Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder: Survivor

Survivor is one band that has it doubly rough. Not only is it regarded as a one-hit wonder by much of the public, more people know them as the Eye Of The Tiger band than by actual name. Mention Survivor to most people and the reality show is the first thing to come to mind.

But is “Eye Of The Tiger” Survivor’s only hit? Not quite. In fact, they had several other hits.

Survivor formed in 1979. The Chicago based rock band released its first album (self titled) that same year. That first album was followed by Premonition in 1981. Neither album was a smash. But Premonition spun off the minor (it made it to 33) hit “Poor Man’s Son”.

Sylvester Stallone heard “Poor Man’s Son” as he was about to make Rocky III. He’d wanted to get Queen;s “Another One Bites The Dust” for use in his movie. But he couldn’t get the rights. So he contacted Survivor and asked them to write a song for it. The resulting song was “Eye Of The Tiger”.

“Eye Of The Tiger” made it to number one in the summer of 82. In addition to Rocky IIII it was also used as the title theme to a relatively forgotten 1986 vigilante film of the same name starring Gary Busey

As I pointed out elsewhere on this site, it was later spoofed by Weird Al and was recently used in a Starbucks commercial.

Later on that same year, Survivor made it to 17 with “American Heartbeat”.

So that was 2 hits in 1982 for Survivor. But they wouldn’t stop there. No, not even a personnel change would derail this train.

In 1983, lead vocalist Dave Bickler left citing voice problems. Jimi Jamison took his place. Jamison had a voice that was well-suited for ballads, which was appropriate as that was the direction Survivor would take.

In 1984 Survivor would do another movie theme with “THe Moment Of Truth” from the original Karate Kid. This only made it to 63. But no need to panic, for hits would soon come.

First up was the power ballad “I Can’t Hold Back” which made it to 13 in December 1984.

This was followed a few months later by “High On You” another power ballad which made it all the way to 8, despite drug allusions in the title.

Going even higher than that was the next one, a ballad with no power just a plain old one. That being “The Search Is Over” which made it to number 4 and is still a staple on soft rock and adult contemporary radio stations.

Having scored a number one with a Rocky theme, Survivor tried to see if lightning would strike twice. In 1985, they contributed the song “Burning Heart” to the Rocky IV soundtrack.

“Burning Heart” made it all the way to number 2. But it hasn’t aged nearly as well as “Eye Of The Tiger” mainly on account of the over the top and very dated lyrics, with their references to the Cold War.

Survivor would score one more big hit in 1986. “Is This Love” (not the Whitesnake song which became a big hit not long after) went all the way to number 9.

But that was their last big hit. They would score a few more minor hits for the rest of the 80s. But by the end of the decade they were pretty much forgotten, banished to the nostalgia circuit.

So yes, as shown above, Survivor had several big hits. But the only song people really identify with them nowadays is “Eye Of The Tiger”. Hence their being erroneously pegged as one-hit wonders. The most likely reason for this is that their moment in the spotlight was so brief and their sound didn’t really have a whole lot to distinguish it amidst the corporate rock of the era. Unlike many of their 80s contemporaries (Journey, Bon Jovi, Hall And Oates even Asia to an extent) they haven’t managed to keep themselves relevant or pick up new followers in successive generations. So that’s why when people say Survivor nowadays, the first response is: “Who should be voted off the island”?

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Posted on April 13, 2014, in Music, Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Another great entry,

    Eye of the Tiger is such a great song. Of course I have a great deal of nostalgia for it. But I think it stands up on its own. Music can take you back to certain memories. But few songs take me back to a specific place and time like Eye of the Tiger. Whenever I hear it, I am instantly transported back to the arcade at the local YMCA which was filled with classic games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. We didn’t have money to play, so I just watched other kids. And it seemed like Eye of the Tiger was always playing on the stereo. I can still smell the chlorine.

    Another song like that is Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians What I Am. Takes me right back to the student center during my freshman year, There was a jukebox that played that song non-stop. And I never got sick of it.

    Back to Survivor, I don’t think I actually saw any of those videos. Didn’t they do some with footage from Rocky III or IV? The video for The Moment of Truth makes me want to rewatch Karate Kid. I can feel my Elisabeth Shue crush stirring. I forgot how adorable she was in that movie. I can see why my younger self was so infatuated with her.

    I also remember enjoying Survivor’s later ballads. And yet, I had forgotten about them completely. If anyone had asked, I probably would have agreed that Survivor was a one-hit wonder even though I liked several of these songs in the 80s. I think the change in lead singers probably has a lot to do with that. It sounds like a different band.

    As an big fan of Survivor the TV show, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name is “the tribe has spoken”. Still love Eye of the Tiger though.


    • While promoting Rocky Balcoa in 2006, Sylvester Stallone explained the origins of the song Eye Of The Tiger to…… “I’ve been walking around with the phrase, “Eye Of The Tiger”, in my head for many years, and eventually wrote it into ROCKY III. They were a new group, and I gave the script to a producing team and label called Scotti Brothers, who owned the group Survivor. They pulled the phrase out of the script and wrote the song. When I first heard it, I couldn’t believe my ears – it was too good to be true. I played it for a group of Teamsters and said “Tell me if I’m crazy – is this great or what?” They said, “We love it.” This is one time when a pig and a poke morphed into a pearl.”

      Interesting that Survivor culled the song title from a line of dialogue in the ROCKY III screenplay, even the song title itself is great. And I love hearing Stallone’s initial reaction to hearing the song for the first time on-set, it sounds like he was blown away by it and had to get other reactions just to make sure it wasn’t just him thinking this was an outright great song.

      Funny that this article came up today, strangely I was just having a conversation with a buddy of mine about what the greatest 80’s songs from movies are, and after some debate I put Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger at #1, and Huey Lewis And The News’ The Power Of Love at #2. It’s a great song, no wonder it spent 6 weeks at #1 back in ’82.


    • I agree, two major reasons why so many regard Survivor as a One Hit Wonder was because they not only changed lead singers right after Eye Of The Tiger, but they also changed their sound, going from a rock band (because Eye of The Tiger does rock), to a more soft-rock ballady sound. To this day, on radio stations that play 80’s era music I still sometimes hear Eye of The Tiger, High On You, and The Search Is over get airplay. The ballads don’t even sound like the same band that did Eye, so I can understand most people not realizing yes it’s Survivor on those ballads too. This is a case where I understand the misconception of One Hit Wonder.

      I’d say my second favorite Survivor song would be The Moment Of Truth from Karate Kid, the song works very well in the film, I’ve always been a bit surprised the song didn’t catch on at radio back then, it was certainly catchy enough to become a hit.


      • Yeah it is strange that song didn’t break out more than it did.


      • jeffthewildman

        Indeed. I wonder if the sound switch was simply because Jamison was better at ballads than rockers or if they felt that the era of that kind of anthemic rock was coming to an end (aside from pop metal) and it made sense to target themselves more at the more lucrative adult contemporary audience. Either way, they sound like 2 completely different bands. Unlike their 80s contemporaries Toto who sounded the same even as they changed singers several times.


        • Don’t forget that many of their contemporaries were having their biggest hits with ballads. Styx had their first #1 with “Babe.” Foreigner had the biggest hits of their career with “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” The same is true of Journey’s power ballads “Who’s Crying Now” and “Open Arms.” These romantic songs added a female audience to what were otherwise mostly guy-centric rock bands and the results spoke for themselves.


        • It was definitely the trend at the time.


  2. Sad news you guys, one of the members of the band has just left us:


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