In 1978, Gloria Gaynor hit number ones on both sides of the Atlantic with her single I Will Survive; to date ex-girlfriends ring up at all hours, drunk and sniffling, and insist on reading the words aloud to me. Twenty-odd years later, Calfornia clever-boys Cake played their version, this time featuring deadpan hipster singing, dry, skronky guitars and a bassline I think of as a Gift from God: what d’you know, the internet has been rocking on its foundations this last decade and a half as record collecting geeks worldwide try to settle the question once and for all: Which is Better?
People have reasoned, begged, and hurled abuse; there is no consensus. Gloria Gaynor’s is either life-affirming or girly disco mush, depending on whether you’re a pasty-faced 45 collector wanking himself miserably to sleep every night, or a genuinely cool & good-looking ‘nineties boy with a head on his shoulders. Cake’s is either a vacant cash-in or a world of sophistication, wherein, once the girl leaves him, he dons a pair of shades, starts smoking cigars and wearing skinny ties, and will not dream of weeping openly as some Gaynor fans have been known to do.
It’s time to put an end to this. So, in the red corner, I have Gloria Gaynor; in the blue, John McCrea, singer and general kitchen-sink guy in Cake. It’s a fight to the death.
Gaynor sails in, breasts-first, and what a fine clip she sets. She’s got R&B lungs, that tells you something, besides, she’s Christian, and in fights to the death it’s good to have some sort of a god on your side. McCrea is scruffy, bearded, wears denim and probably eats his crisps with vinegar: truth be told, you knew from the first minute this’d end badly for him.
Being cool in California is one thing, but here our man faces a real, bona fide R&B woman who has been around for years. As with all her kind, she hasn’t merely grown: over time she has become almost planetary, hyper-mammalian. You wouldn’t pick on Aretha Franklin, would you? Wouldn’t want to call her names or stick your tongue out at her, for fear of how she might react. It’s the same with Gloria Gaynor, the lads may slap on scratchy guitar tracks and try to out-groove her, she’s turned a blind eye all these years busying herself with her prayer beads and charity work, but now she’s fucking had it.
It all ends quickly, bitterly. A finely-tuned sense of the sardonic is no use against a woman scorned, and Ms. Gaynor, whatever her shortcomings, is definitely a woman scorned. It’ll be a dark and lonely night for all the ‘nineties boys tonight.
For those who couldn’t bear to watch all the way: Gloria Gaynor thrashed John McCrea to oblivion, and was last spotted dragging him out of the artists’ entrance by his boots. A lot of pale, thinning-haired men were seen freely hugging and dabbing at their eyes with frilly handkerchiefs, whilst Cake fans are reported to have remained “detached”.
Recent accounts agree that the roast served at the annual war widows’ ball at chez Gaynor tasted more “ironic” than usual.
So it turns out that you can have your Cake and eat it too.