BY NIK A RAMLI
For DUNIA Magazine, October 2013
Donna Summer was the First Lady Of Love who dominated the disco charts in the 1970s. A singer who delivered the genuine seductive sound with ‘Love To Love You Baby’ which continues to be celebrated. She was the woman behind the female anthem ‘She Works Hard For The Money’ in the 1980s and she was also an icon in the global pop music world; she was much more than just the Queen Of Disco for the disco era!
The book ‘Donna Summer The Thrill Goes On’ described her as follows:
“… a singing sensation who brings joy to all music lovers, a gifted individual and major figure in the entertainment world whose colourful melodies and tales stay eternally in every fan’s heart.”
Donna Summer once sang “… let yourself go freely and I’ll show you things that you’ve dreamed of…”. It’s a tough choice to make but these are the 25 tracks by Donna Summer that I consider to be ‘must hear’ songs. These melodies are a testament to what an incredible and “truly versatile and inspirational singer and song writer” she was. So let’s ‘Dim All The Lights’ and enjoy the voyage.
25) ‘Bad Girls’ from the album Love To Love You Donna, 2013.
This is one of Donna Summer’s classic songs that has been remixed for 2013. The new version works as an introduction of Donna Summer’s legacy to a younger generation. Even though this remix loses a little bit of the funky rhythm from the original track, the new face-lift brings freshness and a laid-back feel to her classic!
24) ‘Virgin Mary’ from the single Virgin Mary, 1975.
A great track and a collector’s item, this is a song Summer released in Europe just before her disco superstardom. The song was actually about the local town gossips. It happened to a beautiful woman who was abused by the town’s folks simply because they believed in the tittle-tattle they heard. They disapproved of her naughty lifestyle it seems but, when they found out more about her, the folks named her ‘Virgin Mary’.
23) ‘Lush Life’ from the album Donna Summer, 1982.
This jazz cover would fit in perfectly in any jazz collection. The record justified the effort and the attention to detail of the producer, Quincy Jones, and Summer’s hard work in the studio. It is not easy to cover classic jazz standards and it was reputed to be one of the hardest studio sessions for Summer, but it was indeed worthwhile. The Queen Of Disco sings jazz.
Donna Summer was the sole composer and lyricist for this track. It showcased the sentimental side to her rock ‘n’ roll persona with a more guitar rock-based style. She was not just the seductive whispering vocal or dance tune songstress you know!
21) ‘State Of Independence (New Radio Millennium Mix)’ from the single State Of Independence ’96, 1996.
The single remix was released in memory of the late Dr. Martin Luther King and the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The remix includes extracts featuring his voice of his speech ‘Some Things We Must Do’. This version did not mess up the sound of Summer’s classic; in fact it brought the classic to a new dimension.
20) ‘I Love You’ from the album Once Upon A Time, 1977.
A tale of love, beautifully crafted, mixed and performed. A melody that feels happy and also romantic. You can feel and hear Summer’s genuinely loving atmosphere in this track.
19) ‘Unconditional Love’ from the album She Works Hard For The Money, 1983.
After the disco movement ended in 1979, Summer experimented with various styles. She succeeded in some and this is one of the successful tunes. Summer featured Musical Youth, a popular group at the time, in this ‘reggae’ pop song. It was a hit in the United Kingdom.
18) ‘Love’s Unkind’ from the album I Remember Yesterday, 1977.
A tale that tells of a girl’s school crush, this is a happy, poppy light hearted melody reminiscent of older style tunes. Every girl and boy has experienced this at some point in their life. Perfect.
17) ‘How I Feel’ from the musical soundtrack album The Me Nobody Knows, 1971.
An introduction to her strong vocal, demonstrated clearly here, from her background experience in the musical theatre. This was ‘Donna Summer’, the actor-singer before the ‘Love To Love You Baby’ persona hit the headlines.
16) ‘My Man Medley: The Man I Love / I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good / Some Of These Days’ from the album Live And More, 1978.
This live recording medley confirmed Summer as a consummately adaptable singer. At the height of her disco fame, she delivered something diverse to her audiences and fans. A variety of melodies are showcased in this record: standard, jazz and easy listening.
15) ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real (Extended Version)’ from the 12” single This Time I Know It’s For Real, 1989.
This SAW project brought her back into the limelight, the charts and introduced her to a new, younger audience. The success of the record proved wrong those individuals that told Pete Waterman that the venture would not sell and dismissed the idea of him working with the artist. ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ encapsulated the pop sound of that era and came with a fantastic music video. The extended version still thrills fans today.
14) ‘Love To Love You Baby (Loverdose)’ from the Diesel Loverdose advert, 2011.
Donna Summer went back into the studio and re-recorded her classic for the Loverdose perfume advert. After not performing this gigantic hit for many years, this version plays an important part in her recording career. At the time of writing, this full length version is not available to purchase. Only a few lucky fans obtained it through a free download from the organization. This version delivers a sensual, mature sound and the backing track sounds very contemporary. Summer delivers the original essence of the song without fail. At 60-something she brought her classic song into the digital world.
An enchanting dance masterpiece, here Summer is truly hot stuff. Competing with younger recording acts, this single charted at the top of the Billboard dance category.
12) ‘I Feel Love (Master At Work 86th St. Mix)’ from the single I Feel Love, 1995.
It was a tremendous idea to record a new vocal as it brought a new expressiveness that can be heard in this song, bringing it to a new arena. The new recording showcased Summer’s blossoming mature vocal in contrast to the rather soft, sexy voice heard on the 1977 track. It’s heaven on earth!
11) ‘Dinner With Gershwin’ from the album All Systems Go, 1987.
A sophisticated ‘80’s sound this release revealed a mature new vocal style. ‘Dinner With Gershwin’ was a hit in the UK but perhaps was too cerebral or classy for a young music buying market that preferred easy pop tunes. It is a song about wanting to meet interesting people from the past including great figures from the worlds of science and art, or is it suggesting that there aren’t many great individuals left? Or maybe it was about unrequited love?
10) ‘Heaven Knows (Extended Version)’ from the album Sleepless Nights (Extended Edition) by Brooklyn Dreams, 2010.
This fabulous teamwork with Brooklyn Dreams was released in 1978 and was a hit. The 7” version did not do any justice to the landscape of the tune and the melody of the song. This extended version is the release that all fans must hear.
9) ‘Work That Magic (Capricorn ISA Remix)’ from the single Work That Magic, 1991.
An unfamiliar melody for some fans, this single delivered a classy, spacey, ambient sound and a perfect song for chilling out and relaxing too.
8) ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ from the album On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II, 1979.
This is a duet from two of the hottest names in music at the time. It is a feminist celebration, a hymn to independent strong-willed women everywhere which also happens to have a great beat. The track with a play time of over eleven minutes is a perennial favourite in clubs all over the world. The song is one of the finest collaborations in pop recording history.
7) ‘To Paris With Love’ from the digital single To Paris With Love, 2010.
This song has Donna Summer’s breathy vocal, reminiscent of her 1970s style, over an attractive electronic melody. The sexy, cool and classic chill out song is the perfect summer soundtrack, transporting the listener to Paris where the morning breeze carries the scent of flowers through the warm air. What more could you want?
6) ‘Hot Stuff’ from the 12” single Hot Stuff, 1979.
Gone the sexy, smooth, camp disco sound, ‘Hot Stuff’ was a new departure for Donna Summer, having more of a rock-edged influence including guitar and an upbeat dance edge which had not previously been used in any of Summer’s single releases. From disco, she had moved effortlessly to a more rock-orientated concept. Here she was looking for some HOT LOVE and the 12” version delivered it flawlessly and showcases Donna Summer at her finest.
5) ‘She Works Hard For The Money’ from the album She Works Hard For The Money, 1983.
This was a song about strong, independent women, very much in control of their lives. The uplifting song was inspired by a real-life experience, based on an individual who had to work two jobs in the day and evening. It was a question of taking on any job in order to make ends meet and to support one’s family. It is an anthem often used during any work related celebration. This song also brought Summer’s name back into the global fame game after the disco era had taken its bow.
4) ‘MacArthur Park Suite: MacArthur Park / One Of A Kind / Heaven Knows / MacArthur Park (Reprise)’ from the album Live And More, 1978.
One of Donna Summer’s best disco records, showcasing her at the zenith of her talent with her powerful vocal and her artistic ability. The mixing of each track incorporated in this version was on form. Each of the tracks represents a distinct melody and rhythm. An important record for Summer’s CV, this was her first number one single in her native land. This version also provides a great work out to help burn those calories!
3) ‘I Feel Love’ from the album I Remember Yesterday, 1977.
This song came from a concept album celebrating sounds from the past. ‘I Feel Love’ featured as the last track and represented the future. Future undeniably because the new European synthesizer-based techno-pop sound of ‘I Feel Love’ remains one of Summer’s most popular tracks and marked a new development in the history of pop music. ‘I Feel Love’ is still one of the favourite tracks on any club’s playlist.
2) ‘Bad Girls’ from the album Bad Girls, 1979.
One of the funkiest tunes Donna Summer ever released. Summer’s classic ‘toot-toots’ and ‘beep-beeps’ said it all. This song was dirty and aggressive, while Summer and her team were spot on when it came to maximising its commercial pop value. It was a defining moment in Summer’s musical development.
1) ‘Love To Love You Baby’ from the album Love To Love You Baby, 1975.
This iconic track was a great melody that propelled Donna Summer to superstardom. Although the presentation imagery and sexy reputation of the song grabs all the headlines, it is the musical production that was arguably the most interesting aspect. With its cutting edge electronic beats and chorus, the song is beautifully crafted over the track’s entire 16.48 minutes. The famed moaning is key to the ambience of the track – not every singer has the ability to make such a genuinely sexy and sultry sound. With Summer’s gifted vocal presentation and Moroder and Bellotte’s great musical craftsmanship, the track has stood the test of time.
On a final note…
Her music has given pleasure to millions of people around the world over four decades and was a part of the story of many people’s lives. Some of her favourite songs may not have been mentioned such as ‘I Remember Yesterday’, ‘Last Dance’, ‘On The Radio’, ‘The Woman In Me’ and ‘Melody Of Love’ to name just a few. The selected songs are best to identify Donna Summer’s legacy and what an incredible recording artist she was.
Donna Summer’s songs will continue to light up the lives of music fans everywhere.
A Book by Nik A Ramli
‘Donna Summer The Thrill Goes On – A Tribute’ available on Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback.
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