Saturday Night Fever
by David Chiu
(Bee Gees photo by Ed Caraeff)
Forty years ago, a movie and soundtrack transformed pop culture forever and put a Brooklyn neighborhood called Bay Ridge on the national map. Saturday Night Fever made John Travolta a household name and turned the Bee Gees, who were previously known as late ’60s/early ’70s Edwardian-era/Beatleseque balladeers, into disco superstars. Before Michael Jackson’s Thrilller, the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever was the biggest selling album of all time—essentially a double-record ‘best-of’ disco that still endures to this day.
Naturally, the movie is equally synonymous with the Bee Gees, whose music dominates the soundtrack, kicking off with the trilogy of number one songs in a row on side one alone: the classic “Stayin’ Alive,” forever iconic with the opening scene of the film when Travolta’s Tony Manero strutting down the streets of Brooklyn; the lush romantic ballad How Deep Is Your Love”; and the elegant dance floor anthem “Night Fever.” Augmented by the further inclusion of the Brothers Gibbs’ previous hits in “Jive Talkin’” and “You Should Be Dancing” on the soundtrack, those three songs, along with “More Than a Woman,” highlighted an amazing chart run. Other artists on the soundtrack also found success in interpreting the Bee Gees’ song as well, including Yvonne Elliman’s signature hit “If I Can’t Have You” and Tavares’ soulful take of “More Than a Woman.”
But aside from the Bee Gees, Saturday Night Fever is an ecelecetic and balanced collection of disco music that flows so seamlessly through the quirky bits (Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven,” David Shire’s “Night on Disco Mountain,” two tracks based on classical works given the disco treatement), and through some hot buttered funk and R&B (K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes,” Kool and the Gang’s “Open Sesame”) and Latin music (Ralph McDonald’s “Calypso Breakdown,” David Shire’s “Salsation”) – before concluding with a blistering, house-burning 10-minute version of the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno.” While it’s certainly not the underground or electronic disco, that also existed at the time, the soundtrack packs plenty of groovy bump-and-grind moments that even Middle America can get into. The album and the Bee Gees were unfortunately casualties of the “Disco Sucks” backlash for much of the ’80s, but both rebounded and their legacies continue to burnish. Marking the 40th anniversary of the film and soundtrack is this new super deluxe edition collection containing the original album on CD and vinyl, along with new remixes of four Bee Gees hits by Serban Ghenea, and a Blu-ray of the film; the only thing not included in this very lavish set is a disco ball. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack really turned disco from an underground urban subculture into a phenomenon in America. Forty years after, this music, as well as the movie, leaves an nostalgic and unforgettable impression.