#1394: Born To Be Alive by Patrick Hernandez
Peak Month: August 1979
12 weeks on CKLG’s Vancouver Chart
Peak Position ~ #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #16
Billboard Year-End 1979 Top 100 ~ #70
YouTube: “Born To Be Alive”
Lyrics: “Born To Be Alive”
Patrick Pierre Hernandez was born in the northern Paris suburb of Le Blanc-Mesnil, within Seine-Saint-Denis in 1949. By the 1960s Patrick Hernandez had developed a keen interest in music. By the 70s he was touring with some French In the early ’70s Patrick Hernandez became a session musician. He joined the pop-rock band Paris Palace Hôtel. Later in the mid-70s Hernandez met arranger, guitarist and vocalist Hervé Tholance and the pair began to collaborate. They backed/supported the careers of French folk-country guitarist/singer Francis Cabrel who released his first studio album in 1977; And Parisian pop-rock singer Laurent Voulzy who released his first album in 1979. The pair later helped launch the Toulouse-based French group Gold, who went on to have five hit singles land in the Top Ten France’s pop charts between 1984 and 1987. Meanwhile, Hernandez released his first single in 1978 in France titled “I Give You Rendez-Vous”.
His second single was “Born To Be Alive”. Though first conceived in 1975 as a hard rock song, Patrick Hernandez and his producer, Jean Vanloo, decided to now record the single in the disco genre.
“Born To Be Alive” was written by Patrick Hernandez in 1975. He told a reporter years later about the point of the song: “All of us were born, but few of us get to live an intense life – this song is really about living your life to the fullest. That’s an important message. I wrote this song for somewhat special reasons – its title could pass for a pleonasm, albeit one that opened rather nice doors. I saw people around me living half their life, and not concretely, and that’s not in my character. Hence, this was a kind of reaction to this inertia of those around me.” The song was initially called “Born to Be Wild”, but since that was the title of a hit record from 1968 by Steppenwolf, Hernandez changed the lyrics and the title. He recalls, “The word ‘alive’ appealed to me.”
In 1975 no record company was interested in releasing the song. When Hernandez appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1979, he told Clark “I wrote ‘Born to be Alive’ four years ago, and it was a rock and roll version, and now its disco.” When “Born To Be Alive” was picked up in 1978, the record company was so afraid “Born To Be Alive” wouldn’t be a hit they decided not to have Patrick Hernandez’ photo on the jacket cover of the single. Dick Clark noted in his interview with Hernandez, “Patrick is an Irish name, Hernandez is Spanish, you are French, singing in English with an international hit, popular everywhere all over the world.” The song was also recorded in Belgium.
“Born To Be Alive” peaked at #1 in Honolulu and Ottawa (ON), #2 in Los Angeles, Bangor (ME) and Boston, #3 in Hamilton (ON), #4 in Chicago and Denver, #5 in El Paso (TX), #6 in San Francisco, Milwaukee (WI) and Miami, #7 in San Bernardino (CA) and Akron (OH), and #8 in Philadelphia. In Vancouver (BC) “Born To Be Alive” climbed to number-one on August 8, 1979, and stayed at the top of the chart for six weeks. The single stalled at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. However, since it spent 19 weeks on the Hot 100 – including eleven in the Top 40 – it managed to land in position #70 for the 1979 Year-End Top 100 on Billboard.
Since “Born To Be Alive” only peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100, but climbed to number-one in Vancouver (BC), it would normally be included in the regular part of this website’s Countdown, and not a bonus song review. However, a second filter is in play for determining what songs end up on the Countdown. If a song placed on a Year-End Top 100 published by Billboard magazine, an additional calculation was applied, in which case songs in the Top 80 positions were exempt from the Countdown. By placing at Song #70 on the Billboard Year-End Top 100 for 1979, “Born To Be Alive” did just a bit too well in the USA to be ranked based on the first mathematical calculation used for inclusion of songs on this website Countdown. Instead, “Born To Be Alive” is one of a few “bonus” songs reviewed here, and listed as Song #1394. If “Born To Be Alive” had ranked lower on the Billboard Year-End chart for 1979 (for example at #85 or lower for the year) it would have ended up being Song #9 on this website’s Countdown. However, “Born To Be Alive” is only one of many songs that ended up being cut from the main list of songs on the Countdown, due to a Year-End ranking.
Other examples, such as “Misunderstanding” by Genesis peaked at #2 in Vancouver, but stalled at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Nonetheless, Billboard ranked “Misunderstanding” at #71 for the Year-End Top 100 in 1980.
Internationally, “Born To Be Alive” peaked at number-one in France, Belgium, Australia, Austria, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Mexico and New Zealand. The song earned its first gold record in Italy, then in France. In France “Born To Be Alive” spent 15 non-consecutive weeks at number-one between March 2 and July 6, 1979. According to Wikipedia, by the end of 1979 “Born To Be Alive” had earned Patrick Hernandez 52 gold and platinum record awards from over fifty countries.
While getting ready to tour in the USA on the strength of his international hit single, Hernandez and Vanloo held auditions in Paris for dancers to accompany his tour. One of the dancers chosen was Madonna Louise Ciccone, who a few years later became the pop sensation Madonna. She recalled in 1984: “You know the singer Patrick Hernandez? His producers brought me over to Paris – they were going to make me a singing star. […] I auditioned to be a backup singer with Patrick Hernandez when he had a big record called ‘Born To Be Alive’… remember that?”
A followup single “Disco Queen” was released in the winter of 1979. It foundered in the face of the disco craze burning out, although it made the Top 30 on the Belgian pop chart. A subsequent single titled “Back To Boogie” made it to #11 on the pop chart in France, and the Top 40 in the Netherlands and Germany. But the next four single releases in 1980 all were commercial flops. In 1981 Patrick Hernandez released his third studio album Goodbye. The title track made the Top 40 on the Belgian pop chart. In 1983 a single titled “Tallulah” appeared on the pop chart in France with modest success.
Patrick Hernandez released a re-mix of “Born To Be Alive” in 1988 which was a Top 20 hit in the Netherlands. In a 2017 interview Patrick Hernandez told a French paper, “Too much disco kills disco. So, at one point, we had become persona non grata in TV, radio, disco… Everywhere! When you are at a moment sitting on the roof of the world before being nothing the next moment, you can lose your footing and go very far in the negative sides that are offered to us in showbiz.”
In his interview with France TV Channel 2 in 2017, Patrick Hernandez told them that all these decades later he still gets between $1,250 and $2,400 (Canadian) a year from royalties on the song as a result of digital downloads, use in commercials, inclusion in movies and TV shows.
August 12, 2020
“List of Number-One Singles of 1979 (France),” Wikipedia.org.
“List of Number-One Hits of 1979 (Italy),” Wikipedia.org.
“List of Number-One Singles of 1979 (Spain),” Wikipedia.org.
“List of Number-One Hits of 1979 (Germany),” Wikipedia.org.
“List of Number-One Singles in Australia During the 1970s,” Wikipedia.org.
“List of Number-One Singles in 1979 (New Zealand),” Wikipedia.org.
“Born To Be Alive – Weekly Charts,” Wikipedia.org.
Norwegian Record Chart, “VG-Lista 1964 to 1994,” Wikipedia.org.
“List of Number-One Singles and Albums in Sweden,” Wikipedia.org.
France 2 Television, “Stars 80″ : “Born to Be Alive”, le Tube de Patrick Hernandez est Toujours Bien Vivant dans l’esprit du Public,” November 27, 2017.
“How Patrick Hernandez’ Born To Be Alive Soundtracked The Last Days of Disco…,” 909originals.com, July 13, 2020.
“Interview with Patrick Hernandez,” American Bandstand, September 22, 1979.
“CKLG Top 20,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 15, 1979.
“CKLG Top 20,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, September 12, 1979.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.