By Bill Lamb
Donna Summer was living in Europe and singing backup for the pop group Three Dog Night when she met Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. She began recording with the pair, and, after limited success, Giorgio Moroder encouraged Donna Summer to record the demo for "Love To Love You Baby." They decided the demo should be released. It became her first disco and pop smash. In the late 1970s Donna Summer released eight consecutive top 5 pop hit singles. This is a guide to the best of her songs with pop chart placings listed.
Donna Summer had been living in Germany for eight years and had earned some minor success on pop charts in Europe when she suggested the lyric, "Love to love you baby," to legendary disco producer Giorgio Moroder. At first Donna Summer's recording was only intended as a demo. However, the erotic recording, with Donna Summer imagining she was Marilyn Monroe while singing the song in the studio, convinced Giorgio Moroder that it should be released as a Donna Summer single. The song found its way to Casablanca Records label head Neil Bogart in the US. He was so impressed after playing the song at a party at his home that he encouraged Giorgio Moroder to record a long, extended version of the song. Ultimately, the new recording was 16 minutes long. "Love To Love You Baby" became Donna Summer's first international smash hit single peaking at #2 on the pop chart in the US and #1 on the disco chart.
"I Feel Love" was part of Donna Summer's disco concept album I Remember Yesterday. The record presented songs from the past, present, and "I Feel Love" represented the future. As it turned out, the record did indeed represent the future and became one of the most influential dance songs of all time. Until the release of "I Feel Love," most disco records were backed by orchestras. For "I Feel Love," Giorgio Moroder created an entirely electronic backing track. The song became a landmark for future electronic dance music.
In 1978 Donna Summer received an acting role in the disco themed movie Thank God It's Friday. She is an aspiring singer who brings an instrumental track of a disco song to a local DJ hoping he will play it and let her sing the song live. The song is "Last Dance." Producer Giorgio Moroder created another disco innovation by opening the song in ballad style before seguing into full disco mode. "Last Dance" became Donna Summer's third top 10 pop hit peaking at #3 and was the top disco hit of the year 1978. "Last Dance" earned an Academy Award for Best Song for songwriter Paul Jabara.
"MacArthur Park" was written by Jimmy Webb in the 1960s after the breakup of a relationship. It was first recorded by actor and singer Richard Harris. That version, released as a single in 1968, is more than seven minutes long and includes four distinct sections. The song was a top 10 pop hit in the US. Donna Summer recorded a "MacArthur Park Suite" for her 1978 album Live and More. The suite included the songs "MacArthur Park," "One Of a Kind," and "Heaven Knows" and topped the disco chart. It was broken apart for pop single releases and "MacArthur Park" reached #1 while "Heaven Knows" peaked at #4. "MacArthur Park" was Donna Summer's first #1 pop hit.
"Hot Stuff" was the first single off Donna Summer's 1979 double album Bad Girls. The song stretched the boundaries of Donna Summer's music by adding rock elements to the mix. "Hot Stuff" features a guitar solo by the Doobie Brothers' Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. The song quickly topped both the disco and pop charts. Donna Summer won a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal. She was the first African-American artist to win a rock vocal Grammy Award.
Donna Summer wrote the rough original version of "Bad Girls" a few years before it was recorded. Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart originally wanted her to offer the song to Cher for a recording, but Donna Summer refused and kept the song for herself. "Bad Girls" became the second #1 pop hit single from the album of the same name. It topped the pop, disco and R&B charts simultaneously.
"Dim All the Lights" is Donna Summer's only hit single for which she received sole writing credit. She originally wrote the song to give to Rod Stewart but decided to record it herself at the last minute. Like "Last Dance" it begins with a ballad section before moving into the main disco section of the song. "Dim All the Lights" is notable for containing the longest single sustained note held by a female artist in a top 40 hit lasting 16 seconds. "Dim All the Lights" was a #2 pop smash hit.
Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand were two of the biggest pop recording artists in the world when they put together the "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" duet. It was included on Barbra Streisand's album Wet as well as Donna Summer's greatest hits collection On the Radio. The song begins as a ballad in a style more familiar to Barbra Streisand fans before the disco segment that was Donna Summer's forte. The result was a #1 smash pop hit.
Following disputes with label boss Neil Bogart, Donna Summer became the first artist signed to David Geffen's record label Geffen in 1980. She continued to work with her producers Girogio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. However, sensing that the disco era had passed, "The Wanderer" incorporated elements from the rising sound of new wave. It was a success and peaked at #3 on the US pop singles chart.
After being signed as the first artist on the newly formed Geffen record label and achieving success with the album and single The Wanderer, Donna Summer's relationship with David Geffen began to sour. The 1981 album I'm a Rainbow was shelved and not released until 1996. She was forced to end her long-term recording arrangement with producer Giorgio Moroder and record the 1982 album Donna Summer with Quincy Jones. Her 1983 album recorded with producer Michael Omartian was on the verge of being shelved until David Geffen allowed the tapes to be forwarded to Polygram to complete a contractual obligation to Casablanca Records which was now part of Polygram. One of the gems included in the package was the #3 smash pop hit "She Works Hard For the Money." It earned Donna Summer a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal.