Apr 09

SURVIVOR – “Eye Of The Tiger”

FT + Popular76 comments • 4,985 views

#507, 4th September 1982

Before I talk about Survivor I’m going to talk about me a little. Skip down a few paragraphs if you don’t care.

There. Now, I was lucky enough to have a happy childhood. And from mid ’82 to late ’84 it was at its happiest. Not dramatically joyful or anything, not eventful even – just the simple, hassle- and hormone-free happiness of the boy of 9 or 10 who knows what he enjoys and has the space and security to get on with it. Simple, nerdy stuff. Books. The BBC Micro. Camping trips. School projects. Youth theatre groups. Doctor Who. Dungeons & Dragons. The radio.

Being happy didn’t mean I liked all the pop music I heard at the time. Far from it. Some of it I hated. (And hating it was something else to make me happy). But the result is that on some level I like almost all of it now. The suffusing marshmallow memory of my happiness has subsumed my judgement, smoothed it out. I feel safe in saying that there is not a single record which charted in 1983 that I couldn’t get some base nostalgic pleasure out of even if my higher brain functions were screaming out against it.

Will this make any difference to how I write Popular entries? I have no idea. But it seemed fair to warn you against it.

And now, let’s talk about Survivor.

On the Irene Cara thread there was some talk about American triumphalism and swagger in pop – in contrast to the more playful tones of British New Pop. Obviously, “Fame” is like Noel Coward compared to “Eye Of The Tiger”, which was specially commissioned to be as pummelling and bombastic as is musically possible. Does it succeed?

Yes, indeed too well. If this was a boxing match, the hero would flatten his opponent within the first fifteen seconds. The taut, macho bassline and punchbag riff that open the track are awesome: the only problem is that Survivor have to follow them with a song, and “Eye Of The Tiger” predictably underwhelms. It’s already said everything it needs to with devastating economy – all this “man and his will to survive” stuff is just labouring the point, and the longer it goes on the more you doubt it.

Perhaps theirs was an impossible task – though when Destiny’s Child got their hands on something very like the “Tiger” bassline for “Bootylicious” they built a killer song on top. On the other hand, there are many bands who strain for years without producing anything as primal as the first fifteen seconds of “Eye”: Survivor’s failure to capitalise – in both a track and career sense – can’t take that away from them.



1 2 3 All
  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Exactly, Tom. Effective for 15 seconds, tedious for the whole length of the song.

    Nowadays, someone like Daft Punk would loop the good bit, subtly altering it as the single evolved. I’d call that progress!

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 20 Apr 2009 #

    #2 Watch: A mixed bag. A week of Duran Duran’s ‘Save A Prayer’ (a single which always seems to be trying too hard to me, even though I’m quite fond of it), then a week of Dire Straits’ toothgrindingly dull ‘Private Investigations’, followed by two weeks of The Jam’s ‘The Bitterest Pill’ – The Style Council starts here!

  3. 3
    Tom on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Yeah “Save A Prayer” is trying too hard definitely – “look! we can do big ballads too!”: every pop act does it, few emerge stronger for the attempt.

  4. 4
    SteveM on 20 Apr 2009 #

    ‘Save A Prayer’ sounds pretty weird for a top 3 hit tho – even today?

  5. 5
    Pete Baran on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Its around here I really start to notice the film / pop crossover stuff (which I had been aware of since Saturday Night Fever but not as a negative thing). This is where VCR’s start becoming a bit more attainable by local kids early adopting parents (the first pirate video i saw was Flash Gordon), and for some reason the kids of said aspirational parents always seemed to be the bullies in my School. So whilst The Eye Of The Tiger is to many the theme to Rocky III, having not seen it at the time, but aware of its boxing lineage, it is the theme to copious dead arms and the odd yaroop to me.

  6. 6
    SteveM on 20 Apr 2009 #

    i think E.T. was the first pirate video i saw. it unnerved me.

  7. 7
    lex on 20 Apr 2009 #

    This is where I get born! Me! Me! Me!

    I agree w/Tom: this is very obviously a soundtrack to a specific film scene rather than a song in its own right, I can hear that even though I’ve never seen Rocky. (I can pretty much imagine the scene in my mind despite only having the vaguest idea of what the film is about, that’s how powerful it is.) I’m also sure that I was aware of the instrumental way before I even knew there was a song on top – listening back, the song feels like an afterthought which actually diminishes the power of the riff and defuses the tension in the bassline – I find the OTT vocal a bit silly, really, which takes away from the awe you need to feel for the music to work.

    Appropriate that Destiny’s Child are mentioned – not only for the ‘Bootylicious’ but also for their own knock-out swagger track, which I guess we’re not allowed to discuss further! But talking about swagger in a more general sense – while I don’t go to tracks like ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ so much for it – I dig the menacing arrogance of hip-hop and the feminised fierceness of DC-style R&B more – triumphalism and swagger is hugely important to what I love about the best pop, and I’m pleased to have been born under its star.

  8. 8
    Erithian on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Briefly – this kind of thing that leaves me pretty cold for many of the reasons listed above. And I have to say something about the Rocky films. Stallone interviewed a real Philadelphia boxer, one Joe Frazier, before writing “Rocky”, and incorporated elements of Frazier’s real-life training methods – using refrigerated sides of beef as punching bags, running up the Art Museum steps – into Rocky Balboa’s. Which of the two, Smokin’ Joe or Rocky, ended up living in a couple of rooms alongside his gym, and which of the two has a statue in Philadelphia? Go figure.

    But those are a stonking trio of Number 2 hits – sorry, but the Duran and Dire Straits songs are things of beauty in my book. “Private Investigations” is from “Love Over Gold”, which got me through some pretty low times in the otherwise great period that’s coming up, and which has half as many tracks as the better-known “Brothers in Arms” but twice as many ideas. And “Save a Prayer” for me is just glorious – that might put me out on a limb in this company, but there you go, it’s my favourite Duran song.

  9. 9
    Pete Baran on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Private Investigations has been completely rescued from tedious ignominy by Dick & Dom’s DC Harry Batt one of the more obscure long running gags on their kids show).

  10. 10
    Brian on 20 Apr 2009 #

    RE # 8 ‘ Erithians comments about Rocky.

    There was quite a buzz around Rocky when it came out because Stalone had written, starred , directed and produced his own film on his own. At the time he was the rank outsider – no Hollywood help – and this was as indie as you could get at this time.

    Yes , it’s a franchise now but there was a certain nobility to what Stalone was able to achieve with his original vision.

    As for the song – whether you like ti or not it’ll always be the ” Rocky” song and personally I can’t stand the guys voice. Sounds like he’s getting a weggie from Sly!

  11. 11
    Pete Baran on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Triple Oscar Winning Rocky you mean: that beat All The Presidents Men, Network and Taxi Driver for Best Picture in 1977? I think its a terrific movie.

  12. 12
    lex on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Also, re: ‘Bootylicious’ – did ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ steal from ‘Edge Of Seventeen’ or vice versa?

  13. 13
    AndyPandy on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Bang on Erithian with your comments at No 8.
    I think ‘Save A Prayer’ was one of those tracks that it was almost criminal that it was not Number One being well crafted, well produced and commercial. Easily my favourite Duran single (although not song that hounour going to the single that should have been ‘The Chauffeur’… IMO one of the greatest tracks of all time…

    And re ‘Private Investigations’ what a pleasant surprise that something so undeniably atmospheric and evocative should get so high in the charts.

  14. 14
    wichitalineman on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Re 10: Ah! You beat me to the punch! Aside from the anti-climax of the four minutes or so that follow the intro, the record is gelded by the singer. “It’s the eeyyyye!!”… he sings like he’s got his shirt off but he’s tichy. He sounds like a miniature of a man, maybe standing on the bow of a ship in a bottle (except that makes it sound quite good). Oh still, small voice of irredeemable weediness.

    This is the closest we’ll get to an American AOR Popular entry, isn’t it? Barring a European pastiche and a Rock Gospel variation, that is…

    So, a quick tip of the hat to other hi-gloss, airbrushed early 80s AOR 45s that each deserved one of Survivor’s five interminable weeks at the top: Toto’s Hold The Line; John Cougar’s Jack & Diane; Jefferson Starship’s Jane; Bryan Adams’ Summer Of 69; and, one that can genuinely make me well up, REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Lovin’ You.

    Private Investigations sounded absolutely weird at the time, so queerly dated it was almost a novelty record; it would be like an unreconstructed UK Garage single reaching no.2 now. That quiet passage followed by the epic guitar? Hadn’t heard anything like that on the radio for several years; as a child of the immediate pre-punk era it was entirely new, disconcertingly like a longhair record, and an early sign that the punk wars had only been a battle won.

  15. 15
    AndyPandy on 20 Apr 2009 #

    I don’t think ‘Private Investigatins’ had an especially epic guitar sound and instead remained pretty moody and underplayed throughout – and pre or post punk I dont think anything quite like this ie almost ambient in mood had ever graced the top of the charts before.
    A classic addition to the more ambient end of Balearic spectrum – I remember hearing it in a couple of chill out sets in the late 80s and thought (stupidly in retrospect) that they should bang a few low key beats on it and release a remix when obviously that would have just destroyed a lot of what makes it so good…

    and ps it was also different to have a Geordie voice mumbling over it rather than the usual American or American-sounding Briton most tracks would have gone for..

  16. 16
    wichitalineman on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Andy, I didn’t mean to suggest it wasn’t moody and atmospheric, like the score for a neon-lit noir set in Sunderland (love interest with hair like one of Kid Creole’s Coconuts).

    Maybe ‘epic’ is the wrong word, but there’s a chunky old powerchord at 3.59 that came as an almighty shock if you first heard it, as I did, on a transistor radio, lying on my bed in a Chester youth hostel.

  17. 17
    Tom on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Yes, the singer is weedy, and the video underlines this point too, with him wearing a beret. Survivor were distinctly third-tier, I suspect.

  18. 18
    rosie on 20 Apr 2009 #

    For what it’s worth, I thought Private Investigations was wonderful then, and I still think so now. An exquisite little one-act noir drama. If it was a film it would be black-and-white, dark and moody and in soft focus.

  19. 19
    Ricardo on 20 Apr 2009 #

    “Survivor’s failure to capitalise – in (…) a (…) career sense”

    I know very well this is about the UK charts. But anyway, Billboard Hot 100’s statistics would disagree with you, Tom. “The Search Is Over” went Top 5 in 1984, “Burning Heart” (from Rocky IV, nonetheless) missed the jackpot by one place in ’85, and “Is This Love” went Top 10 somewhere around ’86/’87. All of them with a different lead singer: the one who many of us know as The Bloke Who Sang The Theme Tune To That Show Where David Hasselhoff And Pamela Anderson Preened Around On The Beach.

  20. 20
    Tom on 20 Apr 2009 #

    Fair play to Survivor then, I stand corrected!

  21. 21
    tim davidge on 20 Apr 2009 #

    #8: Yes, a rewarding run of No. 2’s, and a little further down the chart there was ABC’s final Top Ten entry, “All of my Heart”…

    I’ve got a book somewhere about “Kitsch Art”. In this book there is much of what one might expect; a certain amount of bad taste and sentimentality, a bit of political stuff, people trying it on to see if they’ll be taken seriously…and some of the most beautiful and powerful images I’ve ever seen. It occurred to me that pop music’s a bit like that.

    “All of my Heart” only got to No. 5, but the album that it (and a few other singles) came from, “A Lexicon of Love”, topped the charts. People simply bought the whole album and got that to No. 1 instead.

    Trevor Horn’s production incorporated “real” instrumental sounds alongside the synthesizers (he knew you couldn’t synthesize everything) and thus avoided the amorphous,gauzy sound that electronic production sometimes brings-you can pick out the sax, trumpet, trombone, bass, a harp…all of which give added impact to Martin Fry’s well-crafted and incisive lyrics. One of ABC’s best pieces, though, a string ensemble overture, regrouping the melodies from the whole work in classical fashion, wasn’t on the album at all but on the B-side of the above-mentioned single.

    One or two awkward moments (those familiar with contemporary Kenny Everett satire will know what I mean) but on the whole one of my favourite albums of all time.

    “Eye of the Tiger” I wouldn’t miss if I never ever heard it again.

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 21 Apr 2009 #

    “Save A Prayer” is my favourite Duran Duran single too, Julie Burchill once said it was a better Bond theme than the one they actually did.

    Nothing more to add about this other than, yes, it does start out very well and then dies after the first verse. Maybe even after the first line.

  23. 23
    peter goodlaws on 21 Apr 2009 #

    This was a passionate fave back in the day and was another prime example of my much maligned term “geezer music”. Today, when I listen to it, it annoys me but not too much to really get me ejecting my dummy from my cake hole, even though I have a personal reason for despising it now. When I was a callow youth, I used to be a member of a small health club in Devonshire Park, Eastbourne (where the ladies’ tennis tournament is played). Indeed the little brick building in which the club was housed was used as a changing room for the players and I used to remember, when I was showering down, that I was naked in the same way that Anna Kournikova had been in exactly the same place (yes, I know, I know…). One day, when I was in the club, cycling away, “Eye of the Tiger” came on and myself and the small group around me upted the ante. Great track to work out to. When it finished, on came…”Eye of the Tiger”. And then EOTT. And then that boxing record by Survivor. And then eye of the fucking tiger again. The club has since closed and I’m a member of a larger club now with several branches nationwide. I wasn’t too sorry when the Devonshire Park Fitness Centre shut, since I escaped from this darned record, and more importantly, my membership number was 666. There’s a revelation for you!

  24. 24
    fivelongdays on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Yes, I can understand if you think if the guys voice is a tad too high-pitched without being powerful – BUT! It’s got THAT intro and THAT riff and THAT chorus.

    I actually might give this 10.

  25. 25
    Tom on 21 Apr 2009 #

    #22 JB is wrong about that – “View To A Kill” (which I WILLED to #1 at the time but no dice) is perfect for the overripe decadence of late Moore Bond – and the jagged drums on it are a good fit for Miss Grace Jones’ appearance too.

    #23 This reminds me that “Tiger” is a very regular show-up in the Guardian’s “What’s Rocking Sport” feature.

  26. 26
    JonnyB on 21 Apr 2009 #

    I have a very strict rule never ever to listen to records that – possibly by no fault of their own – are chosen by the stadium PA people to celebrate a goal/point/people coming onto the pitch. Whether it is this track, ‘Simply the Best’ or the woman who constantly sings that she is ready to go. No good can come of them.

    Yes. Great introduction, switch stations when the song comes in. ‘Fame’ and then this – it is the invasion of the ubergloss.

    I quite liked ‘Private Investigations’ when I was a kid, although I suspect it was because I thought it was probably meaningful. But I still appreciate the drama. ‘Lexicon of Love’ is one of my top ‘feeling good on a Saturday morning’ records still – I didn’t really get into it until much later on, and it strikes me as the Dark Side of the Moon for the eighties in many ways.

    “I get sales talk from sales assistants – when all I want to do girl is lower your resistance” – truly, truly that is a barking mad yet wonderful lyric.

  27. 27
    snoball on 21 Apr 2009 #

    #2: “Save A Prayer” seems to me to be simultaneously trying too hard *and* not trying hard enough. The keyboard pyrotechnics versus Simon Le Bon’s vocals. I suppose that he’s trying to sound “jaded”, but he just sounds bored. Added to that, the song never really goes anywhere, there’s no tension-and-release, it just fades at the end like a deflating balloon.

  28. 28
    Glue Factory on 21 Apr 2009 #

    This is one of those records where the subsequent remix/version dominates my mind more than the original. I can’t really hear the intro without thinking “BLAM…BLAM BLAM BLAM (Craig David) BLAM BLAM BLAM”.

    As a ten-year-old, I loved this. I think it’s the American-ness that Tom talks about that does it; the fairly heavy guitars that have been polished and produced to within an inch-of-their life, it all fed my ideas of America being this big, brash, exciting place (much more so than Middlesex). Had Entertainment USA started at this point, if so I imagine it’s the sound Jonathan King would have been plugging at this time, although I’m not sure how much success he had.

    And AndyPandy, you’re right on the money about Private Investigations and Balearica. It definitely has that ill-defined quality about it.

  29. 29
    Mark M on 21 Apr 2009 #

    Re end of 28: Otherwise known as the Chris Rea factor?

  30. 30
    Billy Smart on 21 Apr 2009 #

    #26: Avoiding records played at sports stadia is generally a good rule of thumb, though I’d be sorry not to hear ‘Liquidator’, ‘Rock & Roll Part 1’ or ‘Theme From Z Cars’ again.

1 2 3 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page