Originally released as the B-side to a cover version of the Righteous Brothers song "Substitute", "I Will Survive" became a worldwide hit for Gaynor when disc jockeys played that side of the record instead. New copies of the record were eventually pressed with "I Will Survive" as the A-side ("Substitute" itself peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart in October 1978, equaling to number 107 on the Billboard Hot 100chart).
As a disco number, the song was unique for its time by virtue of Gaynor's having no background singers. And, unlike her first disco hits, the track was not pitched up to make it faster and to render Gaynor's recorded voice in a higher register than that in which she actually sang. Most disco hits at the time were heavily produced, with multiple voices, overdubs, and adjustments to pitch and speed. "I Will Survive" had a much more spare and "clean" sound.
The song received the Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording in 1980, the only year the award was given. It is ranked #492 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", and ranked at #97 on Billboard magazine's "All-Time Hot 100". In 2000, the song was ranked #1 in VH1's list of the 100 greatest dance songs.