America was feeling itself over the summer of 1982. Patriotism was riding high, with President Reagan running the White House, and Sylvester Stallone set to release Rocky III. All the summer needed was a hard rocking anthem to serve as the perfect soundtrack. The band Survivor had that sound.
"Survivor had released two albums, neither of which had done particularly well, and we were worried our label was going to drop us," the band's former keyboardist, Jim Peterik, told Guardian. "One day I came home, pressed play on the answering machine and I heard: 'Yo Jim, give me a call, it’s Sylvester Stallone.' I went: 'Yeah, right.'"
As it turns out, it was indeed Rocky himself on the other end of the line: "Stallone had said to his friend Tony Scotti [co-founder of Scotti Brothers Records] 'I’m looking for a new sound for my Rocky III movie' and Tony had played him a couple of our songs. So I’m talking to Stallone on the telephone. He said: 'I want something for the kids. Something street, something with a pulse. Can you help me out?' I told him: 'I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this since I started my career in music.'"
Stallone sent the band a rough cut of the film's opening sequence. It looked great, but it had already been set to music. Something very familiar to most listeners in the early '80s.
"Man, the energy of it – with Mr T rising up and Rocky getting soft and doing commercials," Peterik recalled. "But there was music on there already. BOMP, BOMP, BOMP – 'Another One Bites the Dust' by Queen! Stallone couldn’t get the publishing rights. I said: Frankie, we got our work cut out for us. Because 'Another One Bites the Dust' is f*cking perfect."
For guitarist Frankie Sullivan, it fell on his head to tweak the mix until it met Stallone's rigorous requirements. Sullivan had to fly solo at the studio session, with Peterik sick with pneumonia.
"So I ended up on my own, 23 years old, at the soundstage at Warner Brothers. After two days Sly said: 'It doesn’t have balls. I don’t care what the hell you do, I want it to kick ass.' All I did was push the faders up a single decibel and, boom, you could feel the difference. It was kicking and he loved it. He said: 'Print it!' I told him: 'But that’s the demo!' Sly said: 'I don’t give a f*ck what it is.' That’s his attitude. He’s a really cool guy."
Released as a single in late May 1982, just one day after Rocky III hit American movie theaters, the song exploded on radio and MTV. The movie was a box office smash. Rocketing up the charts, "Eye of the Tiger" smashed into the #1 spot for the week of July 24, 1987. It held onto the top spot for six weeks straight. The track was finally dethroned in early September by Steve Miller's "Abracadabra." At the end of the year, Billboard declared "Eye of the Tiger" as the second-most popular song of 1982, just behind Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."
Survivor and "Eye of the Tiger" went on to win the award for Best Rock Performance by Duo or Group With Vocal at the 25th Annual Grammy Awards.