once and it didn’t make much of an impact on me. In spite of growing up on Staten Island and knowing characters like the ones in the movie, I was too young to appreciate it at the time and it was already dated by the time I checked it out. This has not affected my enjoyment of the soundtrack album. Even if you don’t like disco or any kind of dance music, there’s a lot of great musicianship & harmonizing to appreciate in these grooves. It may be a product of its time but the majority of these songs hold up extremely well after 40 years.