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STAYIN' ALIVE, 1977

Lead Vocals: Juanita Mankuleo, Bobby Cohen,  Anu Worah

"It has the great guitar hook ... that set up the pulsating beat ... and the vocals pushed the beat further."                               -- George Martin

In the inevitable cycle of middle-of-the-road commercialization, the most accessible elements of Prog Rock were blended in the marketing machine, leading to Prog Rock Lite (or elevator Prog): Boston, Kansas, Styx et al. Meanwhile, Metal and Glam Rock conceived the abomination called KISS! Music was dying until Disco, Punk, and what came after rescued it. Both Disco and Punk were responses to the fact that rock music was moving away from its roots, with both trying in their own ways to distill it down to its essence.


Punk said all you needed was attitude. Rock music was about sticking it to the man, not working for the man! Disco went the other way to overcome how pretentious music had become. It took just the beat: music was about dancing and sex, and forget the rest! 

I'm not a big fan of either. Music needs more than just one dimension to really grab me. But Punk and Disco did shake music out of its rut, and also defined an era. Punk will always be associated with economic malaise that birthed Thatcherism in the UK; and Disco with the spread of recreational drugs and the Studio 54 scene in the US. We even had our own imitation Studio 54 in Mumbai: the members-only Studio 29 on Marine Drive. It closed down in 1985 before I was old enough to be invited, so I can safely say 'I didn't want to go anyway.'

 

Most Disco music was mediocre, and has not aged well: think Donna Summers, Boney M, and The Village People. However, the times and genre did produce some brilliant music with a decidedly funk influenced groove. Artists like Prince and Michael Jackson, and songs like "Stayin' Alive" and "Saturday Night Fever."

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"Stayin' Alive" was the defining song of the Disco era for me - if only because it was ubiquitous at every party, and all the girls seemed to have memorized the John Travolta moves. Not surprisingly, Anu picked this song when I asked her for suggestions for this collection ... she's been trying to get me to dance to it since we were 16. Apparently between the song title and the tempo (104 bpm), medical school students are advised to keep this song in mind when doing CPR chest compressions.

This was a hard song to get right. We had all the pieces down: the guitar hook, the funky bass and the killer harmonies, but were still missing the groove. It's hard to get the feel when musicians are wearing masks and recording just one take, individually. Also, as I discovered, you have to be super precise to play Disco or Funk well! So much for looking down on any form of music. I probably did enough software editing on this song that it almost qualifies as EDM!

Chris suggested a cool trick to enhance the groove: recording just the hi hats playing 16th notes on a separate track and mixing it in. Listen for that here, and in other songs (Ringo does this on the snare rim in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"). See if you can catch the lead vocals and harmonies in our version switching things around in the chorus compared to the original. Juanita sings lead, Anu is the Barry Gibbs voice double for most of the song, and Bobby handles both the low and high harmonies.

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Saturday Night Fever in Mumbai, 2020.