We all know those iconic opening bars — and the rest of the song, for that matter. Survivor’s now-iconic number ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is a song that has stood the test of time in more ways than one. From the movies to the sports iconography, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ appears in so many places, even 40 after years after its release.
Survivor, the American rock band, was formed by Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan in Chicago. They got their start in 1978, rising to success in the ’80s with songs like their aforementioned biggest hit, along with other numbers such as ‘Burning Heart’ and ‘Ever Since the World Began’. However, it remains clear; nothing can touch the virality of ‘Eye of the Tiger’.
‘Eye of the Tiger’ is the title single taken from the band’s third album of the same name, which came out in 1982. The song was released as a single prior to its place on the album and it was accompanied by the B-side ‘Take You on a Saturday’, and almost nobody could have predicted its cultural gravity. However, there was one component that made it the perfect recipe: it was the theme song for the film Rocky III. It was the biggest film of 1982, and it cemented the song’s identity.
When discussing the origin of the song within the film, Jim Peterik said: “When we got the initial rough cut of the movie, the scene that ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ appears in was cut to ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ by Queen. Frankie and I are watching this, the punches are being thrown, and we’re going, ‘Holy crap, this is working like a charm.’ We called Stallone and said, ‘Why aren’t you using that?’ He goes, ‘Well, we can’t get the publishing rights to it.’ Frankie and I looked at each other and went, ‘Man, this is going to be tough to beat.’ We had the spirit of, ‘We’ve got to try to top this.’ I started doing that now-famous dead string guitar riff and started slashing those chords to the punches we saw on the screen, and the whole song took shape in the next three days.”
And so, they wrote the song with the film in mind. Peterik also said of the actual songwriting process, “Frankie came in with the lines, ‘Back on the street, doin’ time, taking chances.’ I loved those lines immediately and suggested, ‘Rising up, back on the street, did my time, took my chances’ to make it fit with the story line and to make the rhythm of the words fit the music I was hearing in my head. That was certainly the lyrical spark that got the song started. The next two hours flew by in a flash as we jammed, cassette recorder running nonstop to catch anything good we did for future reference, and at the end of the day, the music was about 80% complete and the lyric about 30%. Over the next few days, I worked hard on the lyrics, remembering pieces of movie dialogue like, ‘Went the distance,’ referring to the central phrase of the first Rocky movie.”
However, even with the movie in mind, seeing the success of the song was relatively unexpected, and that’s a part of the magic. In a way, the song was written for the purpose it’s taken on, and the fact that people have adopted it as such over the years is fitting.
Of hearing the song everywhere, Peterik has mentioned: “People training for boxing matches, that’s a natural, but in every sport, that song has crept into the motivational aspect of it. I never would have predicted it. It seems obvious now, but we just wrote a song for a movie. The fact that it was huge wasn’t a big surprise at the time, but what surprises me is that it’s still around.”
He continues about the track’s legacy, “It’s still credible, it’s still not a joke, even though the Starbucks commercial kind of makes it a joke. I just know there’s something in the water with that song.” That’s a great way of putting it. There certainly is something in the water. It’s in the energy of the song, and that’s just what they intended. Even with the initial surprise of the song’s hit status, it seems like one the world couldn’t live without, and I expect we’ll get another 40 years out of it.