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Great Songwriting
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I Will Survive

Song: I Will Survive

Songwriters: Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris.

Singer: Gloria Gaynor

First I was afraid- I was petrified

From the opening line, the lyrics of I Will Survive grab our attention. While Gloria Gaynor’s feisty performance, and the dancefloor-friendly beat undoubtedly played a huge part in the song’s success, the lyrics of I Will Survive are what make the difference between it being a big dancefloor hit and a really great song.

Stripped of the disco and glitterball associations, this is a lyric which wouldn’t have been out of place in the repertoire of Billy Holiday. There’s a universality in this story

of a once-weak individual at the wrong end of an uneven relationship, finally finding her inner strength to the point where she can reject the person who once dominated her.

It’s quite astonishing how vividly this domestic scene, and the two central characters is painted is a few verses. So how do the songwriters achieve this?

For one thing, the story is told in the first person, so we needn’t be in any doubt as to what kind of a woman she is.

I should have changed that stupid lock.

To reinforce the immediacy of I Will Survive, all the action in takes place in a single scene…

I just walked in to find you here
with that sad look upon your face

…but we also get enough of the back-story to understand a lot about the relationship. We hear about that chained-up little person and the man who “tried to hurt her with goodbye”.

Musically, the melody is driven by the lyrics. The form of the song is essentially three verses, but the melody is shaped by the meaning and sound of the words. It would be interesting to know how much Gloria Gaynor herself contributed here – did she sing I Will Survive as written, or in getting under the skin of the song, did she actually help to shape it musically into the melody we now hear? Often in popular music (and especially in jazz), a great performer will play the role of a co-songwriter (often uncredited).

So we’re left, after a few short minutes, feeling we knowing this woman, relating to her past difficulties, and cheering (perhaps literally) as the underdog fights back, and the bad guy gets his come-uppance.

Oh, and you get to strut your funky stuff at the same time.


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