On December 14, 1977, the motion picture, Saturday Night Fever premiered and the musical group behind the movie were launched into musical orbit. I once heard a story about disco music being dead and this film put it back on the map. Millions of Americans saw the film and it made a movie star out of 23-year-old John Travolta and propelled the already famous Gibb brothers, Barry, Maurice and Robin to a level of superstardom rarely achieved before or since. The film, Saturday Night Fever, a pop-cultural juggernaut had its world premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.
Well-cast, well-acted and well-directed, Saturday Night Fever earned positive reviews from many critics, including the late Gene Siskel, who called it his favorite film ever. But whatever its other cinematic merits, even the film’s strongest proponents would agree that it was the pulsing disco soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever that made it a work of lasting historical significance. In 1977, I was too young to be permitted to see the movie but I certainly owned the album.
From its iconic opening sequence featuring John Travolta strutting down a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, sidewalk to the tune of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” to its unforgettable dance numbers set in the fictional 2001 Odyssey discotheque, the music complemented the action in Saturday Night Fever as perfectly as if it were written for the movie, even though most of it wasn’t. In fact, other than “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever,” every song that appeared in Saturday Night Fever had been written, recorded and in some cases released before the film ever went into production. Among those songs were: The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” (1976); KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” (1975); Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” (1976); and the Bee Gees’ own “You Should Be Dancin'” (1976).
Two songs the Bee Gees wrote shortly before hearing about Saturday Night Fever—””If I Can’t Have You” and “How Deep Is Your Love”—would be among the four #1 pop hits launched by the movie’s landmark soundtrack album. “How Deep Is Your Love” was the debut single from the album, released fully a month before the movie itself and hitting #1 on the Billboard pop chart just a week after the movie’s opening. This now-familiar approach to marketing a movie through its soundtrack, and vice versa, was highly innovative at the time. Indeed, the promotional synergy between the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and movie is widely credited with helping to revolutionize both movie and music marketing.