STAYIN’ ALIVE – N-TRANCE
#1 OCTOBER 14-20, 1995
A weekly series highlighting unusual singles that hit #1 in Australia.
Quick test: When you hear the Bee Gees’ version of ‘Stayin’ Alive’, do you subconsciously insert an aggressive “get rolled with the fever on the dance floor” in certain slots?
If so – unless your parents spent 1977 hanging in discos and have dripped such tunes into your brain from birth* – your introduction to the song was probably through the N-Trance version. The British EDM (before EDM was a term) duo recut the Saturday Night Fever hit, taking the liberty of adding rap verses, an extra bridge, and various call-outs that sound like phrases a hype man at an NBA game might boom. This happy collision of cultures and generations remains the only time Da Force and Barry Gibb share songwriting credits on a song.
Like most #1 hits, the song was loathed and loved in fairly equal measure. As mentioned above, if you were in the bracket that first heard this version, then you’ll probably have loved it – even if this love has since devolved into an ironic appreciation. It is, after all, the undeniable ‘Stayin’ Alive’, and pre-teens at the time would have probably preferred this version, with the guy from KLF rapping nonsensical verses over the top.** Australia was the only country in which the song hit #1, although it was an international hit – making the top reaches of the charts in many European countries. We just liked it the most.
The Australian chart landscape in 1995 was quite odd. The year saw a handful of monster hits hog the number one spot: seven songs spent longer than six weeks each at #1: sharing 46 of the 52 weeks between them. Judging by number ones alone, it would appear the hit singles in 1995 can be divided neatly*** into the following categories:
1) Songs that would fit nicely on the smoothfm playlist, and would have leapt straight onto it had the station existed back then: Take That’s ‘Back for Good’, Merril Bainbridge’s ‘Mouth’****, Bryan Adams’ ‘Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman’, U2’s Bat-tastic ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’, Jann Arden’s ‘Insensitive’*****, and Seal’s (also Bat-tastic) ‘Kiss From A Rose’.
2) Cheesy or life-affirming dance-floor fillers: Real McCoy ‘Another Night’, Hocus Pocus’ ‘Here’s Johnny’, Mariah Carey’s ‘Fantasy’****** – and ‘Stayin’ Alive’.
3) Songs in which the 23-year-old author ponders whether he will live to see 24: namely Gangsta’s Paradise, which sat at #1 for thirteen weeks – the longest #1 run of the decade – permeating popular culture to the extent that it is probably the only hip hop song your mum knows some of the verse lyrics to – unless she’s a Drizzy Drake fan, of course.
N-Trance’s ‘flava’-filled cover hit #1 on October 14 , and was knocked off a week later by the aforementioned ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’. Although the British duo were already successful in their home country – having enjoyed a #2 hit single with ‘Set You Free’ the previous year – ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was their turning point both sonically and sales-wise, and it seemed the guys had finally hit upon the perfect formula: cover borderline-cheesy disco hits from the ’70s. They followed up in 1997 with a reboot of Rod Stewart’s ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy’ – even roping in Rockin’ Rod to feature – and continued along this glittery path, with covers of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, Ottawan’s ‘D.I.S.C.O’ – and an ill-advised run at Guns ‘n’ Roses’ ‘Paradise City’, which was the worst thing to happen to the Gunners since Duff’s pancreas exploded. The duo even have a ‘best of’ album, which runs for 76 minutes, and ends with an N-Trance Megamix, which surely negates the previous 68 minutes.
One final fun(ish) fact about the Bee Gees’ version, it is actually used as a tool to help teach resuscitation – the pulse and tempo of the song (104BPM) is the perfect pace at which to perform chest compressions. The song’s title is of course a happy coincidence, unless Barry Gibb had a higher purpose in mind than flooding dance-floors.
* The other place your parents could have been in 1977 was at this Cold Chisel ‘Live At The Wireless’ gig; maybe your dad was the first to ever yell, “play Khe Sanh”.
** My personal favourite line: “Somethin’ for the honeys in the crowd, lend me your ears so I can turn the party out, ’til tomorrow afternoon, ‘cos when I grip my steel, no one leaves the room.” This suggests he is planning to hold (female) audience members hostage with a loaded weapon, forcing his music upon them until the following afternoon. The next line, “So tell me can you feel the mad skills?” takes on an ominous, threatening tone. “Well, do ya?!”
*** The only outlier is the crunchy, crushing ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries, which totally makes sense – sonically and attitude-wise – in context with the noisier end of Brit-pop (Elastica, Ash), or US bands like Hole, L7, etc.
****Merril Bainbridge killed it in 1995: ‘Mouth’ sold half a million copies in the US and sat at #1 for six weeks in Australia; the shimmering, folksy follow-up ‘Under The Water‘ (which totally should have been on the Seachange soundtrack) was the fifth highest-selling Australian single of the year; her debut album The Garden sold double-platinum, charted in the US, and netted her eight ARIA Awards nominations. Hopefully 2015 will see a twenty-year reissue and a national tour – Merril could still easily sell out the Metro in Sydney.
***** Under-rated, almost entirely forgotten song. Of all the #1 singles throughout the ’90s, ‘Insensitive’ was the only one that the hosts of the 90% Hits podcast – which tackles every #1 from the decade – had no concrete memory of.
****** You cannot tell me Mariah isn’t singing “shoobie-doobie-do-dinosaur” throughout this song. Also, the clip proves mid’-90s Mariah looks great on rollerblades and rollercoasters alike.