The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. In this edition we discuss Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track.
A recent distraction from a great new Facebook group–You grew up in the Souderton/ Telford/ Harleysville area if you remember…—has inspired your crusty chronicler to once more flash back to his high school days. So now we travel back through the mists of time to an era we called the (late) “’70s”. It was a time when disco was king (or perhaps queen) and life imitated art. Music, artists, fashion, film, night spots, our culture, indeed our very lives were all somehow influenced by the gyrating genre.
The most memorable major musical influence of course was Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track. This was literally just what the title implied—the soundtrack to the award-winning, classic motion picture Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta.
The RSO double-album contains over 74 minutes of music. The tracks were recorded between 1975 and 1977 inclusive. Originally, the Bee Gees had simply composed cuts as part of a normal album. There were five tunes: “Stayin’ Alive”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “Night Fever”, “More Than a Woman” and “If I Can’t Have You” (covered on the soundtrack by Yvonne Elliman) as part of a regular album. While these tracks now appear on the Side A of the vinyl soundtrack, the group had no clue back then that they would actually be writing for a soundtrack. Ironically, because of this the group essentially lost an album of their own.
Side B included four tracks highlighted by Walter Murphy’s now famous classical cut-up, “A Fifth of Beethoven” which was—sadly some folks first and only exposure to classical music and a cover of “More Than a Woman” by Tavares. David Shire’s “Manhattan Skyline” followed. This was basically background music which was atmospheric enough to work albeit mechanistic nonetheless. The closing cut to this side was the perhaps less memorable “Calypso Breakdown” by Ralph MacDonald.
Side C included a couple of previously released Bee Gees tunes— the original studio version of “Jive Talkin'” and “You Should Be Dancing”. (“Jive Talkin’” was actually not in the film because it was used in a scene that was deleted. Strangely, later pressings of this platter would include an alternate version lifted off of Here At Last…Bee Gees…Live.)
Two other major acts from the era are included here with previously-released cuts: KC and the Sunshine Band do their Top 40 hit “Boogie Shoes” and Kool & the Gang contributed “Open Sesame”. (The side opens with –oddly enough another David Shire musical cue “Night on Disco Mountain” which was actually based on the classical number “Night on Bald Mountain”.)
Side D is perhaps the weakest side on the double album. It includes only three tracks. One is the final Shire cut “Salsation”. This workable but less than memorable piece is followed by “K-Jee” by MFSB and perhaps single most propulsive although long cut “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps. Famed guitarist Stephen Stills also lends his talents to the soundtrack although it was not comparatively well-publicized.
Oddness abounds as The Bee Gees had specifically recorded three additional tracks for the motion picture that were never used. The tracks left off from the start were: “If I Can’t Have You”, “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” and “Warm Ride”. Samantha Sand sung “Emotion” which was also originally left off the first cut of the film.
Two cues adapted from the Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love”—“Tony and Stephanie” and “Near The Verrazano Bridge” that were in the film have yet to be included on any version of the soundtrack to date. Other exclusions include three other cues by Shire and Rick Dees two tunes the oft-times annoying but successful novelty hit “Disco Duck” and the lesser known “Dr. Disco”.
Regardless of some of the questionable decisions made concerning the record, in the US the double-album was a smash hit and went platinum over 15 times (selling more than 15 million copies). 1977 also saw the success of some singles off the album. “How Deep Is Your Love” took the number one slot on the Adult Contemporary and Pop Singles charts. “Night Fever” also made it to number one on the Pop Singles chart and scored number 8 on the R&B Singles chart. Finally before year’s end “If I Can’t Have You” also hit number one on the Pop Singles chart as well.
The next year (1978) saw the soundtrack topping the album charts for two dozen weeks. (It would remain on Billboard‘s album charts for 120 weeks until sometime in March 1980.) In the UK, the album camped out at number one for 18 weeks in a row.
Regular club goers already weary of the more generic disco dance music breathed a sigh of relief when the club mix single “Stayin’ Alive/Night Fever/More Than A Woman” took the number 3 slot on the Club Play Singles chart. “Stayin’ Alive” itself topped the Pop Singles chart and even hit number 4 on the R&B Singles chart. The final single off the album, “Boogie Shoes” would only manage to reach number 35 on the Pop Singles chart.
Critics correctly claimed that the work “epitomized the disco phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic” which was what helped make it “an international sensation”. Down under in Australia the recording climbed up over all the other acts to take the top slot and in other countries such as Germany–land of BAM music and Hasselhoff hits—it went gold six times over. This was truly the best-selling soundtrack album of all time (to much later be surpassed only by Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard.)
The album would refuse to be forgotten just like the film. It would be re-released on CD multiple times. Each CD release—unlike the later vinyl pressings—would include the original version of “Jive Talkin'”.
The new millennium would witness more recognition for the disc as well. In 2003 the soundtrack would take the 131st slot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The CD would also reach number one on Billboard Music Chart’s Pop Album and Soul Album charts.
Before year’s end, VH1would further honor the album by naming it the 57th greatest album of all time. Saturday Night Fever – The Original Movie Soundtrack was later ranked at number 80 in a 2005 survey by British TV’s Channel 4to establish the 100 greatest albums of all time. More recently, the album was once more re-released–this time on Reprise Records when the Bee Gees regained control of their master tapes.
This work dispelled a lot of foolish impressions about the disco genre. It is a great pop album with actual warmth. Indeed, the Grammy-Award-winning album of the year Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track/RSO 2-4001 was a musical cultural event that most certainly deserved its five-star rating. It does for the 1970s what Woodstock does for the 1960s. Quite simply, it clearly defines an era’s taste and celebrates it.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.