I Will Survive
"I Will Survive" is a song by American singer Gloria Gaynor, released in October 1978 as the second single from her sixth album, Love Tracks (1978). It was written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. A top-selling song, it is a popular disco anthem, as well as being certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
The song's lyrics describe the narrator's discovery of personal strength following an initially devastating breakup. It received heavy airplay in 1979, spending three non-consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as topping the UK Singles Chart and Irish Singles Chart. +more The song is also frequently recalled as a symbol of female empowerment. In 2016, the Library of Congress deemed Gaynor's original recording to be "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
Composition and recording
According to Dino Fekaris, the principal writer of the song, "I Will Survive" has its genesis in his experience getting fired by Motown Records in the mid-1970s after seven years working there as a staff writer. Jobless, he turned on the TV in his room, and a theme song he had written for the film Generation (performed by Rare Earth) happened to be playing. +more He took it as a good omen, and jumped up and down on the bed saying, "I'm going to make it. I'm going to be a songwriter. I will survive!". Fekaris teamed up with his collaborator Freddie Perren, another former member of the Motown production team, to write the song; however, the song remained unrecorded for two years as no suitable singer was available.
In 1978, Perrin was asked by Polydor to produce "Substitute" for Gloria Gaynor, which he agreed on the understanding that he could also produce the B-side. When Gaynor was asked what kind of songs she liked, she said she liked "songs that are meaningful, have good lyrics, and touch people's hearts. +more" The producers then handed her the song lyrics of "I Will Survive" scribbled on a piece of brown paper. Gaynor recognized the song as a hit immediately.
According to Robert "Boogie" Bowles who played guitar on the song, in the three-hour recording session, the session musicians spent most of their time recording the A side, "Substitute". As a result, they only had 35 minutes to record the B-side "I Will Survive". +more They also did not even know the song title or the melody of the song, but they were fairly relaxed recording it in the belief that the B-side would likely not be played. Based only on the chord changes and a few notes, they improvised freely much of the backing track, and Bowles filled in the bare bone of the tune with jazzy blues licks. Due to the difference in the intro from the main body of the tune which made a smooth transition difficult, it was recorded in two parts and then spliced together. Gaynor then recorded the vocals wearing a back brace, having just had a surgery due to a fall at a concert. The injury and a recent bereavement made Gaynor identify with the sentiment of "I Will Survive": "That's why I was able to sing the song with so much conviction".
Although Gaynor was convinced that "I Will Survive" would be a hit and tried to persuade the label to release it as the A side, the label refused to entertain the idea and it was released as the B-side to "Substitute". Gaynor's husband took the song to the Studio 54 DJ Richie Kaczor, who loved the song and played the song. +more She also gave the DJ a stack of the records to give to his friends. Other disc jockeys in discos and radio stations soon followed and played that side of the record instead. The popularity of "I Will Survive" with the DJs led to the label releasing the song as an A side. To support the single, a video shot at Xenon Discotheque in New York was released. It featured a roller skater Sheila Reid-Pender from a local group called The Village Wizards skate dancing on the dance floor.
The original A side "Substitute" appeared on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart for four weeks starting October 14, 1978, peaking at No. 78. +more It also appeared on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart for four weeks in October-November 1978, peaking at No. 107. "I Will Survive" on the other hand performed significantly better; it entered the Billboard Hot 100 in December that year and reached No. 1 on the chart in March 1979. The song received the Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording in 1980, the only year the award was given.
Following the success of fellow 1970s disco stars Sister Sledge with remixed singles in the UK in 1993, "I Will Survive" was also remixed and released that summer. This remix reached number five on the UK Singles Chart and number three on the UK Dance Singles Chart. +more It also peaked at number six in Ireland and number nine in Portugal. In 1999, a remix of the song charted in France, peaking at number 23. And in 2000, another remix reached number six in Spain. In November 2013, Gaynor released a gospel album entitled We Will Survive, which includes a new, updated remix of "I Will Survive" by DJ Shpank in both extended and radio edit formats. In 2018, a remix again charted in France, peaking at number 12.
A promotional video was filmed in 1979 at a New York discothèque called Xenon. It features Gaynor singing, interspersed with a roller skating dance sequences performed by Sheila Reid-Pender of Harlem, a member of the skating group The Village Wizards. +more Although three videos were filmed that day, the "I Will Survive" video was the only one to survive. Gaynor was not present during the taping of the roller skating segment of the video.
Gaynor and Pender met for the first time on July 7, 2014, in New York at the 92nd St. YMCA after Gaynor's lecture and promotional signing of her book 'We Will Survive'. +more In this book, Gaynor said, "I wanted everybody-including myself-to believe that we could survive".
In 2022, the video was remastered in HD and officially uploaded to Gaynor's YouTube channel, obtaining over 4.5 million views in 2 months.
Impact and Legacy
VH1 ranked "I Will Survive" number one in their list of 100 Greatest Dance Songs in 2000.
Rolling Stone ranked it number 489 in their List of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004, number 492 in 2010, and number 251 in 2021.
Billboard placed it at number 97 in their ranking of The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs in 2008.
In 2012, "I Will Survive" was ranked number two in Rolling Stone poll of The Best Disco Songs of All Time.
The Daily Telegraph ranked it number 48 in their The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list in November 2016.
Paste Magazine ranked the song number seven in their The 60 Best Dancefloor Classics list in 2017.
Pitchfork featured it in their list of 50 Songs That Define the Last 50 Years of LGBTQ+ Pride in 2018. They added,
"'I Will Survive' probably would've become a gay anthem even without the specter of AIDS. It has an undeniable flair for the dramatic: After moving through that filigreed piano intro, you can imagine a lone spotlight shining on Gloria Gaynor as she drags the man dumb enough to break her heart and crawl back for more. +more It was released as disco's wave was beginning to break, topping the Billboard charts a few months before the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. Had the story ended there, it'd represent the last, best gasp of a culture beaten into temporary irrelevance by thinly-veiled racism and homophobia. ".
In 1998, the French football (soccer) team made "I Will Survive" their unofficial anthem, particularly focusing on the instrumental sub-theme to sing "la la la la la". The team ended up winning the World Cup and the song enjoyed immense popular enthusiasm amongst younger generations in the country 20 years after its original release. +more The chant was originally inspired by a remix of song by Hermes House Band, but Gaynor later released a version with the "la la la la la" chant included.
In 2000, Robbie Williams released his single, "Supreme" for his album "Sing When You're Winning". The interlude of the song contains an interpolation of "I Will Survive". +more The string instrument part is a François de Roubaix-composed piece from the José Giovanni-directed film Dernier domicile connu starring Lino Ventura and Marlène Jobert.
|2000||VH1||United States||"100 Greatest Dance Songs"||1|
|2004||Rolling Stone||United States||"Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"||492|
|2005||Bruce Pollock||United States||"The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000"||N/A|
|2008||Billboard||United States||"The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs"||97|
|2009||The Guardian||United Kingdom||"1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear"||N/A|
|2012||Rolling Stone||United States||"The Best Disco Songs of All Time"||2|
|2013||Max||Australia||"1000 Greatest Songs of All Time"||120|
|2016||Billboard||United States||"The 35 Best Disco Songs Ever"||14|
|2016||The Daily Telegraph||United Kingdom||"The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time"||48|
|2017||Paste Magazine||United States||"The 60 Best Dancefloor Classics"||7|
|2018||Pitchfork||United States||"50 Songs That Define the Last 50 Years of LGBTQ+ Pride"||N/A|
|2020||The Guardian||United Kingdom||"The 100 greatest UK No 1s"||84|
|2021||Rolling Stone||United States||"Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" (2021 Update)||251|
|2022||Rolling Stone||United States||"200 Greatest Dance Songs of All Time"||43|
|2022||Time Out||United Kingdom||"The 50 Best Gay Songs to Celebrate Pride All Year Long"||1|
Recorded by Gloria Gaynor * "I Will Survive" (1978 single version) - 3. 15 * "I Will Survive" (1978 album version) - 4. +more56 * "I Will Survive" (1978 12" Mix) - 8. 02 * "Yo Viviré" (I Will Survive Spanish 12" Mix) - 7. 55 * "I Will Survive" (Tom Moulton Mix) - 10. 33 * "I Will Survive" (2009 re-recording) - 5. 35 * "I Will Survive" (2009 re-recording Spanish version) - 5. 37.
|Chart (1978-1979)||Peak position|
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||5|
|Canada Top 15 12-inch (RPM)||5|
|Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)||3|
|Italy (Musica e dischi)||9|
|South Africa (Springbok Radio)||2|
|US Cash Box Top 100||1|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||19|
|UK Dance (Music Week)||3|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||96|
|Chart (2000)||Peak position|
|Chart (2018)||Peak position|
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||25|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||68|
|Canada Top Singles (RPM)||20|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||47|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||65|
|South Africa (Springbok Radio)||16|
|UK Singles (OCC)||6|
|US Billboard Hot 100||6|
|US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)||5|
|US Cash Box Top 100||10|
|West Germany (Official German Charts)||47|
|US Billboard Hot 100||124|
|UK Singles (OCC)||132|
Sales and certifications
American rock band Cake covered "I Will Survive" in a soft rock-style in 1996, on their second album, Fashion Nugget (1996). In addition to many subtle changes, lead singer John McCrea altered the lyrics. +more In an interview, Gaynor stated she did not like Cake's version of the song because it used "profanity" (McCrea changed the phrase "I should've changed that stupid lock" to ". that fucking lock").
The music video of Cake's version features McCrea as a city parking enforcement officer driving around in a Cushman three-wheeled scooter as he leaves tickets on various cars. Their version peaked at number 28 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in March 1997.
A reviewer from Music Week rated the song three out of five, describing it as "a straight-up cover". The magazine's Alan Jones wrote, "I Will Survive is one of those songs l've always hated, but hot on the heels of Chantay Savage's sublime R&B-flavoured rendition which won favour last year, there's another highly enjoyable version from rising stars Cake. +more Lifted from their album, Fashion Nugget, it's powered by a funky bassline which dodges in and out of the vocals of John McCrea, whose tongue-in-cheek rendition is enhanced by his habit of letting his vocals trail a little behind the rest of the track. ".
CD single #"I Will Survive" (Radio Edit) - 4:14 #"Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" - 4:12
* Promotional CD single #"I Will Survive" (Radio Edit) - 3:52 #"I Will Survive" (Long Radio Edit) - 5:11
|Chart (1997)||Peak position|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||77|
Chantay Savage version
American singer Chantay Savage covered "I Will Survive" in 1996 as a ballad. It was released as the first single from her second album, I Will Survive (Doin' It My Way) (1996). +more This version peaked at number 24 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Alan Jones from Music Week described Savage's version as a "sublime R&B-flavoured rendition". Gerald Martinez from New Sunday Times wrote, "Chantay has a fabulous voice, with a great range and rich, chocolatey tone, in the Anita Baker mould. +more She performs the old hit, I Will Survive, at a slower sexier pace than the original, making it a very different statement than the rousing anthemic style of the original. This is a more personal, more vulnerable version. Nice track indeed. ".
12-inch single :A1. "I Will Survive" (Puff Daddy "Bad Boy Mix") :A2. +more "I Will Survive" (Silk's Old Skool Extended Mix with Clean Rap) :A3. "I Will Survive" (Original LP version - edit) :B1. "I Will Survive" (Silk's Classic House Mix) :B2. "I Will Survive" (Rhythm Radio version).
|Chart (1996)||Peak position|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||52|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40 Tipparade)||15|
|Netherlands (Dutch Single Tip)||7|
|US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)||24|
Diana Ross version
American singer Diana Ross released a cover of "I Will Survive" in 1996. It was released on April 14, as the fourth and final single from her twenty-first album, Take Me Higher (1995). +more The song is produced by Narada Michael Walden and peaked at number 14 in the United Kingdom. It also reached number three in Iceland and number 16 in Scotland. In the United States, it peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.
Larry Flick from Billboard wrote, "The kicker is a delicious cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive", produced by Narada Michael Walden. Interestingly, that is the number that stands out in the legendary artist's current (and oh-so-festive) 2 1/2-hour show. +more" The Daily Vault's Mark Millan constated that it is "dealt with superbly, as the team managed to breathe new life into an old relic from the distant, dark days when disco ruled. " Alan Jones from Music Week stated that "the combination of two old favourites is bound to win favour with many people, and new dance mixes by Roger Sanchez will ease the track's path to success now it is a single. " James Hamilton from the magazine's RM Dance Update noted the "galloping good Hi-NRG 0-134bpm Motiv 8 Club Vocal and Hell Razor Dub". Pop Rescue concluded that this cover "definitely belts it out - vocally and musically".
UK CD single # "I Will Survive" - 4:48 # "I Will Survive" (Roger Sanchez Atmospheric Mix) - 4:31 # "I Will Survive" (Motiv 8 Radio Mix) - 3:58 # "Voice of the Heart" - 4:55
* European CD maxi single # "I Will Survive" (Album Version) - 4:46 # "I Will Survive" (Roger Sanchez Radio Edit) - 4:02 # "I Will Survive" (Motiv 8 Radio Edit) - 3:56 # "I Will Survive" (Sure Is Pure Vocal) - 8:58
|Chart (1996)||Peak position|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||57|
|Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)||3|
Hermes House Band version
Dutch group Hermes House Band covered the song in 1994, retitled "I Will Survive (La La La)", topping both the Dutch Top 40 and Single Top 100 charts. In 1998 and 2018, their version reached number one on the French hitlist after the win from the French Team at the FIFA World Cup.
|Chart (1994-1999)||Peak position|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||13|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||64|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||78|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||49|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||38|
|Germany (Media Control Charts)||76|
Sales and certifications
Leah McFall version
The Voice UK contestant, Leah McFall, performed the song on the first live show in the style of Chantay Savage. Following the programme, the studio recording of the performance was released and reached number three on UK iTunes. +more The song debuted at number sixteen on the UK Singles Chart on June 9, 2013, and in the following week it reached number eight.
|Chart (2013)||Peak position|
Other cover versions
American country music singer Billie Jo Spears' version from her 1979 album, I Will Survive, peaked at number 21 on the US Billboard Country Chart, number nine on the Canadian Country Chart, and number 47 on the UK Singles Chart. Her version earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.
Puerto Rican singer Sa-Fire recorded a cover of the song for the 1989 comedy film She-Devil. Her cover incorporated the house and hip-hop genres with the disco genre. +more A music video was filmed that featured clips from the movie. Sa-Fire's version of the song was successful, peaking at number 53 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Selena sang part of this song as the start of her disco medley at her last concert at the Houston Astrodome, a month before her passing.
The 2005 music video Jesus Christ - The Musical parodies the song which depicts Jesus singing it. It was directed by Javier Prato with a lead role by Miguel Mas. +more The film goes through various places such as a shop, with Jesus walking around singing the song. He sings until he says I will survive once before he gets hit by a bus. A sequel entitled Jesus Returns is currently in production.