Gloria Gaynor had some memorable moments in the 1970s, notably her 1974 smash hit version of the Jackson 5‘s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye.’ But as 1978 came to an end, she charted in America with the track that would go on to be not just her signature tune, but one of the most anthemic songs of the era, ‘I Will Survive.’
The song, written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, has become a symbol of female empowerment, which is all the more remarkable because Gloria’s version was originally a b-side. The first single from her Love Tracks album was ‘Substitute,’ a version of a song previously recorded by the Righteous Brothers. ‘I Will Survive’ was tucked away as the flip side, but soon started to win support from radio stations and in discos.
The lyric was also one that Gaynor identified with. The momentum of her career in the earlier 1970s, not just with ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ but such covers as ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ and ‘Walk On By,’ had dwindled. To make matters worse, she was hospitalised with spinal injuries after a fall at a concert in Europe. When Gloria got out of the hospital and started recording again, ‘I Will Survive’ was a song with personal relevance, and the sentiment came true.
“God had given that song”
Referring to songwriters Perren and Fekaris, Gaynor told NPR: “They said, ‘We think you’re the one that we’ve been waiting for to record this song that we wrote a couple of years ago.’ When I read the lyrics, I realised the reason they’d been waiting for me to record that song was that God had given that song to them for them to set aside, waiting for him to get everything in order for me to meet up with them. And that song was ‘I Will Survive.'”
The early radio support for the track was enough to take it into the Billboard Hot 100 for 16 December 1978 at a modest No. 87. But the record gathered momentum over the Christmas and new year period, hitting the top ten in early February. Before that month was out, it was already a million-seller, and on 10 March, the single unseated Rod Stewart’s ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy’ to spend two weeks at No. 1. On the second of those, it went to the top of the British chart, stayed there for four weeks, and became the hit of Gloria Gaynor’s life.
‘I Will Survive’ is on Gloria Gaynor’s Love Tracks album, which can be bought here.
Follow the 70s playlist for more classic songs from the decade.