It would be easy to dismiss the late Donna Summer, as so many obituary writers already have today, as The Queen of Disco, as if she had her moment in the 70s and then quietly faded into the shadows. So let me say for the record: Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco, had a big moment in the late 70s, and early 80s, and then faded from general view. But she also, through her work with longtime friend and producer Giorgio Moroder, had a profound impact on several generations of musicians and listeners.
Her early hit “Love To Love You Baby” made even the most disco-hating rock fans take notice. “Holy crap, is that girl faking an orgasm? On the radio?” (In fact, many radio stations, here and abroad, refused to play the song because of the R-rated moaning and groaning.) Some of the wind went out of the “Disco Sucks” sails then.
And then came “I Feel Love,” an epic, motoric, electronic dance groove with some classic falsetto singing. Rumor has it that when I got my first car, I would drive my friends down the highway singing along to that song, and eventually, would, on request, sing both the digga-digga-dagga-dagga keyboard part and the falsetto part at the very top of my lungs even if the song weren’t on the radio.
I refuse to even dignify these rumors with a response.
The point is, “I Feel Love” took the sound of German electronic music (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk) and made it a part of the international music scene. You can draw a straight line from that song to the development of house music.
Of “MacArthur Park” and its ruined cake we will not speak. But “On the Radio” and “Hot Stuff” were perfect summer radio hits. The Barbra Streisand duet “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” and a number of other sonic blockbusters meant that you could not live through the late 70s or early 80s without hearing Donna Summer’s voice.
She’d been around the margins of the music world for some time, so we hadn’t heard that voice for a while. But its echoes can still be heard in almost every subspecies of dance music that fills our clubs, gyms, and iPods today.
Do you have a Donna Summer memory? Leave a comment.