The song was written by the brothers Gibb, that is, Barry, Robin, and Maurice specifically for the 1977 big disco era movie Saturday Night Fever that starred John Travolta. “Stayin’ Alive” was on the 1977 Saturday Night Fever: The Original Move and Sound Track by The Bee Gees and various artists. That album was certified 6x Platinum for selling at least 16 million units. The song “Stayin’ Alive” was featured in the opening scene and credits where we see Travolta dance-walking through the Brooklyn streets, swinging cans of paint. The song was released in December of 1977 as a single, backed “If I Can’t Have You.” Both songs were chart toppers. By 1978, “Stayin’ Alive” went to #1 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, the Euro Hot 100, and South Africa. It was in the Top 5 in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. It was #15 on the charts in Japan.
The list of accolades is lengthy as well. To name a few prestigious lists, there are Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time;” the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Songs;” and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”
Robert Stigwood, who produced Saturday Night Fever, asked The Bee Gees to write music for the film. And they did. Stigwood originally wanted the opening song to be called “Saturday Night,” but The Bee Gees objected. They said there have been enough songs with that in their title. Also, the move had it in its title.
A bit of trivia is one about the perhaps strange line in the lyrics: “We can try to understand the New York Times‘ effect on man.” Evidently, this referred to Stigwood’s inspiration for the film after reading an article in the Times about the Brooklyn disco club scene.
Despite all of this colossal commercial success, The Bee Gees felt it positioned them as disco artists. They had been singing in a variety of styles, including rock, pop, and soul, since the late 1950s. Robin Gibb said, “We were not disco…People who emulated us were disco. All you heard on the radio were…syn-drum sounds. We never had a syn-drum on one of our records.” Be that as it may, “Stayin’ Alive” become one of their signature songs. Ah, be careful what you wish for, indeed.
On the track were Barry Gibb (lead, harmony and backing vocals, rhythm guitar), Robin Gibb (harmony and backing vocals), Maurice Gibb (harmony and backing vocals, bass), Alan Kendall (lead guitar), Blue Weaver (keyboards, synthesizer, Dennis Bryon (drums), and Joe Lala (percussion). The Bee Gees continued to tour and perform for many decades. Barry, the only surviving member now, performs, sometimes solo and sometimes with his son Steve Gibb.