The original recording of this classic song in 1956 was by one William Edgar John, or Little Willie John, as he was only 5ft 4 inches tall, unfortunately he was jailed for manslaughter and died in prison at the age of thirty, so Little Willie had a tragic life. When Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley wrote the song it wasn’t coronavirus that inspired them, but passionate love, and Fever would find its ultimate interpreter in Norma Deloris Egstrom, better known as Peggy Lee, who recorded the song in 1958 for a top ten US hit. Lee was a bluesy jazz singer who invested the song with a burning sensuality that started with finger snaps and was punctuated by a smouldering bassline and resonant percussion, a stripped-back accompaniment for Peggy’s come-hither vocals “chicks were born to give you fever, be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade…”. She was a genuine triple-threat in her day, who wrote and sang the theme songs for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, voiced other characters in the film as well, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie Pete Kelly’s Blues.
This female-empowerment anthem from 1979, with its stirring lyrics about overcoming life’s challenges, would certainly help people right now in the time of COVID-19, but it was actually written by a man, Dino Fekaris, who had just been sacked by Motown Records after seven years with Detroit’s House of Hits, and was feeling the angst. Fekaris collaborated with another ex-Motown writer /producer Freddie Perren who had written hits for the Jackson 5 and they formed their own production company. Gloria Gaynor had already made the charts with a disco genre hit five years before in 1974 with Never Can Say Goodbye, when her manager lined up a recording session with Fekaris and Perren. Two songs were recorded, I Will Survive was to be the B-side of the record as stipulated by Gaynor’s label Polydor, the so-called A-side was aptly titled Substitute, which it was when it stiffed at #107 on the charts, and Polydor had to hastily flip the sides and promote I Will Survive which had become a disco dance floor favourite, and quickly climbed to #1. With global sales of 14 million and a Grammy Award, it is rated as the best disco anthem in the history of popular music, and has inspired many punchlines, for example “I woke up last night to find the ghost of Gloria Gaynor standing at the foot of my bed ”At first I was afraid…then I was petrified…”