Track of the Day: 'I Will Survive' by Cake

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A classic cover song and great analysis from reader Lia P.:

“I Will Survive” was so identifiable with a particular time, place, and culture. When Gloria Gaynor first belted it out, it was a 1970s anthem of empowerment for women. A few years later, it was a heart wrenching self-affirmation for gay men in the darkness of the AIDS crisis. Then, Cake covered it in 1996 and transformed it again.

It starts with a rough and ragged guitar line, and John McCrea’s almost spoken word delivery grounds the lyrics, making them less aspirational than Gaynor’s. In this version, the survival is a done deal. Adding the expletive to the lyric, “I should have changed my fucking lock…” isn’t gratuitous. It asserts the total end of victimhood on the part of the singer; it’s not even a work in progress anymore.

The fact that survival, and rising from the ashes, is always a difficult journey is expressed so effectively by the raw guitar solo in the middle. But at the end, there’s a sweeping, swooping horn line that is such a satisfying representation of the new found freedom that this former victim now feels.

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