Saturday Night Fever, Punk and Bombed Out!
Above Photo: John Travolta as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.
In an effort to tidy up the manuscript, I chopped out some paragraphs in the final draft of my Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!
One of them included comment on the massive worldwide success of the 1978 Disco film, Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta.
Interestingly, some themes in the film, albeit articulated through a Disco soundtrack, also resonated as driving forces behind Punk’s appeal to many back then: a going-nowhere kid in a dead-end job looking for something to help him deal with his life and to hedonistically break out of it.
The film ‘s soundtrack (which the film was promoted on the back of) was an authentic Disco playlist, including the Bee Gee’s Night Fever single.
I remember enjoying the film when I saw it, even though it was a galvanising event for Disco Decadence, which was then fighting a turf war with Punk and New Wave in New York.
Studio 54 lay only a few blocks away from Max’s Kansas City and a cab ride from CBGBs, both of which were in their Punk heydays when Studio 54 opened in 1977 – a seminal year for The Punk Revolution in the UK too.
It’s interesting looking at the charts around the time Saturday Night Fever got to Number One in the UK in April 1978, because a surprising number of Punk and New Wave bands were also charting.
Even the Vibrators had a chart entry, with Automatic Lover. This should not be confused with a song of exactly the same name by Dee D Jackson which also charted at around the same time – which neatly illustrates the musical divide afflicting the UK charts back then (see You Tube links below.)
Interestingly, in the same week Night Fever got to Number One, below it in the Top 30 stood a number of Punk and New Wave singles: The Boomtown Rats (She’s so Modern), Blondie (Denis), Squeeze (Take Me I’m Yours), Elvis Costello (I Don’t Wanna Go To Chelsea) and Patti Smith (Because The Night).
From a Disco versus Punk perspective, the UK charts were already a battleground by the time Saturday Night Fever appeared. That battle continued into 1979, when Ian Dury knocked The Village People’s YMCA off the top of the Charts with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.
As mentioned in Bombed Out!, I believe the amount of over-produced, pretentious musical rubbish clogging up the British charts in the 1970s made people look in despair for an alternative. And that alternative for many, and especially for me, was the exuberant, energising, stripped-back, under-produced DIY music of the Punk Movement.
I never thought Night Fever was rubbish when it came out, although I hated it all the same. But set to this video it brilliantly captures a time and a place.