Disco Legend Donna Summer passed away from a bout with cancer today.
Summer’s Legacy in the music industry is celebrated, but somewhat downplayed even though she broke so many barriers and records for not only black women but women in general. (Full story here)
As a child of the 80’s, I completely missed her hey-dey of the Disco laden 70’s. In the mid to late 90’s though, there was a bit of nostalgia over the Disco era in the media. On top of references in Movies and TV, there were dozens upon dozens of info-mercials selling Disco compilations. With Donna Summer being the Queen of Disco she was always mentioned which intrigued me about her music. Luckily one summer when I was 16 I was going through some of my dad’s old albums and her “Bad Girls” album stuck out to me. I had to pull out a record player from the garage, and once I heard the album it started my love affair with La Summer that lasted… well it’s still going. I read so many things about her, going to the library and getting old Magazine interviews and information about her like Billboard placements and Album and Single reviews. Yes, you could say I became light-weight obsessed with her.
What I learned was that in her Disco peak (from around 1975-1979) she and her producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte changed the industry with their sexy and elongated Disco anthems. “Love to Love You Baby”, the nearly 18 minute hedonist-fest, was her first hit single and is still remembered to this day. Back than Disco was still on the underground, but that and subsequent Summer hits quickly made Disco a mainstream sound. By the time the genre had fully emerged as the sound of the time, Donna Summer was a force to be reckoned with. 1977 saw the release of “I Feel Love”, a song that was so futuristic and revolutionary at the time it is now believed to be a precursor to both 80’s New Wave and the Electronica sound the began in the mid to late 90’s. In 1978 she scored her first #1 single with “MacArthur Park” which followed another huge Classic single “Last Dance” which earned Summer her first Grammy and also won an Oscar. Than began the unstoppable Summer train as her next three albums “Live and More”, “Bad Girls” and “On The Radio” marked the first time any artist scored 3 consecutive #1’s for double albums. “Bad Girls” earned Summer 5 total nominations at the 1980 Grammy’s, and she became the only woman to win Awards in the Rock (for #1 single “Hot Stuff”) and R&B (1979’s win for “Last Dance”) Categories.
The turn of the decade marked a real turn in priorities for Summer though. She began experimenting with more diverse sound, utlizing more rock and new wave influences as opposed to straight up Disco and R&B. Though she never regained the success of her 70’s era, she was still able to score a few big hits here and there, most famously with “She Works Hard For The Money” which became yet another iconic song. Even if people aren’t sure who sings it, most people at least know the hook verbatim. In 1991 she scored a huge dance hit with “This Time I Know It’s For Real”, and throughout the length of her career would show she was still a Queen in the Dance realm scoring #1’s on the Dance charts every few years.
Now that she’s gone, I’m sure people will be hitting up iTunes to be johnny-come-lately fans. Nothing wrong with that, she has some amazing music and people should listen and appreciate a Legend. Here are some of her Essential albums and singles.
5. Four Seasons of Love
Her first of many concept albums, this chronicles a year in love. With the beautifully funky “Spring Affair” all the way to the heartbreaking “Autumn Changes”. Summer’s early work comes off a bit one-note to be honest, but this (her fourth album) shows diversity and some vocal chops.
4. Live and More Encore
Summer’s 1999 VH1 Concert Special and the accompanying disc showed a Diva who was still in top form. She runs through a nice sampling of her Classic hits, and her voice is in full force and it’s clear she’s having fun.
3. Endless Summer
There are ENDLESS Donna Summer greatest hits available, but this was the first one I bought. Yes, most of the hits are heavily edited down to 3 or 4 minutes but it allows for more classic songs to fit on the album and give people a great preview of her work.
2. Live and More
This is one of those live albums where I really wish I was there to see everything. The crowds reactions, the staging and styling, and just the performer in action. The drawback is this tour was in support of her “Once Upon A Time” outing and right before her ultimate peak so there’s some filler here but there’s also some amazing live renditions of her biggest hits. Even songs like “Faster and Faster to Nowhere” and “I Remember Yesterday” sound so much better with the live backing, but it’s “Last Dance” “I Feel Love” “Try Me I Know We Can Make It” “Love to Love You Baby” among others that sound like perfection live.
1. Bad Girls
Summers ultimate peak came in 1979 and even though she was the Disco Queen, this album isn’t quite disco. Well not JUST disco, as there’s bits of Rock, bits of R&B and Funk, bits of the New Wave sound she flirted with on “I Feel Love” and some decent ballads. It’s a well rounded and diverse album, but also a very pleasant listen back to forth. (Get the Deluxe Edition as it includes some extended mixes of her other hits including “I Feel Love” and the entire “Macarthur Park Suite” that has since been omitted form the “Live and More” album due to time constraints)
10. Dim All The Lights
Summer admitted she wrote this for Rod Stewart but later used it herself on the “Bad Girls” album. It’s Disco on the more mellow side, with a great hook and a delicious breakdown.
9. Could It Be Magic
In the vein of “Love to Love You Baby” and other early hits, this one has sex written all over it. Especially in the extended break down where she out-does herself on the harmonic moaning of the aforementioned hit.
7. Try Me I Know We Can Make It
Such a beautiful Lush instrumentation on what is almost a 3 part song. A Very underrated single, though the 18 minute time mark probably turns people off it’s definitely one of her better songs.
6. No More Tears (Enough is Enough)
Still one of the best Diva Duets of All-Time, both Summer and Streisand are singing in top form on this upbeat Disco hit. Yet the powerhouses compliment each other so beautifully that it works much better than it probably should.
6. She Works Hard For The Money
Classic! No one will forget this song.
5. Bad Girls
“Toot Toot, hey, Beep Beep!” One of Summer’s more funky urban numbers is also her catchiest and most fun to sing a long to.
4. Hot Stuff
Her foray into Rock, funny because it’s not necessarily my favorite but it’s a truly Iconic one that most people will associate with her name for a long while.
3. I Feel Love
For it’s revolutionary and futuristic production, this is one of the more respected songs by Summer. However Moroder’s production can only go so far as Summer beautifully matches up her vocals with the new sound.
2. Love to Love You Baby
People of this generation probably associate this hit more with Beyonce (“Naughty Girl” took a huge slice of the hook), but this was Summer’s break through. She would end up resenting the sexed up image portrayed here but it’s still another one of those Iconic hits that will endure forever.
1. Last Dance
Easily her best song, lyrically vocally and production wise. It’s sexy, it’s fun, it shows off her talents more so than any of her previous hits and it’s one every one can dance to. Another song that usually is associated with the Queen, and more so for it’s overall greatness.
(“MacArthur Park” is another Essential, but aside from the glorious build up… It’s not a favorite of mine.)
Rest In Peace Donna, We Love You, We Respect You, and all prayers to your family and friends!