To Gloria Gaynor, it seems like only yesterday that she recorded the iconic disco/pop hit “I Will Survive.” Now she’s celebrating the anthem’s 30th anniversary.
“How is that possible?” she asks with a laugh during a concert stop earlier this week in Bologna, Italy. “I’m only 29.”
Still averaging 100 to 150 concert dates per year, Gaynor is currently overseas performing shows in Moscow, Amsterdam and Spain. After that, she will return stateside to promote the Oct. 27 digital release of an updated recording of “Survive” in English and Spanish plus a self-penned gospel ballad, “He Gave Me Life (I Will Survive).” The songs will be released through the singer’s own Glolo label (her childhood nickname) in association with digital distributor INgrooves. In turn, all three songs will be available on CD through Gaynor’s Web site, GloriaGaynor.com.
“I Will Survive” survived its own challenges in the beginning. Written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, the track was initially pegged as the B-side to a song called “Substitute” that Polydor brass wanted Gaynor to record. Perren agreed to produce “Substitute” in exchange for choosing the B-side.
“Freddie and Dino said they’d been looking for someone to record ‘Survive’ for a long time,” recalls Gaynor. “I’m reading the lyrics and saying, ‘Are you kidding me? This is a hit song.’ But when we took it back to the label execs, they wouldn’t listen to it.”
Gaynor was confronting personal challenges as well. Her mother had recently passed away and the singer had to record “Survive” in a back brace owing to surgery on her spine a month earlier. “That’s why I was able to sing the song with so much conviction,” says Gaynor.
After a Studio 54 DJ got wind of the song, other club DJs began flipping the single over to play “Survive.” Then radio chimed in and the label’s hand was forced. While “Substitute” languished at No. 107 on pop, “Survive” danced all the way to No. 1 on the chart in 1979.
Since Gaynor earned a Grammy Award for best disco song in 1980, “Survive” has taken on a life of its own. Morphing from disco hit to empowerment anthem, “Survive” has been covered more than 200 times by everyone from Dame Shirley Bassey and Diana Ross to Cake and assorted “American Idol” wannabes. Gaynor’s favorite covers? Those by Gladys Knight and Chantay Savage.
Not too long ago, Gaynor performed the song on Capitol Hill in support of the Performance Rights Act. “This should have been done a long time ago,” she declares. “Writers get paid and rightfully so; publishers get paid and rightfully so. But what about the singers? It’s the fair thing to do.”
Five days prior to the “Survive” rerelease, Gaynor will participate in a Q&A and a live performance at the Grammy Museum Oct. 22 in Los Angeles. That will be followed by a guest stint on “The View” and a performance in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On tap for 2010: The release of Gaynor’s yet-untitled gospel album and a symphony tour in Australia. The former will feature traditional selections as well as “He Gave Me Life” and other original Gaynor compositions. “After 30 years of telling people I will survive, it’s time to tell them how,” she says.
Although Gaynor has rung up a string of hits including “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “I Am What I Am” and “I Never Knew,” she will forever be tied to her signature ode. And that doesn’t bother her in the least.
“From the beginning I recognized it was a timeless lyric that everyone could relate to,” says Gaynor, “so I don’t get tired of singing it. I’m always freshening it up; changing the beat, the lyrics, modernizing the arrangement — I’ve even stuck a hip-hop section in the middle of it. I become 295% grade A ham when I do this song because people still love it.”