The Story of... 'I Will Survive' by Gloria Gaynor

7 March 2022, 16:50

Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive
Picture: Polydor

By Tom Eames

It's THE disco song to beat all disco songs, and the ultimate karaoke tune.

But who wrote Gloria Gaynor's iconic defiant hit, and how did she come to sing it?

Here are all the big facts behind 'I Will Survive':

  1. Who wrote 'I Will Survive'?

    Freddie Perren in 1979
    Freddie Perren in 1979. Picture: Getty

    'I Will Survive' was written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, with Fekaris providing the majority of the lyrics.

    Fekaris also wrote other songs for Gloria Gaynor, but this was his only huge success as a writer.

    Perren also wrote disco favourites 'Boogie Fever' by The Sylvers and 'Shake Your Groove Thing' by Peaches & Herb. He was also part of Motown's The Corporation, who wrote classics including 'I Want You Back' and 'ABC' by The Jackson 5. He passed away at the age of 61 in 2004.

  2. What is the song about?

    The song is a female-empowerment anthem, and is about moving on after a bad relationship.

    It has since taken on other meanings for people who have overcome any difficult situation, but Dino Fekaris revealed it was about getting fired by Motown Records, where he was a staff writer.

    He told Songfacts: "They let me go after almost seven years. I was an unemployed songwriter contemplating my fate. I turned the TV on, and there it was: a song I had written for a movie theme titled 'Generation' was playing right then (the song was performed by Rare Earth).

    "I took that as an omen that things were going to work out for me. I remember jumping up and down on the bed saying, 'I'm going to make it. I'm going to be a songwriter. I will survive!'".

    Gloria Gaynor herself once said: "I love the empowering effect, I love the encouraging effect. It's a timeless lyric that addresses a timeless concern."

  3. How did Gloria Gaynor land the song?

    Gloria Gaynor
    Picture: Getty

    When Perren and Fekaris left Motown, they formed their own production duo, and soon scored a hit with Peaches & Herb's 'Reunited'.

    When they wrote 'I Will Survive', they didn't have anyone to sing it. They agreed that the next diva that found them would get the song.

    This ended up being Gloria Gaynor, whose record company called Perren looking for production on a song called 'Substitute', a song originally by the Righteous Brothers. Gaynor then agreed to record 'I Will Survive' as the B-side.

  4. Despite being a B-side, it was a huge hit

    Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive [Official Video] 1978 [Audio iTunes Plus AAC M4A]

    Although everyone who worked on the song knew it was superior to the A-side, the president of Gaynor's record company specifically wanted 'Substitute', and released it as the A-side as planned.

    'Substitute' only peaked at number 107 in October 1978 in the US, but club DJs started playing started playing the B-side instead, and soon radio stations joined in.

    Polydor eventually released the single with the sides flipped, and 'I Will Survive' became an international hit, reaching number one in both the UK and US.

  5. It has become an LGBT anthem

    The song had a particularly huge influence within the LGBT community.

    It is mostly attributed to the lack of acceptance of LGBT individuals, especially when the song was released in 1979. The song is often referred to as a 'gay anthem' because of this.

    Musicologist Nadine Hubbs wrote that [eople in the LGBT community have said they identify with 'I Will Survive' because the "textual message of defiant and enduring presence was already well-tailored to queer identification needs, but this message and the song's titular statement took on even deeper meaning with the dawn of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s".

  6. Gloria Gaynor was not a one-hit-wonder

    Gloria Gaynor - Never can say goodbye

    While Gloria Gaynor will forever be known for this one song, she had already scored some hits before it was released. She was 30 years old at the time.

    In 1975, she had a number two hit with a cover of 'Never Can Say Goodbye', and had released several albums.

    However, she is not bothered about being thought of as a one-hit-wonder, saying: "From the beginning, I recognised it was a timeless lyric that everyone could relate to.

    "So I don't get tired of singing it. I'm always freshening it up; changing the beat, the lyrics, modernising 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."

  7. Who else has covered it?

    Aretha Franklin - I Will Survive (The Aretha Version) (Audio)

    Among the (many) covers include:

    - Aretha Franklin
    - Cake (a gender reversal)
    - Chantay Savage
    - Diana Ross
    - Leah McFall
    - Gladys Knight

  8. Alien Song: It was also one of the first internet memes

    I Will Survive - Alien Song

    Who remembers 'Alien Song' from 1998? Victor Navone's CGI video was a huge viral hit before viral hits were a thing.

    He went on to work for Pixar!