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Friday, May 11, 2012

"Stayin' Alive"

Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive" (1977)

I hate this song. It's so damn good.

Seriously though, this is not my kind of music, but aside from the fact that the drum is a loop from another song on the same album ("Night Fever") what is it exactly that I don't like? Well, the guitar solos are repetitive, and I'm not a huge fan of falsetto, but I find it acceptable in other songs. So I guess it really is just the association with one of the worst flash in the pan genres of modern music. So let's take away the drums, and listen to it as if it wasn't one of the most well known disco songs ever written.

The Gibb brothers are songwriters. First and foremost they tell great stories in a few minutes with well crafted lyrics. Their early numbers include a poignant song about miners talking together trapped underground, a soul ballad written for Otis Redding  who died before he could record it, and eventually they became known for quiet contemplative songs like "Words", "I Started a Joke", and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart". They wrote story songs and folk songs and were well regarded if not huge sellers. They actually wrote "Stayin' Alive" on acoustic guitars, and successfully told a story of inner-city struggle and the release of hitting the club on a weekend. What else works in this song? The harmonies are tight as can be. There's not half a dozen men alive who could have hit any of those notes, much less pulled them together into a three part harmony. Then they used a surprisingly live sounding keyboard to do the horn and string sections, so rather than sounding fake and electronic, it sounds like there are a dozen musicians adding layers to this track, instead of (as best as I can tell) just Blue Weaver playing all of that great backing instrumentation on his keyboard. So we've got a looped drum sample (which would became a staple of the disco genre), some repetitive so-so (and beloved) guitar work, vocals that I both respect and don't really love, a great keyboardist faking a larger group of musicians and a good story. So how does a song with this much balancing back and forth between I respect it and I can't stand it get me to say it's damn good?

Maurice Gibb on Bass. Often overlooked in favor of his good looking lead singing brother Barry or his interesting looking lead singing lead brother Robin, Maurice sang a lot of backup, and played a lot of instruments through the years, but on this track his bass holds the song together. The drums are mechanical, walking to a metronome doesn't make John Travolta, it's the funk and soul in the bass that made this song, that made the scene that made the movie.

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