Long before the hyped-up television phenomenon, Survivor was the name of a band. Yeah, a little band that had a little hit – I don’t know if you’ve heard of it – called “Eye of the Tiger”! This song was written specifically for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky III and truly made that movie what it is.
This song is fun, strong, and full of fresh energy. It’s also super-inspiring and has to be one of the best workout songs ever. But what about the meaning behind “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor? Let’s take a deeper look at this song to find out what it’s all about.
Who is Survivor?
Before we jump into the song, it’s a good idea to get an understanding of the band that wrote it. Survivor is a band that was started back in 1978 by Jim Peternik (Ides of March, Chase, Jim Peternik Band) and Frankie Sullivan (Mariah), two musicians from Illinois.
They met and hit it off. So, they quickly recruited Dave Bickler (Jamestown Massacre) as a lead singer, and Dennis Johnson and Gary Smith from Chase on the bass and drums, respectively.
The band would change their line-up frequently. Dismissing members who couldn’t keep up with their intense recording and touring schedule or those whose styles didn’t match well with the band. The list of past members is about as long as your arm.
A lead singer is a pretty important part of any band…
So, it’s strange that Survivor repeatedly flipped back and forth between two singers – Dave Bickler and Jimi Jamison – over the years. They also had Robin McAuley for a while, and their current singer is Cameron Barton.
Despite being in the game since their first album, Survivor, in 1979, this band has only released eight studio albums. Their latest, Reach, came out in 2006. Instead, the band has focused more on intensive touring both in the US and around the globe.
This Rock band has won a Grammy Award, sold a double platinum record, and played thousands of concerts globally.
The History of “Eye of the Tiger”
If you want to know the meaning behind “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, there are a few references to look at. The first is in the band’s name itself.
Jim Peternik was a member of the band Ides of March, which had a hit with their song “Vehicle” back in 1970. However, this band fell apart, and many of the members didn’t continue in the music business. But Peternik did and was called a survivor by his contemporaries.
This idea stuck and became a major part of his identity…
And, of course, the name of his new project. Aside from the name Survivor, the term is also a focus of the lyrics for “Eye of the Tiger”. Furthermore, the original name for this song was “Survival,” but that was changed at the last minute.
The words “survive” and “survivor” are still in the lyrics, however, and this is one major theme of “Eye of the Tiger”. The other main thing to remember is how this song was created in the first place.
Survivor had put out two albums by 1981…
The second album, Premonition (a very apt title though they didn’t know it at the time), included the minor hit “Poor Man’s Son”. This song had a strong beat, punchy guitar chords, and a driving bassline, and showed off Bickler’s strong voice at the time.
It was a great premonition of things to come. The song had a slight Disco feel and a Rock edge that caught the attention of none other than Sylvester Stallone.
Sly had already found huge success with his first two Rocky movies…
So, he was looking to continue the franchise with Rocky III. If you don’t remember, that’s the one where he battles James Lang (Mr. T) for the heavyweight title, with the help of his once rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Stallone wanted to use Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” but that deal didn’t work out.
Instead, he contacted Survivor and asked them to produce a theme song for his upcoming film. Furthermore, he sent them the first 10 minutes to inspire them to write a song. Survivor sent him a couple of songs to consider, but the one that he chose – thank goodness he did! – was “Eye of the Tiger”.
It was the perfect fit for his film…
The movie is about Rocky finding out that his manager, Mickey, hand-picked easy fights for him to let him keep his championship. James Lang challenges him and also assaults Mickey, which leads to his death.
SPOILER ALERT (for a 40-year-old movie!?) – Lang beats him to a pulp and wins the championship. However, Apollo Creed offers to help Rocky train and become the fighter he once was, and he takes back his belt. So, this film is very much about being down and out but coming back to win – being a survivor.
The Meaning of “Eye of the Tiger”
This song is about both endurance and redemption…
It refers to being down and out and then coming back to succeed. But, of course, it’s not specifically about boxing, and this message can be applied to anything in life.
It’s also about being hard, vicious, and even ferocious in your quest for success. This is the meaning of the “Eye of the Tiger”. The song says that to succeed, you need to have the singular focus and determination of a tiger.
But not just on a normal hunt. This is a tiger fighting against the threat of a rival for control of its territory and, ultimately, its entire life. It’s a very strong image, and it’s the reason why the line “the eye of the tiger” has stuck so well in the collective consciousness.
This song is all about fighting to get and keep what’s yours…
It’s about pushing yourself relentlessly to succeed, and it’s about never giving up. That made it the perfect song for Rocky III. As well as an incredible inspiration for anyone with a big goal in mind, whether that is career success, fitness, or just trying to hold a very complicated life together.
The Music Behind “Eye of the Tiger”
Yes, the lyrics for this song are big and bold. But they wouldn’t mean half what they do without the inspiring music to back them up and fill them with passion. Luckily, Survivor nailed it with this song.
Their past work and the state of music at the time greatly influenced this song. At the end of the 70s and into the 80s, Disco was slowly disappearing from the spotlight and dissolving into the bigger ocean of Rock Music. But you can still hear a little Disco influence here, especially in the dancey drum beat and the thudding bassline.
This song starts with one of the most dramatic intros in music history. The first thing you hear is a staccato, muted, distorted guitar that almost reminds you of a machine gun. Then, huge guitar chords and cymbal crashes (Duh! Duh-duh-duh!) come in and make this intro epic.
In the verses…
The guitar and bass continue while Peternik’s keyboard part fills out the sound and creates drama. Then there’s the chorus with such a great hook that it’s impossible not to sing along to. The guitar hits big chords and follows the soaring vocals through to the end of the chorus, giving it great energy.
And speaking of energy…
Dave Bickler sings this song perfectly. He keeps the verses bright and strong but adds more energy in the chorus, where his voice soars up and very nearly roars like a tiger.
The beat and staccato guitar have the pulse of someone practically marching down the street with a single-minded stride. And the big guitar chords hit like boxing gloves raining down on an opponent.
So, the music was a perfect illustration of the action in the Rocky III film, making it one of the most memorable moments in movie-music history.
The Legacy of “Eye of the Tiger”
Survivor has eight albums under their belt and 40 years as a band. They wrote and recorded other theme songs, like “The Moment of Truth” for 1984’s The Karate Kid and “Burning Heart” for Rocky IV in 1985. But, they simply never again achieved the success that “Eye of the Tiger” brought them.
This song was an unadulterated success…
The original demo version was used in the film Rocky III. Afterward, a professional studio version was recorded for Survivor’s album, Eye of the Tiger.
This track got tons of airplay and video play, enough that it shot up to #1 in the charts and stayed there for six weeks. The record has been certified double platinum, having sold over two million physical units and over four million downloads worldwide.
“Eye of the Tiger” won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal in 1983, cementing Survivor’s musical legacy. Since then, the band has toured extensively and played this song at nearly every concert in their history.
Interested in the Meaning Behind Other Famous Songs?
If so, check out our thoughts on The Meaning Behind “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams, The Meaning Behind “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” By Tom Petty, The Meaning Behind “When Doves Cry” by Prince, the Meaning Of ‘American Pie’ Song Lyrics, and The Meaning Behind “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson for more insights.
Also, you’ll need to listen to those tunes. So, have a look at our reviews of the Best Earbuds for Running, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, the Most Comfortable Earbuds, the Best iPhone Earbuds, the Best Skullcandy Earbuds, and the Best Sound Quality Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
The Meaning Behind “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor – Final Thoughts
Survivor is a band that has managed to survive for 40 years in the music industry. This is thanks in no small part to the incredible favor Sylvester Stallone did for them, asking them to write a song for his film Rocky III.
But, the band did the hard work themselves. First, by writing “Eye of the Tiger”, then taking this song with them around the world.
Simply put, this song is epic…
It has one of the best intros of any rock song ever. And it has to be on anyone’s list of the Top 10 most motivating songs ever.
So, next time you have a big obstacle in front of you, like a tough job to finish or a workout you have to push yourself to complete, throw this song on and get focused with the eye of the tiger.
Until next time, happy listening.