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Monday, April 16, 2012

Saturday Night Fever

I was born in 1981.  By that time, the musical genre known as disco was dead and buried.  Disco music was the music that dominated the charts during the latter half of the 1970s.  Between 1974 and 1979, millions of people all over the world were doing the hustle, pretending to be dancing queens, and wondering if people thought they were sexy.  By the summer of 1979, it became clear that disco was the subject of major backlash from fans of rock and roll music.  People wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Disco Sucks”, and rock stars such as David Bowie and Rod Stewart were accused of being sell-outs for releasing disco themed singles.

It all came to a head on July 12, 1979.  Many who lived through that date in history will recall it as “the day disco died”.  That was the day that a huge anti-disco demonstration known as “Disco Demolition Night” took place in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.  The event was arranged by Steve Dahl, Garry Meier, and Michael Veeck, and was booked on the same date as two scheduled baseball games featuring the White Sox.  The event had a huge turnout.  Thousands of rock and roll fans gathered at Comiskey Park to destroy disco records in a multitude of ways.  Unfortunately, the event lead to a massive riot, in which many were injured, and several were arrested.  The riot caused so much damage to the park that the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game to the Detroit Tigers. 

It was a terrible end to the event, yet it seemed to do what it set out to do.  A few days after the riot, the top six singles on the American music charts were disco tracks.  Just two months later, no disco song was in the top ten.

By the time I was born, the music charts were a weird hybrid of genres.  You had a combination of rock and roll, country, soul, jazz, and even bubblegum pop.  As far as disco went, there was not a disco song to be found on the 1981 pop charts.  However, when I was a toddler, I would hear disco music all the time.

You see, when I was really little, my mother played a certain soundtrack to a movie that had come out three and a half years before I was born.  The soundtrack was hugely successful, selling fifteen million copies worldwide.  The soundtrack was the number one album in sales between January and July 1978, and stayed on the album charts for 120 consecutive weeks, finally dropping off the charts in early 1980.  Until the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard” was released in 1992, this movie’s soundtrack was one of the highest selling albums from a motion picture of all time.

I think that I must have heard the songs from the soundtrack a hundred million times over the first four or five years of my childhood.  For some reason, I loved it, even though my feelings for disco music now are kind of mixed.  Eventually, the record got scratched, and we were forced to throw it in the garbage one day.  Years later though, I bought my mother another copy of the soundtrack (this time on CD), and she still plays it on occasion.

Of all the songs that appear on the album, there are many classic songs, but I think this one happens to be my favourite.

ARTIST:  Bee Gees
SONG:  Night Fever
ALBUM:  Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Soundtrack
DATE RELEASED:  February 7, 1978

And this wasn’t the only song that the Bee Gees recorded for the movie “Saturday Night Fever” either.  But, more on that a little bit later.

“Saturday Night Fever” was released in theatres on December 14, 1977, and what was interesting about the film was that it was one of the few films to receive two different ratings.  Initially, the film was rated “R” and had a lot more nudity, drug use, and even an attempted rape scene.  The film did exceptionally well, but because of the rating many younger fans were missing out on seeing the film.  A second cut of the movie was released in 1978 with a PG rating, which cut down on the profanity and some of the more adult scenes.  It turned out to be a good move upon hindsight, as the eventually box office for the film between the two versions topped upwards of over $282 million, making “Saturday Night Fever” one of the most seen movies of 1978.

Of course, you all know that this was the film that made John Travolta a star, and if you watch the opening credits of the film, you can tell by the way he uses his walk, he’s a woman’s man, no time to talk.

(The background music happens to be the Bee Gees’ hit “Stayin’ Alive”, which just happens to be one of SIX songs by the band that appear on the soundtrack.)

Travolta plays the role of Tony Manero, a girl-crazy Italian-American teen living in the heart of Brooklyn, New York.  When he’s not fighting with his parents, or working at his job at a nearby hardware store, he’s donning the dance duds and hitting the flashing dance floor at 2001 Odyssey, a popular nightclub in the area.  He could usually be found there every weekend with his four friends, Bobby C (Barry Miller), Double J (Paul Pape), Gus (Bruce Ornstein), and Joey (Joseph Cali), and the five usually hang out at the club to hit on women, drink, and do drugs.  Also hanging around 2001 Odyssey was a woman named Annette, who harbours feelings for Tony, and wants to have a stable relationship, although Tony doesn’t quite feel the same way.

TRIVIA:  Annette was played by Donna Pescow, who purposely gained 40 pounds to get the role.  Once filming wrapped up, she lost the excess weight just in time to star in the short-lived ABC sitcom, “Angie”.

When a dance contest is hosted by 2001 Odyssey, Annette expresses interest in entering, but since the contest is for pairs only, she immediately asks Tony to be her dance partner.  Tony agrees to her request, and Annette is on cloud nine.

At least until SHE came into Tony’s life.

The “she” being Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney).  Poor Annette was kicked to the curb as Tony decided that he’d rather enter the contest with Stephanie instead.  Stephanie agrees to be his dance partner.  As far as romance, however, she made it clear that she wasn’t interested in that.

But as Stephanie and Tony get to know each other better as they practice for the dance contest, Tony’s friends seem to get into major trouble during the movie’s various sub-plots.  Bobby C, for example, has discovered that he has gotten his girlfriend pregnant.  And, since his girlfriend also happens to be very Catholic, she intends on keeping the baby.  Bobby C isn’t ready for the responsibility of being a father, so he seeks advice from Tony’s older brother Frank (Martin Shakar).  Not liking the answers that he has been given, he sinks into a deep depression, and ultimately makes some dangerous choices which lead to his ultimate fate at the end of the film.

Gus happens to become the victim of a gang attack, and is hospitalized.  At first, Gus reveals that the gang that attacked him was a Hispanic gang known on the streets as the Barracudas, so his friends set out to even the score.  But, did Gus really remember everything as it happened?

A terrible fate also strikes Annette, and somehow it involves Double J and Joey in what could be the most shocking plot development in the whole film.

(And yes, I am being quite vague in describing these, as I want you all to watch the movie yourselves.  I don’t post many spoilers in the Monday Matinees).

Besides, the plot of the movie was just one of the things that made “Saturday Night Fever” stand out.  The disco soundtrack was a masterpiece of disco favourites.  The Bee Gees may have had the bulk of the soundtrack, but there were songs by Yvonne Elliman, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Tavares, Trammps, and Kool & The Gang, just to name a few.

I guess the timing of this entry is somewhat timely as well, given what’s happening right now in the world of music.  As of right now, Robin Gibb is in a comatose state after contracting pneumonia in his hospital room.  He had been battling liver and colon cancer since 2011.  His health problems had actually began one year earlier when he was rushed into the hospital for emergency surgery to clear a blocked intestine (a condition that killed his twin brother Maurice in 2003). 

Nobody knows for sure how bad Robin’s condition is, but his brother Barry (the other surviving member of the Bee Gees) has stated that he is “fighting for his life” at this moment, and he is currently surrounded by his brother, his wife, and his three children as he continues to fight for his life. 

I had planned to do this entry on “Saturday Night Fever” today anyway, but knowing what we know about the condition of Robin Gibb, it takes on a whole new meaning.

It’s hard to say what will happen.  From news reports I’ve heard, Robin Gibb is in critical condition, and it’s unknown whether he can survive this.  As a result, I’ll be editing this entry as more news comes.  In the meantime, all we can do is offer our sympathy and prayers to the Gibb family, and hope that a miracle takes place.

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