The Meaning of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”

The brotherly trio that is the Bee Gees produced a massive hit with “Stayin’ Alive” in the late 70s. As pioneers of the disco genre, it was just one of their many hits, but the longevity of the song today speaks to the pure talent of the Bee Gees. The song, and the legacy of the Bee Gees, is truly “Stayin’ Alive”.

“Stayin’ Alive” was released in 1977 as part of the soundtrack for the film Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney. The film was a massive success, and as the Bee Gees had six songs on the soundtrack, their success also skyrocketed after the film’s release.

In Saturday Night Fever, “Stayin’ Alive” plays during the intro scene that features John Travolta’s character, Tony Manero, as he struts around the streets of Brooklyn, NY.

Watch that famous opening scene below, and read on to learn about the meaning of “Stayin’ Alive”.

While “Stayin’ Alive” is known to most as a disco classic, the song’s lyrics actually have some depth to their meaning, outside of the notion of dancing just to stay alive. The first verse begins with the famous line about being a woman’s man, which is where most people stop paying attention to the lyrics and simply start grooving.

However, today we’re taking a deeper dive into the lyrics to “Stayin’ Alive”:

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk
I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk
Music loud and women warm, I’ve been kicked around
Since I was born
And now it’s alright, it’s okay
And you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

First verse to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Here we can see that the Gibb brothers are singing about how they turn to music and women to get through the difficult conditions presented to them by life. Specifically, by life in New York City, as suggested by the lyric about The New York Times, and later confirmed by the band.

New York City is known as the ultimate home of America’s rat race, and the Bee Gees have written a song for those on the losing side of that rat race, who rely on life’s simple pleasures just to get by.

As heard in the chorus, anybody can lose the rat race in the streets of New York — whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother:

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive
Oh, when you walk

Chorus to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

To add another layer of depth to the meaning of “Stayin’ Alive”, the song’s beat is actually based on the human heartbeat, coming in around 120 beats per minute. There is a myth that the band recorded somebody’s heart rate in the studio, and told the drummer to play at that rhythm, though this has not been confirmed.

From the “Stayin’ Alive” video shoot, 1977.

Still, “Stayin’ Alive” does indeed line up fairly well with the beating of the human heart. So much so that in 2013 the American Heart Association shared that in the case of an emergency involving an unresponsive person (first shout “Annie are you okay?”), you should perform chest compressions to the beat of the song.

Well now, I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Got the wings of Heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin’ man and I just can’t lose
You know it’s alright, it’s okay
I’ll live to see another day
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Second verse to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

The second verse brings more of this vibrant, dance-through-the-pain atmosphere to the lyrics, while the beat follows along in suit. As long as there’s music and he’s alive to hear it, he’s just going to keep on dancin’.

When he sings of the “wings of Heaven” on his shoes, he could be referencing the fact that John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever was a Roman Catholic, as this song was indeed written for the film.

Saturday Night Fever soundtrack cover art.

However, this lyric may also be a reference to the Roman God Mercury, or the Greek equivalent, the God Hermes, who are known to have winged shoes and serve as the messenger of the Gods.

In the bridge, we see that the cracks are starting to form, as the singer can’t help but thinking about the sorry state of their life:

Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me
Somebody help me, yeah
Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me, yeah
I’m stayin’ alive

Bridge to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Here, we see that although this person is dancing to cope with the problems in their life, which are partially brought on by the hardships presented by the streets of New York, they are simply just trying to survive.

This cry for help comes as the song is starting to wind down, suggesting that after a night of dancing this person wakes up to find that their life is still in the same place as it was the day before. It seems that the message then becomes, no matter how much you dance, you can’t escape the hardships before you.

Thus, the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” becomes as much of a disco groove as it does a song for everybody facing hard times, struggling to stay alive. It’s a song that’s there to show you that you’re not alone, and it also gives you a great way to dance the pain away.

Watch the famous music video for “Stayin’ Alive” below.

I’ve also found a pretty awesome video of Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees performing “Stayin’ Alive” at Glastonbury 2017. After chugging a glass of water, Barry belts into the chorus with so much energy you might think you’re back in 1977.

Check that out below.

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