In 1977, I went to see a new film that everyone was raving about. It was a drama set in New York, about a young man who wants to rise above his background and life in the neighbourhood by becoming a dancer. It starred John Tavolta as Tony, ably supported by a group of young American actors, including Donna Pescow and Karen Gorney. It wasn’t a musical, but it was all about the music. After watching the film, I soon bought the soundtrack album on vinyl.
As well as the Bee gees, who wrote many new songs for the film, we had the vocal talents of Yvonne Elliman, and funky stuff from Tavares, Kool and The Gang, The Trammps, and K.C. and The Sunshine Band. Anyone who had seen the film could recapture the scenes easily, by listening to the record, and even those who hadn’t got to see it could enjoy the feast of Disco music on offer.
In the film, Tony is trying to win a dance contest, so we often see him practicing with his partners. The setting is ideal to add great music, as we watch Travolta tear up the floor.
When he dumps his first partner for a better dancer, Yvonne Elliman supplies the heartbreak song.
Much of the action is filmed in the nightclub where Tony is well-known, and the contest is to be held. The crowd scenes and great music give a real feel of being there. Travolta is at his peak here, on sparkling form indeed.
When Tony falls for his new partner, the Bee Gees get to perform their love ballad, which went on to become one of their signature songs.
Perhaps the opening scene has become the best-known, with Travolta walking to work, and ‘Staying Alive’ playing over in the background.
The music won six Grammy awards for the Bee Gees, with the album and numerous singles taken from it reaching number one all over the world. To this date, it remains the biggest-selling film soundtrack ever, with more than 45,000,000 copies sold. And it is a wonderful example of how music can transform a film that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Despite being very much of its time, many of the songs are still powerful and relevant today, and forty-one years later, it is still being bought by new fans.