"Donna Summer provided the Soundtrack to a decade" - Quincy Jones, Music Producer
To commemorate the passing of the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer who sadly died on 17 May 2012, let's take a look back at five of her finest albums.
Donna Summer Albums
Love to Love You Baby
The single Love to Love You Baby (from which the album took its name) saw Summer working with Giorgio Moroder who would become a longtime collaborator. Moroder was passionate about the emerging disco sound and used an innocent idea Summer had come up with to develop the overtly sexual feel of the song. Donna Summer was initially reluctant to follow Moroder's instructions to groan 'orgasmically' on the track, but she eventually agreed. Allegedly, she was unsure of the lyrics of the song and improvised somewhat during the recording session.
Originally the song was only released in Europe to modest sales. Eventually the song Love to Love You Baby was taken on by Casablanca Records and released in the U.S, becoming Summer's first big hit. It received a mixed critical response due to its explicit nature and was even banned by certain radio stations.
Side One of the album was taken up completely by a seventeen minute version of the title track with Side Two focusing more on soul/R&B. Songs include Full of Emptiness (which was borrowed from Donna Summer's first album Lady of the Night), Whispering Waves, Need-a-Man Blues and Pandora's Box.
I Remember Yesterday
Half of the album is a tribute to 'yesterday' and brings together the iconic disco sound of the 70s with influences from the 40s, 50s and 60s. The second half had a more futuristic feel and closed with one of her biggest hits I Feel Love.
I Feel Love was reportedly the first ever single release to use an entirely synthesised backing track. The repetitive nature of the vocals teamed with this fresh new sound finally gave Donna Summer a track to compete with her only other U.S hit to date Love to Love You Baby. The song was also an international success, reaching number One in the UK Singles Chart.
Until this point, and perhaps due to the graphic nature of Love to Love You Baby, Donna Summer had nurtured a highly sexualized image. Although this was still evident on the album I Remember Yesterday, it was slightly less prominent and gave way to a more classic approach to love. In particular the track Love's Unkind tells the story of an innocent schoolgirl crush.
Around this time, Summer would be asked to record the theme song for the film The Deep. Working with British composer John Barry, the song Down Deep Inside furthered her reputation as a credible artist and became another international top 5 hit. It does not feature on the album I Feel Love.
I Remember Yesterday was Donna Summer's biggest selling album to date.
Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time was Summer's first double disc album and the one with the strongest narrative; it told a modern-day Cinderella story through the medium of disco music.
The album cover showed a picture of Donna Summer wearing a white wedding dress set against a pale plus backdrop. This was a departure from the more sexualized artwork of her previous albums (which were designed to match the sensual nature of her music) with the aim being to depict her as a fairytale fantasy character.
There is a theatrical flare to Once Upon a Time with each album-side entitled Act One, Act Two, Act Three and Act Four. The 'rags to riches' element teamed with the strong electronic disco sound gives the album a positive vibe, which is juxtaposed with darker, more emotional themes. Although she had released five albums previously, Once Upon a Time was a breakthrough for Summer, securing her place as at the leading singer/songwriter of disco music of the generation.
I Feel Love had been a massive hit earlier in 1977 and one side of Once Upon a Time was very much devoted to music in a similar electronic style. This is greatly attributed to producer Giorgio Moroder, with critics citing the tracks Now I Need You and Working The Midnight Shift as his and Summer's most accomplished work to date.
Famously, the entire album was conceived and recorded within the space of three days. None of the team slept during that time, including Summer, who was hospitalised for exhaustion.
Although original album sales were modest, Once Upon a Time is generally acknowledged as being one of Donna Summer's greatest achievements due to its eclectic style.
Bad Girls marked Summer's recovery from her addiction with prescription drugs and a departure musically. Although the album still had strong disco, soul and R&B influences, Summer diversified somewhat into the realms of rock. This was an attempt on the part of producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte to capitalise on the current trend for punk and heavy metal music.
The first two singles became huge number one hits; Hot Stuff and Bad Girls. Hot Stuff gained Donna Summer the accolade of Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the Grammy's and found renewed success in the 1990s after being featured on the soundtrack of the British movie The Full Monty. The third single was Dim the Lights was also massively successful, reaching number two in the U.S.
The Donna Summer album Bad Girls received several award nominations including Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards.
1979 also saw a greatest hits album from Donna Summer which featured the new track On the Radio which continued Summer's string of international hits.
Having been widely recognised as the most successful female artist in the genre of disco, Summer felt that her contract with Casablanca Records had reached a natural end. There were various reasons for the departure, not least of which was a difference in vision for future musical direction. Summer also felt that the record company had exploited her somewhat, promoting a highly sexualized image of the disco diva, which she never felt entirely comfortable with. She was the first artist to sign with the newly formed Geffen Records under whom she released the album The Wanderer.
Disco was gradually falling out of fashion, and Donna Summer moved with the changing tide, incorporating Rock and New Wave styles in her new music, which was co-written and produced by longtime collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.
Cold Love, in particular, had a very strong rock vibe and earned Summer a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
Around this time, Donna Summer also rediscovered her Christian fait, having emerged from a period of depression; a gospel offering called I Believe In Jesus documented this change and also attracted a Grammy nomination for Best Inspirational Performance. The song marked Summer's return to her roots, having grown up singing in Gospel choirs.
The Wanderer reached number 13 on the US Album Chart and the title track hit number 3 in the US singles chart. Although critically successful, the album failed to enjoy the same success internationally as some of Summer's earlier work.
Some Donna Summer music has dated brilliantly, other tracks not so well. One thing is for sure the Queen of Disco has left a legacy of work that will make sure she is gone but never forgotten.