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I Will Survive: Song Lyrics & Meaning To The Disco Anthem That's Still Around Today

Music | March 10, 2020

Gloria Gaynor (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Gloria Gaynor's hit "I Will Survive," released in 1978 and a #1 hit in 1979, is dramatic from the get-go -- those opening words of "At first I was afraid, I was petrified" set up the relentless statement of perseverance that follows. Like so many relatable pop songs, "I Will Survive" is full of raw emotion, and much of it is directed at a specific person who has done the singer wrong. But this isn't a song of victimhood or heartbreak -- far from it. "Go on now go, walk out the door," Gaynor sings. "Just turn around now, 'cause you're not welcome anymore." "I Will Survive" captures the feeling of moving on with even a hint of revenge (the revenge of living well, as they say), and because it's a disco anthem, you can dance right through the pain and triumph. There's a reason why this song was the only one to win a Grammy Award (in 1980) for Best Disco Recording.

Gaynor not only survived she thrived (Billboard)

In the days of afros and bell-bottom jeans, disco ruled over the music landscape, whether you liked it or not. Of all the disco hits that played at clubs, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor not only survived but thrived. The empowering message of “I Will Survive” made it a karaoke hit that was belted out all across America and still gets lots of play with anyone wanting to shout at their own adversities.

VH1 ranked the survivalist anthem in the top spot of their 100 greatest dance songs. Just about everyone has hummed along to “I Will Survive” at one time or another, even if you hate disco. 

Writer Inspiration

Losing a job after many years can be terrifying (en.webfail)

“I Will Survive” was written by former Motown producers Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. Perren co-wrote a number of big hits in his day, including "I Want You Back," "The Love You Save" and "ABC," which were all big for the Jackson Five. Fekaris wrote for Motown for seven years and his biggest hit besides “I Will Survive” was "I Just Want to Celebrate" by Rare Earth. Despite their successes, Fekaris and Perren wrote the song at a low point in their careers.

Fekaris talks about his mindset at the time, "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. 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!"

How People Interpreted 'I Will Survive'

"I Will Survive" became an anthem for many groups (iwillsurviveinc.org)

Almost immediately the song became empowering to women and the LGBT community. People trying to come back from a tough break-up also found themselves singing their own comeback song, “I Will Survive” indeed! Amazingly, this declaration of perseverance was actually the B-side when it was initially released.

Perren and Fekaris, already had written “I Will Survive” but they didn’t have a diva to belt out the tune. Eventually, Gloria Gaynor came along looking for production work on her song, “Substitute.” The writing duo took the gig, with an agreement that “I Will Survive” would be the B-Side. 

A Massive Hit

Even today Gaynor play "I Will Survive" with stars like Kacey Musgrave (musicfeeds)

Everyone working on “I Will Survive” knew that it was a superior song to “Substitute” but the president of Gaynor’s record company insisted that “Substitute” take top billing. “Substitute” peaked at #107 in ‘78 but radio DJs all over the country were giving “I Will Survive” plenty of run. Eventually, the record company flipped the sides and Gaynor’s shout to survival hit number 1 in March of ‘79.

The First And Last Disco Grammy

The end of an disco era (youtube)

Gloria Gaynor knew the power of the song from the first moment she sang it. "I love the empowering effect, I love the encouraging effect. It's a timeless lyric that addresses a timeless concern." That everlasting message helped “I Will Survive” beat out "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Bad Girls," "Boogie Wonderland" and "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" for the only Disco Grammy ever given. (By the time the award was created, Disco was already on its way out.)

The song was covered by many of the greats including Diana Ross, Selena, Gladys Knight, and Aretha Franklin. It’s also shown up in a bunch of movies like In And Out, Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Replacements, The Adventures Of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert, The First Wives Club, and Coyote Ugly.

Unlike many singers who come to detest their signature song, Gaynor’s love for the hit never diminishes, “From the beginning, I recognized 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, 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."

Lyrics Of 'I Will Survive'

"I Will Survive" made it in many movies including "The Replacements"

At first I was afraid, I was petrified

Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side

But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong

And I grew strong

And I learned how to get along

And so you're back

From outer space

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

I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key

If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me

Go on now, go, walk out the door

Just turn around now

'Cause you're not welcome anymore

Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye

Do you think I'd crumble

Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive

I've got all my life to live

And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive

I will survive, hey, hey

It took all the strength I had not to fall apart

Kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart

And I spent oh-so many nights just feeling sorry for myself

I used to cry

But now I hold my head up high and you see me

Somebody new

I'm not that chained-up little person and still in love with you

And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free

Well, now I'm saving all my lovin' for someone who's loving me

Go on now, go, walk out the door

Just turn around now

'Cause you're not welcome anymore

Weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye

Do you think I'd crumble

Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive

I've got all my life to live

And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive

I will survive

Oh

Go on now, go, walk out the door

Just turn around now

'Cause you're not welcome anymore

Weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye

Do you think I'd crumble

Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive

I've got all my life to live

And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive

I will survive

I will survive

Tags: Disco | Gloria Gaynor | I Will Survive | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!