SAN FRANCISCO (YOU'VE GOT ME) by THE VILLAGE PEOPLE
This was the first single for the Village People; with its big group chorus, it formed a template for their later hits "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A."
The group was created by the French producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, who developed the concept after coming to America and producing the Philadelphia act The Ritchie Family, who had a hit in 1976 with "The Best Disco In Town." The Village People were conceived as a gay Disco group that would dress in outlandish costumes and sing tunes with gay interest by mainstream appeal. Looking for such a song, Morali and Belolo ordered up a song called "San Francisco," which is a very popular city in the gay community. Their associate Peter Whitehead wrote the lyrics, but they were too gay, so they asked Phil Hurtt, who worked with them on The Ritchie Family project, to clean them up. "They were full of sexual innuendo and a gay concept," Hurtt says about the original lyric. After coming up with something less offensive and more ambiguous, Hurtt turned the new lyric over to Morali and Belolo, who put the track together.
The group did not exist when this song was recorded. This was not uncommon: producers would put songs together using studio musicians, then figure it out later if they needed a group to perform the songs. Casting for the lead singer was basically done at this session, and the job was offered to Phil Hurtt, who co-wrote the song and sang backup. In our interview with Hurtt, he told us the story:
"When I got there, there was myself and three other background singers. I had put down my own vocal as a lead to put the background parts on, so my own reference vocal was on. I got on the microphone with the background guys and I taught them the background parts, taught them the song, gave them the harmony parts - the whole thing, the arrangement.
When the tracks were all done, Jacques (Morali) says to me, 'Okay, darling, you're the singer for the Village People.' I said, 'No, I'm not.' There was no group, by the way. There was no group at all.
I had some other engagements and was on my way out of town, but he says, 'Well, I need you to do that.' I said, 'I can't do that, but there's a guy in the background who has a heavier voice, like a husky voice.' I said, 'He probably could do it for you.' I'm trying to get out of there.
He says, 'Okay, I'm going to lunch. You try him and let me hear what he sounds like.' So I took this kid in the other studio in New York, and taught him the song 'San Francisco,' and wrote 'Hollywood' while I was in the studio. Taught it to him. Brought him back out, put him on the microphone. And when they came back and heard him, they said, 'Oh, he sounds fine.' That was Victor Willis."
The musicians on this track were a group called Gypsy Lane, who also backed The Ritchie Family when The Village People's producers had worked with them.
I WILL SURVIVE by GLORIA GAYNOR
This female-empowerment anthem is about moving on after a bad relationship. Over the years, it has taken on meaning for people who have overcome just about any difficult situation, but for the song's lyricist, Dino Fekaris, it was about getting fired by Motown Records, where he was a staff writer. Says Fekaris: "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!"
This song was written by the former Motown producers Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. Perren was a co-writer on three #1 Jackson 5 hits: "I Want You Back," "The Love You Save" and "ABC." Fekaris' biggest co-write with Motown was "I Just Want to Celebrate" by Rare Earth, but he also placed tracks with The Temptations and The Four Tops.
When Perren and Fekaris left Motown, they formed their own production duo and scored big with Peaches & Herb, taking "Reunited" to #1. When they wrote "I Will Survive," they had nobody to sing it. The pair agreed that the next diva that came their way would get the song. That diva was Gloria Gaynor, whose record company called Perren looking for production work on a song called "Substitute," which was originally recorded by the Righteous Brothers. They took the gig, and Gaynor agreed to record "I Will Survive" as the B-side.
Gaynor leaned the song from a demo Perren and Fekaris made for her, and both songs were recorded in the session. Everyone involved in the recording knew that "I Will Survive" was the superior track, but the president of Gaynor's record company specifically ordered "Substitute," and released it as the A-side as planned. "Substitute" peaked at #107 in October 1978, but club DJs started playing started playing the B-side, and soon radio stations were also playing "I Will Survive." Polydor finally released the single with the sides flipped, and "Survive" peaked at #1 in the US in March 1979.
This won the 1979 Grammy for Best Disco Recording. It was the first and last time that the Grammys offered this category.
Gaynor sees this song as just a simple song about survival, regardless of what you have to overcome. She said: "I love the empowering effect, I love the encouraging effect. It's a timeless lyric that addresses a timeless concern."
In June 1998, the French football team (or as Americans call it, soccer) made this their World Cup anthem.
This song became an anthem in the gay community, but its reach extends much farther - it has been reproduced in 20 languages, including Arabic. Predictably, it is also one of the most popular songs to be sung on Karaoke.
Gaynor is far and away most famous for this song (her autobiography is even called I Will Survive), but she was a formidable dance singer before she recorded it. She made #9 in 1975 with "Never Can Say Goodbye" and cracked the Hot 100 with her covers of "Walk On By" and "Reach Out, I'll Be There."
The musicians on this track were some of the first call session players in the Los Angeles area. There were:
Drums - James Gadson
Bass - Scott Edwards
Guitar - Bob Bowles
Guitar - Melvin Ragin
Piano - Freddie Perren (also the song's co-producer and co-writer
String players were also brought in to play on the track.
Gaynor suffered a back injury and spent six months in the hospital before recording this song. She had surgery and was still in a back brace for the session - her producers put baffles under her arms to accommodate her.
Since this was first released, Gaynor has become a devout Christian and added a verse reflecting her faith to live performances:
I will survive
He gave me life
I stand beside the Crucified One
I can go on
I will be strong
For my strength to live is not my own
I will survive!
Producer Freddie Perren had Gaynor do several takes of her vocal, and then double tracked them to give her voice a bigger sound. What you're hearing are two different takes synched up and mixed together.
This song has given hope to many looking to move on from a troubled relationship, but when she recorded the song, Gaynor was happily married.
"Tony Clifton" (Jim Carrey) performed this song near the end of the film Man on the Moon. Frank the pug sings it in Men in Black 2, and many other films have featured the song over the years, including 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.
Among the many artists who have covered this: Diana Ross, Selena, Gladys Knight, and Cake. Cake's version provides a gender reversal as it was now a man singing about a woman who he must free himself from emotionally. Their version is slower, implying that he is still trying to get over her. It's also more profane, with "I should have changed that stupid lock" replaced with "I should have changed that f--king lock." Gloria Gaynor says it is her least favorite version of the song.
The song has lived up to its title, returning to the Hot 100 every decade since the 1970s in a number of different guises. Latin R&B/ freestyle singer Safire's version debuted on the chart on December 16, 1989 and peaked at #53 in January 1990. In 1996, R&B singer Chantay's slower, jazzier interpretation climbed to #24 and in 2009 the Pussycat Dolls "Survive" sampling "Hush Hush; Hush Hush" rose to #73. Finally, the Glee Cast's mash-up of the song with Destiny's Child's like-themed "Survivor" reached #51 in 2011.
VH1 named this #1 on their list of the 100 Greatest Dance Songs.
In 1999, Gaynor performed this on an episode of That '70s Show. She played the music teacher Mrs. Clark, and sang this at the prom.
Gaynor told Billboard magazine that it doesn't bother her in the least that she will forever be tied to her signature ode. "From the beginning I recognized it was a timeless lyric that everyone could relate to," said 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."
A performance by the Northern Ireland singer-songwriter Leah McFall on The UK version of The Voice on June 7, 2013 wowed the judges. The general public was impressed as well as her studio version debuted at #16 on the UK Singles Chart with just 24 hours of sales.
R&B singer Chantay Savage's slower, bluesy version, peaked at #24 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #12 on the UK singles chart. Savage was the daughter of Jazz musician parents and had been a session musician for the likes of Kym Syms before going solo.
Aretha Franklin covered this for her 2014 album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics. At one point, her version of the song suddenly breaks down into Destiny's Child's "Survivor." "That was my granddaughter Victory's song, and then it became our song," she explained at the album's listening party.
FREEDOM '90 by GEORGE MICHAEL
George Michael was trying to free himself from the shackles of Sony, which was his record label at the time. They created an image for him to promote his Faith album, and Michael was now trying to distance himself from it. In the video, all the Faith trademarks explode: the jacket, the jukebox, the guitar. Michael was the victim of a Saturday Night Live skit mocking the video.
When the video first came out, viewers were quite shocked because George Michael was barely in it (he doesn't appear in "Praying For Time," also from the album, at all). This was part of his effort to distance himself from his image and bring the focus to his music, and he did it in a very clever way for this video: He got a bunch of Supermodels to lip sync for him. Appearing in the clip were Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz. These five had recently appeared together on the cover of the UK edition of Vogue magazine, which gave Michael the idea.
The video was directed by David Fincher, who was a top music video director before moving on to feature films like Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. The "Freedom '90" clip was shot in London over a weekend.
In the video, there is a man shot from the waist down - he walks and he scratches his boxers. That is Michael. His scene goes with the line, "When you shake your ass they notice fast some mistakes were built to last," referring to the flack he got from his tush in "Faith," and the consequent spoof of him and his butt on SNL.
The song is autobiographical and chronicles Michael's Wham days with lines like: "Heaven knows we sure had some fun boy, what a kick just a buddy and me, we had every big-shot good-time band on the run boy, we were living in a fantasy."
In 1996, Robbie Williams released a cover version as his first single after leaving the boy-band Take That. His version tanked, but Williams recovered and went on to a successful solo career with his 1997 album Life Thru a Lens.
Alicia Keys performed this as part of her set during the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. While she was performing this, Kid Rock and Tommy Lee got in a fight that was likely fueled by the presence of Pamela Anderson, who was part of the show. The incident did not appear in the broadcast, but a camera caught the end of the melee and MTV made this video available online.
The year was added to the song title, originally released as "Freedom," so as not to confuse it with the hit single by Wham! also titled "Freedom."
For Entertainment Weekly's 2017 George Michael tribute issue, Cindy Crawford spoke about her experience filming the music video for this song. "I heard from director David Fincher that George wanted the group of women who had done a 1990 cover of British Vogue together exactly, no substitutions," she said. "It seemed like it was George's idea to do this video, where it wasn't about him even though the song was obviously about him. Everyone shot [scenes] separately so it wasn't like a big party atmosphere. We each had our own personalities within the video. But I remember being bummed, like, 'Really? I have to be in the bathtub with a towel on my head? Everyone else gets to look so cool!' Then when I saw it after I was like, 'okay this is pretty cool.'
For so many of us, [George's songs were] the soundtrack of our young coming of age. But more than the music, it was the message that was just as important. MTV had really changed the face of music. It wasn't enough to have a great voice anymore. You had to be the whole package. George Michael deciding at that pivotal moment that he didn't want to play the game in the same way, that he wanted to make it his own game, was a great message. I think people loved him more because of that."
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE by LOU REED
This song is about cross-dressers who come to New York City and become prostitutes. "Take a walk on the wild side" is what they say to potential customers. Each verse introduces a new character. There is Holly, Candy, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Jackie. The characters are all cronies of the infamous Andy Warhol Factory, as was Lou.
Reed had an empathy for these characters that comes through in the song, as he struggled with his sexuality for most of his life. His parents even tried to "cure" his homosexuality when he was young.
"Little Joe" refers to Joe Dallesandero, who was also one of Andy's kids in the factory. He was in several films by Warhol. Sugar Plum Fairy is the nickname of actor Joe Campbell.
"Holly," "Candy," and "Jackie" are based on Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis. They are all real drag queens who appeared in Warhol's 1972 movie Women In Revolt. Woodlawn also appeared in Warhol's 1970 movie Trash, and Curtis was in Warhol's 1968 movie Flesh.
Said Reed: "I always thought it would be kind of fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn't met before, or hadn't wanted to meet."
In an interview with The Guardian published December 13, 2008, Holly Woodlawn said: "My father got a job at a hotel, so we moved from New York to Miami Beach. I was going to school, getting stones thrown at me and being beaten up by homophobic rednecks. I felt I deserved better, and I hated football and baseball. So, aged 15, I decided to get the hell out of there and ran away from home. I had $27, so hitchhiked across the USA. I did pluck my eyebrows in Georgia. It hurt! My friend Georgette was plucking them and I was screaming, but all of a sudden I had these gorgeous eyebrows and she put mascara on my eyes. We ran into some marines in Lafayette in South Carolina. They tried to attack me. I was 15 and not used to this stuff. I was sitting in a car with this marine, terrified that he was going to rape me and kill me. I said, 'I've never done this before.' He said, 'You don't wanna have sex with me?' I said it wasn't that I didn't find him attractive, I just didn't want to do it. But he was wonderful. He protected me. While Georgette was in a motel screaming and yelling with 18 marines but having a good time, he said, 'When you're with me, nothing will happen to you.' And they drove us all the way to New Jersey.
In New York I was living on the street. Then I met Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, and they'd watch Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo movies at 1am. There was this club called Max's Kansas City. Jackie and Candy had just done this movie called Flesh, and they said, 'You have to meet Andy [Warhol]. He's gonna make you a superstar.'
I didn't want to be a superstar. My wig looked like yak hair. One day Jackie put on a show and I was in the chorus. I saw this bag of glitter and a jar of Vaseline, and smeared myself with it and got this boyfriend to throw the glitter on me. [Director] Paul Morrissey said, 'I don't know who she is but she's a star.' Next thing Paul's calling me up to star in a movie called Trash, and the rest is history.
One day a friend called me and said, 'Turn on the radio!' They were playing 'Walk On The Wild Side.' The funny thing is that, while I knew the Velvet Underground's music, I'd never met Lou Reed. I called him up and said, 'How do you know this stuff about me?' He said, 'Holly, you have the biggest mouth in town.' We met and we've been friends ever since."
In a 1972 interview with Disc and Music Echo, Reed described this as an "outright gay song," saying it was "from me to them, but they're carefully worded so the straights can miss out on the implications and enjoy them without being offended. I suppose though the album is going to offend some people."
This was not banned by the notoriously conservative BBC or by many US radio stations because censors did not understand phrases like "giving head." Depending on the regional US market, the song was, however, edited for what we now call political correctness. Reed leads into the female vocalists' "Doo, doo-doo" hook with the words, "And the colored girls say," but some stations played a version that replaced the phrase with, "And the girls all say."
Reed recorded this two years after leaving The Velvet Underground, a band that was very influential, but not commercially successful. Transformer was Reed's second solo album. His first album flopped, and for a while it looked like his music career was over.
David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced this track. They were big fans of Reed.
The sax solo at the end was played by Ronnie Ross, a Jazz musician who lived near Bowie in England. When Bowie was 12 years old, he wanted to learn the saxophone and begged Ross to give him lessons, which he eventually did. When they needed a sax player for this, Bowie made sure Ross was booked for the session, but didn't tell him he'd be there. Ross nailed the solo in one take and Bowie showed up to surprise his old friend.
The album version of this song runs 4:12. The single, which reached its US peak position of #16 on April 28, 1973, was edited down to 3:37 for radio play.
This came out at a time when audiences were intrigued by cross-dressing and homosexuality in music. "Glam Rock," where the performers wore feminine clothes, was big, and artists like David Bowie and Elton John were attracting fans both gay and straight.
This was a rare venture to the pop charts for Reed, who was not known for hit singles. This song provided his biggest hit, and it was his only Top 40 in the US.
The famous bass line was played by a session musician named Herbie Flowers. He was paid 17 Pounds for his work. Flowers was modest about his contribution to this and other songs. He once told Mojo writer Phil Sutcliffe about his role as a session musician, "You do the job and get your arse away. You take a £12 fee, you can't play a load of bol--cks. Wouldn't it be awful if someone came up to me on the street and congratulated me for Transformer."
Three songs on Transformer were commissioned by Andy Warhol for a Broadway musical he was planning based on Nelson Algren's novel A Walk On The Wild Side. The show was never materialized, but Reed kept the title and applied it to characters he knew from Andy Warhol's Factory to create this song.
The female vocalists singing backup on this track were Karen Friedman, Dari Lalou and Casey Synge. In 1974, they recorded as "Thunderthighs" and had a UK hit with "Central Park Arrest."
Rap and Hip-Hop artists frequently sample this track. The most famous appropriation is by A Tribe Called Quest on their 1990 song "Can I Kick It?"
Marky Mark's second single, after "Good Vibrations," was a remake of this called "Wildside." He is now known as Mark Wahlberg and famous for movies like Boogie Nights and Rock Star.
At Live Aid in 1985 at Wembley Stadium, while U2 was playing their song "Bad," Bono improvised 2 Rolling Stones' songs and then this song into the end, changing the lyrics of "Walk On The Wild Side" to: "Holly came from Miami F.L.A., hitchhiked all the way across the USA, she could feel the satellite coming down, pretty soon she was in London town... Wembley Stadium, and all the people went, Doo-Doo-Doo-Doo-Doo." He then had the audience sing this line while he walked offstage and the band finished playing.
Reed's musical influence extends to Third Eye Blind: they got the idea for the doot doot doot hook on their hit "Semi-Charmed Life" from this song.
LAST DANCE by DONNA SUMMER
Paul Jabara wrote this for the 1978 movie Thank God It's Friday. The movie takes place at a dance club, and Jabara played the role of Carl, a clueless club patron. The film didn't do nearly as well as Saturday Night Fever, which was released a year earlier and was also centered around a Disco. This song, however, was a huge hit and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Jabara also wrote "It's Raining Men" for The Weathergirls, as well as Barbra Streisand's theme to her 1979 movie The Main Event. Jabara died of AIDS related causes in 1992 at age 44.
Summer performed this in the movie, which also featured a performance by the Commodores singing "Too Hot To Trot." It was Summer's first role in a major motion picture, and she played an aspiring young singer named Nicole. In the film, she tries to convince the DJ at a hot nightclub to let her sing, and at the end of the night, she gets her chance and performs this, knowing it might be her last chance.
The lyrics could be viewed as a woman looking for the love of her life, but in more literal terms, it's the last song before closing time at the disco and she is looking for someone to go home with for the evening.
European producer Giorgio Moroder worked on this track. He also produced Summer's hits Bad Girls and Love To Love You Baby.
Summer appeared on an episode of the TV show Family Matters where she played Steve Urkel's aunt Oona from Altoona, and sang this song in a karaoke contest.
This was included on a 2010 disco CD included in kids' meals by Wendy's. However, the fast food chain was forced to pull their freebie after customers complained about this song's racy lyrics. Even though the CD had been marked as safe for 3 years old and up, the lyrics "so horny" could be heard.