Survivor (Band)

  • by Gitabushi

I’ve been listening to Survivor’s catalog lately, and they really intrigue me as a band.

First, of course, they made the song “Eye of the Tiger” for Rocky III, and it is a great song. Not a thing wrong with it.

That song also inspired one of Weird Al Yankovic’s greatest parodies, “The Rye or the Kaiser.”  Not only is it a faithful rendition, it has what I think are his most clever lyrics. They make sense, they never really repeat themselves, and they follow the pacing of the original lyrics almost perfectly.  Give it a listen while reading the rest of this article.

Survivor also had one of my all-time favorite albums, “Vital Signs.”

It has a bunch of power ballads, with sappy love song lyrics…but it has some really good guitar work, and some decent rock songs.  I loved listening to that whole album.

To be honest, I really hadn’t been a fan of “Eye of the Tiget.”  I didn’t really like the singer’s voice at the time, and I didn’t enjoy it when it came on the radio.

But after falling in love with “Vital Signs,” I decided to give them another chance.  At first, I didn’t realize it was a different singer, but it didn’t take long to learn about that. It made sense to me; I liked the Vital Signs singer (Jimi Jamison), and I didn’t like “The Eye of the Tiger” singer (Dave Bickler).

But I liked the guitar work, and since I really like guitar, I found their self-titled first album at a half-price book/music store, and enjoyed it, despite Dave Bickler being the singer.  When the digital age arrived, I also got “Caught in the Game” in .mp3s.  Somewhere along the line I ended up with their entire catalog in .mp3s, but for some reason, the “Caught in the Game” album was really the only one I listened to.

There are a crapton of great songs, great hooks, and great guitar riffs on those three albums (Vital Signs, Survivor, and Caught in the Game).  But I never really listened to the rest.

Now I have.

Good Gosh Almighty, there are a crapton of great songs, great hooks, and great guitar riffs on all their albums.

They aren’t a truly great band, but they are a very good band.

They never quite stray into Heavy Metal, but they get close. The guitar tone on most of the songs is impeccable. It rarely sounds overproduced, usually sounds raw and real.  The drums are always good. The vocals are always good, and Jimi Jamison is especially expressive.

The first four albums are straight ahead hard rock, with few ballads, if any.  Then Jimi came on board, starting their power ballad era, but as I said before, they still have a rock edge, and great guitar work.  Still, “When Seconds Count,” was even more Power Ballad-y than Vital Signs, and wasn’t much of a hit. I think it is because power ballads sell singles, at the expense of albums and band identity.  Think of how much Journey gained *and* lost with “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.”

“Too Hot to Sleep” is a return to their rock roots, and while the album had no hits I can think of, it really is a solid album. Thoroughly enjoyable to anyone who liked hard rock.  Again, bordering on hair metal, but never quite crossing the line.

Then “Reach” is more like “When Seconds Count.” Peterik had left the band, Jimi had returned as the singer, and Sullivan was writing with other people (including Brian Smallwood). It’s not a bad album. It includes two songs sung by Sullivan that were pretty good.  It just lacks the edge “Too Hot to Sleep” and the early albums.

But it also made me curious.

I had noticed “Peterik/Sullivan” writing credits on a Tommy Shaw album.  I saw Peterik writing credits elsewhere. So I went back and looked at the writing credits for the earlier Survivor albums, and they are *all* “Peterik/Sullivan.”

I knew that Peterik had also been in a previous band. He was the songwriter, lead singer, and lead guitarist of “The Ides of March”, which did the song “Vehicle.” If you are giving me a blank look, I’m 90% sure you know the song, you just don’t know the band or the name.

Try: “I want you! I need you! I got to got to have you! Great God in Heaven, you know I love you!”

You know, this one:

So did Peterik do the music, and Sullivan the lyrics?  Or the other way around? Or some other arrangement?

I did some more research, and Peterik also wrote or co-wrote a bunch of .38 Special songs: “Rocking into the Night”, “Hold on Loosely”, “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys”, and “Caught up in You.”

As it turns out, “Rocking into the Night” was a Survivor song; they played it live and it always went over well, but their manager wouldn’t put it on an album, said it was “too southern rock, too boogie woogie” for Survivor. But the song made its way to .38 Special’s management, and they recorded it.  Before Survivor had their own hit in “Eye of the Tiger,” “Rocking into the Night” was a smash hit for .38 Special.  It created a lot of friction in Survivor: the rest the band blamed Peterik for some reason, and it only got worse when he continued collaboration with the other band. Each hit .38 Special scored, the members of Survivor felt were stolen from their own band.

I also read a few interviews with Peterik taking all the credit for writing songs that had them both credited.

So who actually wrote the songs?

The decency of the material on “Reach” indicates Frankie Sullivan had some songwriting ability.

But Frankie Sullivan was also clearly jealous. The only remaining original member of Survivor, he sued Jamison, Bickler, and Peterik at various times for touring with some mention or artwork from Survivor.

That seems petty, perhaps, but might it be justified?

One of the things to keep in mind is that when everyone around you is an asshole, remember that the common element between them all is YOU.

So I kept reading interviews. There aren’t many with Frankie Sullivan.

But you can sometimes get a sense of the truth in how stories shift and change over time. And from a harmony of all the stories, as related by Jim Peterik, I began to get a sense:

Frankie Sullivan was obsessively devoted to his understanding of Survivor as a brand and a business. He had a good sense of what would sell, what could become popular. He had talent as a songwriter, editor, and producer.

But Jim Peterik was both truly skilled *and* prolific as a songwriter.

Both of them could compose songs, and both of them could come up with really good lyrics.  But, say, 80% was Peterik and 20% was Sullivan.  Although the 20% Sullivan contributed was probably what made the difference between a song being “meh” and “really good” to “great”.

Peterik needed someone to work with, someone to hone his offerings into better songs. Peterik was also good at improving someone else’s work.  But maybe he couldn’t really work well alone.

And Sullivan couldn’t come up with a complete song on his own.  He needed a mass of original material that he could edit and refine down into great songs.

They were a good team, but had a lot of conflict.  Just like Schon/Perry, Shaw/DeYoung, Dokken/Lynch, Dubrow/Everyone else, Lennon/McCartney.

The conflict yielded some good albums, some great songs, and some awesome music.

I highly recommend their music if you like hard wrong with good lyrics.

Bonus/Aside:

Peterik worked with Kelly Keagy (drummer/singer of Night Ranger, a band with a Peterik-like main songwriter in Jack Blades) for Keagy’s solo album “I”m Alive,” which features Reb Beach on guitar, and is a really good album:

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