Donna Summer RIP 5.17.2012
Donna Summer had 20 singles reach the top 40 in a chart run that lasted from 1975 to 1984. Her reign lasted much longer on the dance-music charts, where she had a No. 1 tune as recently as 2010. But from her classic era, here are 10 of the songs we most loved to love:
1. “Love to Love You Baby”
When Summer moaned her way through all 16 minutes and 48 seconds (!) of this breakthrough track, it was her intention to do a demo vocal to suggest how sexily she could interpret the song, she said in her autobiography. But her producers didn’t want to leave out a single erotic sigh, so they put the entire unedited epic on one side of the LP that also bore its name in 1975. Naturally, the single version edited out more than 13 minutes of mostly wordless sensuality.
[PHOTOS: RIP Donna Summer, A Life In Photos]
2. “I Feel Love”
Two years later, Summer proved she wasn’t a one-moan wonder with a Eurodisco number that really put her and producer Giorgio Moroder on the map for good. This revolutionary number’s throbbing pulse is still in the DNA of the EDM (electronic dance music) of the 2010s.
3. “Last Dance”
Summer landed a small acting role in the disco-sploitation film Thank God It’s Friday in 1978, but more importantly, she ended up with the most indelible tune of her career and an Oscar winner for Best Song in “Last Dance.” The last-minute introduction of a balladic beginning counterintuitively added just the right dynamic touch to make this a classic. Centuries from now, discotheques and wedding DJs will still be closing down the dance floors with this one.
4. “MacArthur Park”
The unlikeliest hit in her arsenal… and, believe it or not, her first No. 1. The defiantly weird Jimmy Webb number from the 1960s, originally made a hit by that disco king Richard Harris, found its true calling as a bravura disco anthem. That’s called leaving your cake out in the rain and eating it too!
[Related: Donna Summer Was More Than the Queen]
5. “Bad Girls”
Summer’s innocent-sounding apparent ode to ladies of the evening was her third No. 1 smash (following “Hot Stuff”). Parents tried, in vain, to keep their disco-loving kids from making a playground chant out of its “Beep beep!” police call. It marked the last time Summer would overtly sexualize her image, as her born-again instincts took over in years to come.
6. “Dim All the Lights”
Arguably her most romantic song, and one Summer wrote all by herself. Like “Last Dance,” this one benefitted from a balladic introduction that made its transition to disco double-time all the more exciting. Trivia buffs like to point out that Summer holds a note for 16 seconds, allegedly the longest vocal note in any top 40 tune ever. Weirdly, as she explains in the concert video that follows, she originally wrote the song for Rod Stewart.
7. “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”
Does anything signal “made it” more than a battle-of-the-divas duet with Barbra Streisand? Released as the disco era was just starting to wane in 1979, this was Summer at the peak of her stardom… and though there would be many more major and minor hits to come, it was also her last No. 1 single.
8. “Love Is In Control (Finger on the Trigger)”
Donna and Michael Jackson… separated at birth? You’d think so from this Quincy Jones-produced hit, which marked her first success after splitting with longtime producer Moroder.
9. “She Works Hard for the Money”
Early ’80s pop feminism founds its anthem. Summer found her most fruitful collaboration in the post-Moroder era working with Michael Omartian, whose combination of commercial smarts and born-again Christianity jibed exactly with her sensibilities. Trading in her sexy “bad girl” duds for a waitress’s uniform in the single and LP jacket art was an impossibly cute visual move, and the synth-pop sound made it clear Summer could do upbeat material without a now-outmoded disco beat. It was also her first hit of the music video era.
10. “This Time I Know It’s for Real”
Summer’s final top 10 hit in America was even bigger in Britain, as she worked with the Anglo smashmakers Stock/Aitken/Waterman at the height of their success in 1989. “What would I have to do to get you to notice me, too,” she sang, spaking for the wallflowers of the world but also, possibly, disco divas trying to find a new place in a musical landscape that had moved on.
Other career highlights from the post-disco era:
“Protection” — Few outside her fan base remember that Bruce Springsteen wrote a song for her, and he even played guitar and sang on the track included on her self-titled 1982 album.
“State of Independence” — Her cover of the very un-disco-like Jon Anderson/Vangelis track traversed the decades. It was a hit in England in 1982, but caught on more in America in a 1996 remix.
“Carry On” — In 1992, she reunited with Giorgio Moroder, and the result was the first Grammy ever given out for best dance recording.
“I’m a Fire” — After going 11 years between albums, Summer returned in 2008 to tour behind the well-regarded Crayons album, which produced this dance-floor hit.
“To Paris With Love” — Although Summer was hardly a staple of top 40 in the 21st century, she continued to be beloved by the dance-music crowd, and she had no fewer than seven No. 1 songs on Billboard’s dance chart just in this century. The last of them was this number, just two years ago.