Soundtrack Saturday: “Staying Alive”

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

There are a few things about this week’s post that will probably disturb most of my friends who end up reading it (though I’m not sure how many of my friends actually read anything I write, so I might be safe):

1. I’m writing about a John Travolta film.
2. I’m posting a soundtrack comprised mostly of tracks by the Bee Gees and Frank Stallone.
3. I’m admitting how much I love Staying Alive (1983).

Despite the fact I’m losing a little of my friends’ respect with each word I type, I don’t give a rat’s ass. I know it’s not cinematic genius, but Staying Alive is a 1980s dance movie. It has Cynthia Rhodes. It has Finola Hughes. Did I mention it has dancing, ’80s style? I think 1980s dance movies are second only to 1980s bad horror movies in my list of guilty-pleasure film genres; no matter how horrible they are, I’ll watch them. The costumes, the music, the hairstyles, the makeup, the bad plots and over-the-top acting — I just can’t get enough. I know, I probably need a 12-step program.

For those of you who’ve never experienced Staying Alive, let me fill you in on what you’ve been missing. Cowritten and directed by Sylvester Stallone (strange but true), it’s the sequel to Saturday Night Fever (1977). Travolta’s character, Tony Manero, is now five years older, a struggling Broadway hoofer who teaches dance classes and works as a waiter at a nightclub to make ends meet. He has an on-again, off-again romance with fellow dancer Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes), who he constantly takes advantage of and basically uses as his fallback girl when other romances don’t pan out.

One night Tony goes to see Jackie dance in a Broadway show and meets its star, a beguiling British dancer named Laura (Finola Hughes). He decides to make her his next conquest, and when he learns that she’ll be starring in “Satan’s Alley,” the upcoming show Jackie’s trying out for, he decides to go to the audition himself. They both land in the chorus, allowing Tony to continue his pursuit of Laura. They end up having a brief affair that sours quickly when Tony makes too many wrong assumptions about their relationship.

When the actor cast as the male lead ends up not working out, Tony decides to go for it, with Jackie’s encouragement, and he impresses the director enough to get a chance at the part, much to Laura’s chagrin. Every rehearsal is filled with tension as Tony and Laura engage in battle, but they manage to pull it all together and open to a packed house, making “Satan’s Alley” an instant smash. In the end, Tony fulfills his dream of Broadway success and gets the girl he wants — Jackie.

As it happens with many sequels, this one fails to meet the standard of the first film, which was a huge hit. Staying Alive doesn’t have the attention to detail or spunk of Saturday Night Fever; the story falls flat and the characters don’t connect with the audience. It just comes off as another slick 1980s dance movie. But if you don’t expect anything from it other than that, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

As I mentioned previously, the majority of the songs on the soundtrack are either by the Bee Gees or Frank Stallone, who also appears in the film as a member of the band Jackie performs with. (On VH1’s Where Are They Now? in 1999, Frank said that big brother Sly submitted his songs to Staying Alive producer Robert Stigwood during preproduction without saying who wrote them, in order to avoid any accusations of nepotism.) You’re not going to find the slew of hits that Saturday Night Fever‘s soundtrack produced — it was the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time until The Bodyguard surpassed it in the early ’90s — though “Stayin’ Alive” also shows up on the sequel’s soundtrack, as well as in the final scene of the film. The soundtrack appears to be out of print, though I don’t think you’d have to look very hard to find a used copy if you really wanted one. In addition to the regular tracks, I tried to find all the songs that didn’t make it onto the official release, but I came up short by three. Note that “Waking Up” was a duet between Frank Stallone and Cynthia Rhodes in the film, but the version I’m providing is Stallone solo. I encourage you to download these songs, put on your leg warmers and sweatband, and dance your little heart out.

The Bee Gees – The Woman in You
The Bee Gees – I Love You Too Much
The Bee Gees – Breakout
The Bee Gees – Someone Belonging to Someone
The Bee Gees – Life Goes On
The Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive
Frank Stallone – Far From Over
Tommy Faragher – Look Out for Number One
Frank Stallone and Cynthia Rhodes – I Hope We Never Change
Frank Stallone – Waking Up
Frank Stallone – Moody Girl
Cynthia Rhodes – Finding Out the Hard Way
Frank Stallone and Cynthia Rhodes – I’m Never Gonna Give You Up
Tommy Faragher – (We Dance) So Close to the Fire