In 1978, it was impossible to get away from Saturday Night Fever. For the first few months of that year, it was the number one film in the United States, but its reach extended beyond the world of cinema. If you looked at the pop charts, you would find the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever sitting on top of the Billboard album charts. If you went to the Hot 100 or the UK Singles Chart, you could find ‘Stayin’ Alive’ or ‘Night Fever’ making monster runs. The soundtrack was the biggest-selling LP of 1978 in the UK. Wherever you went, the fever was on.
Disco was everywhere in 1978. Bands like The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead were adding four-to-the-floor beats on albums like Some Girls and Shakedown Street in their own attempts to stay relevant. The singles chart was dominated by the likes of Donna Summer, Chic, and Boney M. But the one group that couldn’t be escaped that year was the Bee Gees, the trio of Australian brothers that nearly monopolised pop music that year.
The Bee Gees were already a decade-old band by the time they got the call to work on Saturday Night Fever. Starting as a five-piece specialising in psychedelic pop, the group was whittled down to just the Brothers Gibb: older brother Barry and younger twins Maurice and Robin. The group initially broke up in 1969 but reformed a year later and landed a series of number-one hits before turning their attention to a brand new genre of music.
Saturday Night Fever wasn’t the beginning of Disco Bee Gees: funk and R&B had filtered into their sound as early as 1974’s Mr. Natural. But the 1975 number one hit ‘Jive Talkin’ truly kicked off a new era for the Gibbs. With Barry’s falsetto vocals taking the lead, the Bee Gees hit upon a new sound that would define them for the next half a decade and beyond. With a new image that emphasised feathered hair and gold chains, the Bee Gees were ready to be the poster boys of disco.
But the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever wasn’t a Bee Gees-only affair. Only six of the album’s 17 tracks belonged to the Gibbs, with the rest of the album being filled out with other disco stars like The Tramps, Kool & the Gang, and KC & the Sunshine Band. All told, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is a veritable greatest hits album featuring the best of what disco had to offer as a genre.
To celebrate the album’s anniversary, we’re ranking all 17 songs that appear on the commercially-released version of the LP. Songs that were used in the film but excluded from the soundtrack, like Rick Dee’s ‘Disco Duck’, are not included here.
The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack ranked:
17. ‘Manhattan Skyline’ – David Shire
Did you ever hear the version of the Star Wars theme from Meco that was a number-one hit around this time? How about the theme music to The Price Is Right? That’s the vibe of ‘Manhattan Skyline’. The score from David Shire really gets the short end of the stick on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and every time it comes up, you just end up wishing you were listening to an actual disco song instead.
16. ‘Salsation’ – David Shire
See ‘Manhattan Skyline’, but make it a salsa. Pass.
15. ‘Calypso Breakdown’ – Ralph MacDonald
This percussion interlude has the bad fortune of being an interminable eight minutes long. Had it been just a two-minute snippet, it probably would have placed higher on this list. But as it stands, it’s nearly impossible to listen to the entire song without getting bored and reaching for the skip button.
14. ‘Night On Disco Mountain’ – David Shire
Shire’s third score piece has the benefit of being based on a truly fascinating piece of music, Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Night On Bald Mountain’. There’s some interesting interplay between the dramatically diminished tones of the strings and the wah-wah guitar that holds down the song’s rhythm, but if you want some ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ in your life, just go over to Fantasia instead.
13. ‘More Than A Woman’ – Tavares
Why did there need to be two versions of ‘More Than A Woman’ on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack? Tavares’ version of the song isn’t bad, but it does seem completely pointless, especially when the Bee Gees’ version is just three songs ahead of it on the tracklisting. Tavares takes it in a more generic direction and strips the song of Barry’s signature falsetto. Those are inexcusable actions, and for that, it lands at the bottom of the traditional songs list.
12. ‘K-Jee’ – MFSB
Yeah, ‘K-Jee’ is just another piece of incidental music on the soundtrack. But what sets it apart from Shire’s score? The fact that it’s performed by a group that has a credible claim to actually inventing disco. MFSB were the house band for Sigma Sound Studios, the recording space where producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff wrote classic pre-disco R&B hits for the likes of The O’Jays, Billy Paul, and the Stylistics. The backing band even had a number-one hit all their own in 1972 with ‘T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)’. Their reputation is a lot better than ‘K-Jee’, but you can certainly hear their influence on disco here.
11. ‘If I Can’t Have You’ – Yvonne Elliman
No 1970s movie is complete without a big, climactic ballad at its centre. For Saturday Night Fever, I guess the ballad would technically be ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, but in any other film, it would have been ‘If I Can’t Have You’. Instead of slowing it down, however, Yvonne Elliman jacks up the lightweight song with some necessary energy. There’s a solid hook in the song’s chorus, but it’s largely forgettable outside of Elliman’s dedicated performance.
10. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ – Bee Gees
Contrary to popular belief, the Bee Gees didn’t appear exclusively on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But they were the most essential part of the album, supplying nearly all of the songs most closely associated with the movie. Of the six songs included by the band, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ is the least inspiring. Saccharine and simplistic, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ doesn’t rise to the exciting levels of the other Bee Gees tracks. In fact, another mellow Bee Gees track improves upon ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ in nearly every way.
9. ‘Open Sesame’ – Kool & the Gang
Kool & the Gang were, oddly enough, kind of like the Bee Gees: a decade-old band that had to go through stylistic and lineup changes before finding their home in disco. Whereas the Gibbs were relatively new to traditionally black American music, Kool & the Gang were anything but. Just like MFSB, Kool & the Gang have much better material than what they’re slotted with on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, but ‘Open Sesame’ is a solid addition to the disco canon from some of the masters of the genre.
8. ‘Jive Talkin’ – Bee Gees
The Gibbs were still clearly in workshop mode when they originally recorded ‘Jive Talkin’ in 1975. Barry hadn’t hit upon his golden falsetto just yet, and the mechanical backing track sounds ever-so-slightly stilted compared to the smooth funk that fills out the rest of the album’s tracks. But, c’mon: this is still ‘Jive Talkin’ we’re talking about. Maniacally infectious in every sense, ‘Jive Talkin’ proved that the Bee Gees were always destined to take on disco.
7. ‘More Than A Woman’ – Bee Gees
The superior version of the song (sorry, Tavares), the Bee Gees do wonders to convey a breezy lightness throughout ‘More Than A Woman’. Part yacht rock, part disco, and all hooks, ‘More Than A Woman’ is probably Barry’s best falsetto on the album. There’s no strain or shrillness in the vocal for ‘More Than A Woman’. Instead, Barry sounds like he’s been singing in that register his entire life.
6. ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’ – Walter Murphy
A classic instrumental of the disco era, Walter Murphy’s ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’ is one of those songs that we all seem to learn at an early age. The second (and better) mix of classical music with funk guitars on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’ is perhaps the track that best exemplifies what disco could do at its most ambitious and thrilling. The second that opening motif hits, it’s impossible to get out of the way. Not that you would ever want to.
5. ‘Disco Inferno’ – The Trammps
Here it is…disco’s national anthem. Originally a Philly act that graduated out of the Sigma Sound school of R&B, The Trammps took hold of the disco phenomenon and crafted perhaps the most infectious track that the genre ever birthed. ‘Disco Inferno has everything, including an infectious bassline, dance-ready rhythm, and memorable hook right at its heart. The only reason it doesn’t land higher on this list is that ‘Disco Inferno’, for all its charms, can’t quite transcend the trappings disco genre. It’s still an amazing song, though.
4. ‘Night Fever’ – Bee Gees
My personal favourite track to appear on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, ‘Night Fever’ is one giant fever dream of disco clubs, wah-wah guitars, and chest hair. Strangely, the most intoxicating element of ‘Night Fever’ is the palpable melancholy that sits at the heart of the song. Thanks to its minor key progression and relaxed groove, ‘Night Fever’ doesn’t beat you over the head like much of the soundtrack does. Instead, it sneaks up on you and surprises you with its charms. Maybe it doesn’t have a world-changing hook compared to some of the album’s other songs, but ‘Night Fever’ can easily be the most enjoyable and least novelty-adjacent song in Saturday Night Fever.
3. ‘Boogie Shoes’ – KC & the Sunshine Band
Nobody perfected disco the way KC & the Sunshine Band did. Over a few brief but powerful years, Harry Wayne Casey led his band of funk rockers into music immortality thanks to his ability to craft near-perfect pop hooks. His resume speaks for itself: ‘That’s the Way (I Like It)’, ‘Get Down Tonight’, ‘Keep It Comin’ Love’, ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’, and ‘(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty’. ‘Boogie Shoes’ is just another impossible-to-forget jam from the Sunshine Band. KC got culturally ostracised in the years after disco, but anyone who can appreciate pop music needs to give KC & the Sunshine Band their due, starting with ‘Boogie Shoes’.
2. ‘Stayin’ Alive’ – Bee Gees
It really didn’t take much: one drum loop, a few choice guitar notes, a short blast of strings, and one falsetto voice. Once it all came together, that was it: the Bee Gees officially ruled the world. ‘Stayin’ Alive’ remains the most iconic song by the Bee Gees, on top of being the most iconic track from Saturday Night Fever. Maybe some fatigue has led me to place it at number two, but I couldn’t put it any lower. It’s the most memorable and ear-wormy song on the album, even if it’s not quite the best.
1. ‘You Should Be Dancing’ – Bee Gees
Funny enough, the Bee Gees perfected their disco sound before ever getting involved with Saturday Night Fever. Two years before the soundtrack became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, ‘You Should Be Dancing’ introduced a whole section of the global population to both the Bee Gees and disco music as a genre. Everything about ‘You Should Be Dancing’ is fine-tuned to get you on your feet, from the itchy rhythms to the groovy percussion (featuring Stephen Stills!) and Barry’s unmistakable falsetto. Maurice and Robin show up at just the right time to elevate the song into the stratosphere once it hits its monster chorus. How anyone has ever gotten ‘You Should Be Dancing’ out of their head is beyond me.