Feb 142014

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

In 1988, Rolling Stone named “Stayin’ Alive” one of the 100 top singles of the last 25 years, and they asked the Bee Gees to comment; how did they feel about the song? The terse response: “We’d like to dress it up in a white suit and gold chains and set it on fire.” It’s an understandable reaction – for all the wealth and fame the song brought them, it also swept aside their estimable back catalog and pigeonholed them as Disco with a capital Dis, so much so that when the genre died, the Bee Gees’ commercial success in the U.S. died with it.

But for all the venom directed “Stayin’ Alive”‘s way, for all its use as a punchline from Airplane! to Ted, people can’t get away from how good a song it is. “Look at great huge Maurice Gibb, singing like Donald Duck on ‘Stayin’ Alive,'” Roger Daltrey of the Who carped in 1978, then instantly added, “And that’s a great song. Bruce Springsteen could sing that lyric.”

From Ozzy Osbourne to Tiny Tim, artists across the spectrum have furtively approached the monolithic masterwork that is “Stayin’ Alive” and made off with a small piece of it, to burnish and shape into a jewel of their own. Here are five of those jewels.

Dave Brewer – Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees cover)

Dave Brewer strips down “Stayin’ Alive” and mashes it up with LL Cool J’s “Phenomenon,” resulting in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of a cover. With some ace acoustic work, some looping pedals, and a cool gruff vocal, his creation is impressive enough; to learn that this was recorded live in one take is to expand the appreciation tenfold.

Electro Deluxe – Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees cover)

Electro Deluxe are a French jazz-funk-soul quintet, which automatically gives them more layers of sweet coolness than you’ll find in a mille-feuille. That also gives them a head start in making “Stayin’ Alive” sound hip enough to make you retournez votre couvercle. Oh, and Google Translate is très bon for write-ups like this.

Eldissa – Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees cover)

Eldissa’s 2005 album What a Difference was aptly titled; it gave a batch of disco hits the acoustic bossa lounge treatment, turning them from dance floor fillers to candlelit dinner accompaniment. “Stayin’ Alive” was the lead-off track, and when it came to giving an indication of what was to come, it certainly did the trick.

French Quarter – Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees cover)

If it’s atmosphere you want, check out this description of Live in the Alleyway Behind the Elna Rae House by French Quarter, a.k.a. neofolkie Stephen Steinbrink: “Recorded to James Fella’s hand-held tape recorder, held in Jasmin Hunter’s hand, on May 30, 2006 in a late-night alley performance behind the ‘Death To Elma Rae House’ party, a goodbye celebration also featuring sunroom thrash & a kitchen skiffle singalong. Everybody moved out the next day, some very far away.” The “Stayin’ Alive” cover is equally atmospheric, loaded with somewhere-a-dog-barked ambience, beer fumes, and moments where the audience is better recorded than the musician. You can picture in your mind’s eye the young couple making out to it under the fire escape. It’s almost incidental how good the cover is.

Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang – Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees cover)

“Disco sucks!” yelled fans of ’70s rock. “Primus sucks!” yelled fans of Les Claypool’s band. On the new album Four Foot Shack, Claypool debuts what he calls “my fuck-off vacation band,” Duo de Twang. It consists of himself and high school buddy/M.I.R.V. guitarist Bryan Kehoe doing a few originals, a few Primus songs, and a few other covers, including a “Stayin’ Alive” that really and truly doesn’t suck.

The original “Stayin’ Alive” is available on iTunes and Amazon; if you need a quicker fix, it’s also on YouTube.

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  8 Responses to “Five Good Covers: Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees)”

Comments (6) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Eef Barzelay/Clem Snide’s version is a fave – much more plaintive, much less triumphant. I suppose, though, that because Eef covers so many songs that way, it was too easy and familiar of a target?

  2. There’s a fairly obscure but really fabulous, soulful reggae version by a little-known Jamaican artist, Richard Ace (the flip of the 12″ was actually a way less successful version of “If I Can’t Have You”). I just checked youtube and they have it there (listen to the version that has the yellow-ish label if you’re curious to hear it).

  3. Kingsley & Perdomo do an excellent version

  4. Capital Cities did a fun electro pop version of Stayin Alive recently as well.

  5. Well written, creative article with a cool variety. Love it.

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