on 31 July 2012
Gloria Gaynor was an original pioneer of disco and the only official 'Queen' of the genre, as voted by DJ's across America. If it isn't obvious, I Will Survive wasn't just another disco recording, and Love Tracks isn't just another disco album. There is something much more than the beat going on within these Freddie Perren-produced grooves; a certain musical magic which only occurs when producers, writers, musicians and singers work in perfect unison. The end product is a patently superior classic from the height of the disco era, let down, perhaps, by the rather understated cover art; which belies its content of unrivalled soul and dance tunes of the highest calibre.
Miss Gaynor, a producer's dream, is a uniquely gifted artist with a wonderful and distinctive voice that is perfectly suited to dance floor turntables, feet, ears, and hearts. Love Tracks represented the delightful lady's sixth and most successful album for Polydor records. Its first US single was Substitute, a cover of Clout's UK hit. Gloria had built her considerable fan base by transforming previously well known songs such as Never Can Say Goodbye, How High The Moon and I've Got You Under My Skin into floor fillers, so it was little surprise that she continued in that tradition with the new release. The single charted and generated much interest both on and off the dance floors, however, it was its original B-side, also featured on the album, that was getting major attention by DJs across America and around the world. The song was I Will Survive.
Gloria recorded the song while secured in a back brace following a horrendous stage accident which threatened to leave her in a state of paralysis. The dancing singer had tripped over loud speakers, but instead of quitting for the night, she picked herself up and resumed her performance - 'the show must go on!' The next morning Gloria awoke to find herself immobilised by chronic pain, which ultimately could only be relieved by the spinal surgeon's knife. Once out of hospital, and with one vertebrae less than the rest of us, her determination to overcome her plight was underscored by a resolute fortitude. Legend has it that the famous lyrics had been hurriedly composed on the back of an envelope by the album's producers, Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. Gloria, of course, felt an instant personal resonance with the title, so, supported by considerable DJ and public reaction, she pressured Polydor to flip the single and make Survive the A-side. However, one unimpressed reviewer wrote: "Polydor is beginning to work on I Will Survive as an A-side, but it really isn't anything special and the company would be better advised to go for something new." The rest is pop history! The iconic song made a slow but steady rise until it was sitting at the top of disco and pop charts around the world, and the sorry reviewer later got work sweeping the streets outside Gloria's plush New York mansion. The song's self-affirming lyrics, coupled with Gloria's assured delivery, had tapped into a universal human experience that everyone could relate to; in our (failing) relationships, at work, in health, and in life in general. The bar-setting song went on to win a Grammy and a further nomination for 'Record of the Year', and ultimately, became disco's biggest ever hit. When it left the number one spot on the US pop chart, the determined record returned there only a week later, as if to reinforce the point; survival of the fittest! In the UK, the single simply refused to vacate the top spot for an entire month. I Will Survive was huge around the globe and selling in the multiple millions.
Survive wasn't the only dance hit from Love Tracks. Accompanying it to the number one spot on Billboard's Disco Chart of 1979 was the gloriously funky dance fest, Anybody Wanna Party?, an impassioned reworking of Goin Out Of My Head, and the storming I Said Yes: "Click my heels, have some fun, danced and danced til the morning sun. Feels so good when life flows like it should... Must confess, I said yes!" As well as knock out dance hits, Gloria also excelled on ballads, and this, her masterpiece album, didn't disappoint with the beautifully intimate Please Be There, and the compelling mid-tempo swayer, You Can Exit. The latter, delivered in a sophisticated whisper-like vocal, finds Gloria telling her egotistical lover with a misplaced superiority complex: "I know you're fine, yeah, but so am I... you can exit!" Completely exquisite. The rich diversity of the album helped it ease into the top five of Billboard's Pop Album Chart.
The disco superstar was once again enjoying sell out concerts at home and in cities around the world. Opening with the Village People, the sell out show at Madison Square Garden was a particular triumph. In the UK, extra performances had to be put on at the London Palladium to accommodate the unrelenting demand for Queen Gloria tickets. A matinee ticket was the only way that my then teenage eyes could get a glimpse of disco's ultimate survivor. It was my first live concert, and I recall how the building was almost demolished by the explosive reaction to the delivery of the immortal words that most of the eager audience had come to hear: "AT FIRST I WAS AFRAID..." Booooooooooom!!! Question: Is this a concert or a riot? No, it's one huge London party - and it was still only lunchtime! Whites, blacks, gays and straights partied together as if our very survival depended on it. I had just witnessed the power of Gloria Gaynor and happy disco music, and loved the experience...especially the vocal dynamite with the mic; Miss Glorious Gaynor!
Gloria made many great records in her career - I Am What I Am, Real Good People, How High the Moon, This Love Affair, Casanova Brown, and Never Can Say Goodbye amongst them. But I Will Survive is a very special song indeed, and it has, for better or worse, over-shadowed all her other recordings to become a very worthy signature tune; destined to gracefully rise from the ashes of disco's premature racist and homophobia-driven demise, to confirm its own survival and make Queen Gloria a very wealthy woman indeed. The song has featured in countless films, documentaries and TV shows, and been recorded over two hundred times in different languages. A diverse array of other artists were to offer their own interpretations of Survive, including: Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight, Billie Jo Spears, Lonnie Gordon, REM, Cake,... Eartha Kitt, Diana Ross (2013 video duet with Gloria on you tube!), Shirley Bassey... Pheeeeew! But, no matter how hard others might try, this particular song remains "the Gloria Gaynor song!" To reaffirm the point, fifteen years after its original release, Phil Kelsey's speedier 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' remix would return Gloria to the UK and Australian top 5. Incidentally, she has said that her favorite of the alternative takes is that recorded by Chantay Savage. Donna Summer (RIP), fellow disco queen and "sister in Christ", included Gloria's original in her personal all-time top 10, saying, "It helped me get through those difficult times." Her iconic producer, Giorgio Moroder, cited Survive as disco's greatest ever recording, for its "combination of song, vocals and rhythm". The timeless hit was voted number one on VH1's all-time Disco 100, and to top it all, February 2012 saw it formally inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, although the news of the day was understandably dominated by the tragic early passing of Whitney Houston. RIP, Nippy!
At the time of writing, Gloria had just completed a tour of Italy, which attracted in excess of 20,000 fans. Evidence, if any were needed, that the first lady of the disco beat had indeed survived and fans still want to hear her sing THAT song. She and I have met many times over the years, but it was especially thrilling to see her do her thing in New York recently, disco's original home town. Her slick performance and audience reaction proved she hasn't lost any of her magic. Oh, the opening act was still Village People, sporting three original members; thirty-five years on from their original US tour with Gloria! And yes, the audience rose to its feet to do all the hand moves to YMCA... but we were really there to see the legendary glorious one; the undisputed God Mother of Disco!
Love Tracks went multi-Platinum at the time of its original release and an international reissue on CD has been too long overdue. Thankfully, the fantastic guys at Big Break Records have come to the rescue and have released this much anticipated expanded CD, which, incidentally, includes the sensational previously unreleased mix of Survive by the God Father of disco himself, Mr Tom Moulton; the man responsible for introducing Gloria to the world with his famous medley mix on her 1975 debut LP, Never Can Say Goodbye. You can buy Love Tracks with confidence, but pick up the soulful Gloria Gaynor's Park Avenue Sound, too. Oh, and while you're at the check out, don't forget your other GG goodies; Never Can Say Goodbye and Experience Gloria Gaynor, also on Big Break Records. You'll be glad you did.
We are all survivors of sorts, and at some point in life we'll find ourselves relating to the uplifting power of Gloria's signature tune, courtesy of this momentous album. With music as good as this, we will not only survive, we shall thrive! (Review edited from the Amazon book, God's Other Children - A London Memoir by Vernal Scott. Check it out!)
Love Tracks - ratings out of 10:
1. Stoplight 8/10
2. Anybody Wanna Party? 9/10
3. Please Be There 10/10
4. Going Out Of My Head 10/10
5. I Will Survive 10/10
6. You Can Exit 10/10
7. I Said Yes 10/10 (I wish it was longer!!!)
8. Substitute 7/10
Bonus Love Tracks (Big Break Records 2013 reissue only!):
9. I Will Survive - (Excellent original extended mix) 10/10
10.Anybody Wanna Party? 12inch mix - (Funky disco never sounded better than this) 10/10
11.Substitute 12inch mix - (Blissfully extended to approx 8 mins) 9/10
12.Yo Vivire (I Will Survive - emphatic and flawless in Spanish) 10/10
13.I Will Survive (The much sought after Tom Moulton Mix: harps, bass, sax and vocals to the fore. 10.32 mins of disco ecstasy 10/10