Some songs from the mid-to-late seventies have a whiff of disco about them: subtle grooves, funky guitars, a nod to the disco-ball… While some songs of the time are drowning in the stuff, as the genre comes close to imploding in a cloud of glitter. Can you guess which camp this next #1 falls into?
Night Fever, by The Bee Gees (their 3rd of five #1s)
2 weeks, from 23rd April – 7th May 1978
The Bee Gees are back, and they’ve gone for a pure and utter disco approach. The guitars go chucka-chucka, the strings swirl, things go ‘ting’… And then there’s the falsettos. Night fever, night fe-ver… By now these voices have gone beyond parody, but here in the moment it really hits you. We know how to show it… (Not that this was a comeback single for the band – they’d been ‘disco’ since ‘Jive Talkin’ came out in 1975.)
Nothing about this song, though, hints at the band who scored their first couple of #1s in the late sixties. In a blind listening test, I doubt anybody would think this was the band that recorded ‘Massachusetts’. And here’s the thing… I thought I’d be finding this song really annoying. This, along with ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Tragedy’ et al are engraved in popular culture: well-loved, but cliched, and very high-pitched. Songs I know but rarely choose to listen to. Yet this is fun – a catchy slice of peak-era disco.
The high-point – in more ways than one! – comes with the bridge. Here I am, Prayin’ for this moment to last… Everything soars: voices, strings and synths… Borne on the wind, Making it mine… It’s a great pop moment, and really conjures up a mood of walking along the street, thinking of the clubs, the cocktails, and the dancing that lies ahead. The only problem is that the vocals go so high that it’s bloody hard to sing along!
‘Night Fever’ was of course from the soundtrack to ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (a film I’ve never actually seen), along with ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, and ‘More Than a Woman’ – disco giants the lot of them. The soundtrack was ginormous in the US, with three Bee Gees songs in the Top 10 as ‘Night Fever’ spent eight weeks at the top. It wasn’t quite as big in the UK – we opted to go wild for singles from another movie soundtrack (more on that very soon) – though the soundtrack topped the album chart for months on end.
This record hits #1 just under a decade after the Bee Gees previous chart-topper, ‘I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You’. It’s a long gap, but not the longest so far. That honour goes to Frank Sinatra, and the twelve years between ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’. What is impressive is that the Brothers Gibb will take not one, but two, decade-long hiatuses from the number one spot. Few acts have ever matched their longevity…
12 thoughts on “422. ‘Night Fever’, by The Bee Gees”
While “Stayin’ Alive” has become the best known song from the Saturday Night Fever at least in the US, “Night Fever” chart-wise both here and in the UK was the biggest hit being an eight-week chart topper for much of the spring of 1978, the longest running #1 that year. Outside of the other Bee Gees songs in the Top 10 at that time, there was also one of the songs they wrote for Andy Gibb “Love Is Thick Than Water” which they replaced at #1 along with Samantha Sang’s “Emotion” another song they wrote and produced which peaked at #3. That means The Bee Gees were the writers and producers behind four of the top five songs in the spring of 1978! For me, “Night Fever” is essentially “Stayin’ Alive” but not as overplayed and just as fun. Like I said in my recent review, it’s a great song for going out on the town. The bridge is easily the best part with how Barry really goes all out with his falsetto howling and how the music swells up behind him which even Tom Breihan in his Number Ones review of the song singled out as the magic moment here, ““Here I am!,” Gibb howls. And a vrooming guitar drone answers him back. All the vaguely cutesy melodic bits briefly drop away, and Gibb sounds like he’s duetting with the echoing void. It gives me goosebumps.” Weirdly, “Night Fever” came from the group’s keyboardist Blue Weaver wanting to make a disco version of Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place” which was a similarly big soundtrack hit in the US spending nine weeks on top in 1960 and being named as the biggest song that year. You can certainly hear some of that influence in the strings but they grow it into their own thing. Speaking of going out on the town, in the Saturday Night Fever movie “Night Fever” gets played in two parts when Travolta’s character is getting ready for the disco while his father calls him to dinner and when Travolta and the dancers at the disco form a group hustle
Another major effect of this success of Saturday Night Fever on The Bee Gees is that in the US it completely dwarfed their earlier success from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Many people here largely view them as a disco act without knowing their early psychedelic pop hits like “Massachusetts,” “I Started A Joke,” “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” though I’ve seen “To Love Somebody” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” get some recognition.
Unrelated but last night while seeing the Foo Fighters in my first concert since the pandemic happened they introduced their new Bee Gees covers album they’re releasing performing “You Should Be Dancing” and had Barry Gibb’s face on the front of the drum kit. I’ll say it was the most fun part of the concert!
Yes, I did see the news about the Foo Fighter’s disco album… It’ll be interesting, at least!
I think in the UK their 60s hits do get airplay, but the vast majority of people would first think of their disco smashes. Of course, the band would have a second comeback, and a final number one, in the late 80s, with another non-disco number.
And ultimately they were more successful in the US in their disco phase than any other era. “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was their first #1 and other early songs like “I Started A Joke” and “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” went Top 10 but didn’t have the enormous impact that Saturday Night Fever brought them. From watching The Bee Gees’ recent documentary, I’ve noticed a lot of UK acts pointing to their early ‘60s hits as an influence with Noel Gallagher calling it great ‘60s guitar pop. And as we’ll see in the next year, they managed to hold on to that big success for a little while before the backlash sets in with their last US #1 “Love You Inside Out” reaching the top a month before the Disco Demolition Night event which seems very poignant looking at it now. They had six straight #1 hits like the Beatles before them and then shortly after it all went dark.
In regards to the Foo Fighters, their covers are all of the disco era hits as well as Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing” which despite The Bee Gees’ dominance in 1978 it was their youngest brother who beat them to Billboard’s biggest song of that year. I will say from the concert they did a convincing performance of The Bee Gees.
The disco backlash made the Gibbs persona-non-grata as the 80’s dawned until a little bit of Depeche-Mode-a-like bought them back with the long overdue recognition they deserved, but the reason they sold globally in bucketloads was the music was effing fab, and remains timeless. It wasn’t even really disco to start with, Jive Talking was more funk than it was KC or Gloria Gaynor, as was Nights On Broadway, and they still banged out the ballad hits – but it was You Should Be Dancing that sparked the possibility of Saturday Night Fever at discos across the world. Count the number of actual disco songs they wrote and released, and it’s shockingly low in comparison to the impact they had: Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, If I can’t Have You, More Than A Woman and Tragedy. That’s it. Half a dozen disco jewels. And 2 of them were given away to Yvonne Elliman and Tavares. So, 4 hits one of which was 2 years old and wasn’t in a film and one which came after the film and was turned from a powerful guitar-driven dance anthem into a cheesy-Steps photocopied million-seller in pop culture. People really just don’t like enormous success!
I wouldnt bother with Stayin’ Alive myself, so dreary (I realise that’s the point of the film, disco is the escape of the working classes, it’s a social commentary film not a cheesy Grease-alike, but it’s the dance sequences that make the film, not the arguing and angst). Night Fever was glorious when it came out, the melody has always been a Gibb primary talent, but when the production ramps it up you can get magic. Occasionally. Cos mostly they have always been about the ballads… 🙂
Saturday Night Fever I mean, Staying Alive is the sequel, oops. Let’s not mention it ever again….! Everyone has tried to forget it ever happened 🙂
I had no idea there was sequel to Saturday Night Fever…. Amazing. It has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, which takes some doing. It’s no ‘Grease 2’ clearly!
You make a good point about the Bee Gees disco legacy versus their disco output. I genuinely don’t know if I knew the Steps or the Bee Gees version of ‘Tragedy’ first, but my first exposure to the band was their mid-90s hit ‘Alone’, which I have somewhere on maxi-single!
Stayin’ Alive was terrible. Travolta in an Olivia Newton-John headband. It did have the wonderful Cynthia Rhodes in it (Flashdance, Runaway, Dirty Dancing), tho…
I think the reason the Bee Gees are more known for “disco” than their previous hits was the pop culture dress. Barry, himself, went from older, guiding brother to long-haired sex symbol, with a beard, chest hair showing and tight pants. That, alone, was enough to make the women-folk nuts. My mother and an aunt were particularly crazy over him. And, I think that is where some of the backlash came from…disco music pushing out rock and husbands irked by singers sexier than they were. The Bee Gees were a hot property for quite a while. Andy, too…
Great song, BTW…
I have to admit it – when the disco era hit us big time in 1974, George McCrae, Barry hite and so on, I didn’t ‘get’ it. When The Bee Gees came along with ‘Jive Talkin’’, I thought ‘Hey, that’s interesting’ – I’d always enjoyed the late 60s fare ike ‘Massachusetts’, ‘World’, and so on, but I felt there was something a bit plastic about ‘Night Fever’. Then a few months later, I found myself almost by accident helping out as a kind of understudy at a disco in a licensed restaurant on Saturday nights, and – VAVOOM! Road to Damascus time! – it all clicked in one blinding light (or one blinding mirrorball). I then realised that the Gibb Brothers absolutely had it in spades. Something that I’d dismissed without thinking suddenly made sense, and sounded great. You would be churlish to kock them. To this day, I can appreciate and even love all kinds of pop, rock, folk-rock, whatever – and yet The Bee Gees still stand out as the group who fused pop and funk, and remain the masters – head and shoulders above the rest. Did I say late 60s? Well, I am in my late 60s now – and to me it still sounds utterly timeless.
I like Jive Talking better than any of the disco stuff they did but this is a good song I have to admit and better than a lot of the disco music out there.
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