Never a bastion of coolness, mainstream rockers Survivor
burst onto the early-'80s rock music scene with the aid of a Sylvester Stallone sequel, making them seem even more like a pop music commodity. But at heart the group produced genuine, straightforward, and uniquely '80s rock songs grounded in a solid sense of craft. Relying on high, smooth lead vocals and a penchant for ballads, the band nonetheless never surrendered a crunchy guitar base that made its pop sheen more palatable.
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For some of my top songs lists, I've attempted to bypass the most ubiquitous hits of the '80s covered elsewhere on my site. But I'm not even going to pretend I ever considered that approach for Survivor, as this rousing No. 1 hit from 1982 is essential listening that deserves repetitive attention. Boasting a brilliant, iconic power-chord riff and a wonderfully bombastic vocal performance from original lead singer Dave Bickler, the tune has held a consistent place in pop culture for the quarter-century of its existence, ranging from its association with cinema's Rocky Balboa to a memorable 2004 Starbuck's TV pitch
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I've always held the opinion that this combination power ballad
/muscular rocker stands not only as Survivor's best overall effort but also as one of the finest straight-ahead musical moments of the '80s. Building from a beautifully arpeggiated acoustic guitar opening, the track explodes into hard rock glory and then tops it all off with one of the most inspiring choruses of the decade. Lead singer Jimi Jamison had been brought into the band for the recording of 1984's Vital Signs
, and though his style was not vastly different from Bickler's, he injected the right kind of limitless passion to pull this number off with flair.
Built upon the somewhat precarious metaphor of chemical intoxication as applied to matters of the heart, this synth-driven '80s classic nonetheless overflows with pop/rock majesty. As the first of three Top 10 hits in 1985 for the band, the tune revels in Survivor's peak moment of supremacy, unabashedly tossing out a big, punchy chorus and watching it stick to music fans' ears everywhere. The metaphors are clearly getting out of hand, so let me end by noting that there aren't many bands who can get away with a line like "Talkin' to myself, runnin' in the heat, beggin' for your touch in the middle of the street."
That Survivor felt comfortable enough at its peak to cross over completely into adult contemporary fare demonstrates unequivocally just how lofty the band's apex was during the mid-'80s. Even so, the pervasive electric piano strains of this somewhat uncharacteristically emasculated Survivor track didn't alienate too many fans. The song's No. 4 performance on the pop charts proved that, and I have to admit that songwriters Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan, masters as they are, manage to retain somewhat of a rock edge in the track's nifty, almost defiant bridge.
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Although this song suffers from hewing too close to the plot of Rocky IV
, the Sylvester Stallone, Cold War-themed sequel it accompanied, it's still another spirited rock anthem with catchy hooks galore (pardon the pugilist pun there). If nothing else, it sustained the momentum built by the release of the Top 20 album Vital Signs
in 1984 and the string of hits it produced the following year. In this way, despite its somewhat redundant nature both musically and thematically, this track celebrates the Survivor formula of fist-pumping guitars and ear-candy melodies. Such attributes vaulted it to No. 2 on the pop charts.
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Survivor's last Top 10 hit appeared on When Seconds Count
, the band's much-anticipated follow-up to Vital Signs
, but the death knell for such mainstream pop/rock groups had already begun to sound by 1986, with the rise of pop metal. Nonetheless, this synth-fueled, typically romantic take on infatuation certainly has its charms, benefiting most from Jamison's utterly committed vocals. Peterik and Sullivan, Survivor's founding members who penned almost all of the band's hits, are underrated songwriters, but this song provides clear evidence they may have become a bit too attached to a well-established formula.