Donna Summer: Best of the Rest

Regular readers of this blog will know that, when I don’t think an act has had quite enough glory in terms of their #1s, I rank a Top 10 that takes in all their chart hits… I’ve done Status Quo, T Rex, Dusty Springfield, Buddy Holly… (If you’d like to, you know, check them out.)

For Donna Summer, the high priestess of disco, I’ve decided not to rank her Top 10 (I partly can’t be bothered, and I partly don’t think I’m enough of an authority on her back-catalogue…) So, instead, here are simply my faves from among her other big UK hits. And by ‘other’, I mean not her mind-blowing, game-changing, solitary chart-topper ‘I Feel Love’. You can read my post on that here. In chronological order, then:

‘Love to Love You Baby’ – #4 in 1976

Donna announced herself on charts worldwide with this sensuous slice of low-key disco. Actually, it’s more than ‘sensuous’, it’s ‘steamy’. Actually no, it’s more than just ‘steamy’, it’s downright ‘sexual’. She loves to love her baby, and has all the moans and groans to prove it. The BBC refused to promote it, so obviously it became a huge Top 5 hit… It was one of the first disco records to get an extended remix. A seventeen-minute (!) extended remix to be precise.

‘I Remember Yesterday’ – #14 in 1977

If I were ranking these songs… This’d be my #1. Summer’s ‘I Remember Yesterday’ LP, a collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, was an album with a concept – a disco-based journey through different musical ages. The title track saw the duo take on the Jazz Age. Disco music that you can do the Charleston to? Yes please! And how about Donna’s top hat and tails in the video above?

‘Love’s Unkind’ – #3 in 1978

From the roaring twenties, to the girl-groups of the fifties and early-sixties. It’s a little strange to hear a woman who spend much of her breakthrough hit faking an orgasm suddenly singing a song about schoolgirl crushes: Just the other day I was prayin’ he would give me a chance, Hopin’ he would choose me for his partner for the High School dance…

‘Rumour Has It’ – #19 in 1978

Pure disco, but with added funk and some rocking guitars. I love the strutting, synthy bassline in this one. Only reached #19, though…

Last Dance’ – #51 in 1978

It takes a lot of guts to write and release a disco song that takes a full two minutes to actually become a disco song. The slow build up to disco perfection… It’s also clever marketing to write a song that practically begs the DJ to play it at the end of every single night. Deserved much better than a forgettable #51 peak.

‘Hot Stuff’ – #11 in 1979

Speaking of criminally low chart positions… You don’t often talk about memorable disco ‘riffs’, but this is probably the ultimate. Donna’s sitting home and is, let’s be honest, horny. Dialled about a thousand numbers, Almost rang the phone off the wall… (I highly doubt it’d have taken her a thousand attempts to find a willing man, but still.) I love the unashamed sexuality here, especially from a woman, who just wants to bring a wild man back home. Even that time Prince Charles did the ‘Full Monty’ dance to it couldn’t ruin this classic…

‘Bad Girls’ – #14 in 1979

A song written in solidarity with prostitutes, after Summer’s assistant was wrongly accused of being one by a police officer. Like everybody else, They want to be a star… Another disco classic, just as the genre was about to implode. Maybe that’s why it charted so low in the UK, though it was a huge US #1. Toot, toot… Beep, beep!

‘Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)’ – #18 in 1982

In the eighties, Summer moved away from her partnership with Moroder, and released a 1982 album produced by man-of-the-moment Quincy Jones. Full of nice period-details: the sax, the squelchy bass, the MJ-esque high notes… It showed that Donna was going to keep you dancing long after disco had died.

‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ – #3 in 1989

Every diva needs a comeback. After Moroder and Jones, Summer turned to Stock, Aitken and Waterman… And it worked, delivering her into the UK Top 10 for the first time in a decade. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best examples of that tinny, plastic SAW sound – precisely because they reigned in the tinny, plastic sound just enough. Get used to it, though, because in a few years pretty much every song that features on this blog will be drenched in it…

9 thoughts on “Donna Summer: Best of the Rest

  1. Bless Donna and rest her soul. The disco diva who refused to be pigeonholed and turned her voice successfully to several other genres. I’d definitely agree with most of these choices. Honourable mentions also for two consecutive singles, end 1980 and beginning 1981 that charted less well in the UK (only just Top 50, I think), ‘The Wanderer’ (not the Dion/Quo favourite) and the more hard-rocking ‘Cold Love’, a real jewel, that Michael Jackson allegedly ripped off for ‘Black or White’.

    • Yes I can hear Black and White coming through loud and clear on ‘Cold Love’, and a Queen riff too… ‘Hammer to Fall’ maybe? The ones that just missed out were ‘McArthur Park’ – which I’m not a huge fan of but I know is well loved – and ‘On the Radio’, which has a great chorus.

      • What have we started? I’ve just listened to ‘Hammer to Fall’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘The Only Way Out’, which was a hit two years earlier. Cliff’s record is nice sparkling keyboards, Queen’s is growling guitar, but blow me down if they aren’t the same chords!

      • Well it is a pretty simple two-chord riff… Of the 4 I’d say Cold Love – Black or White share the biggest similarities. Not just the same chords, but the same guitar!

  2. good choices, Donna is a legend. My own non-I Feel Love picks would be:

    Could It Be Magic – It aint Barry Manilow or Take That, nor is it classical, but it is very nicely naughty
    Winter Melody -sweet seasonable ballad
    Down Deep Inside – Bond Theme wannabe that’s better than that years Carly Simon Bond theme – and hers was fab anyway.
    Love’s Unkind – 60’s rhythmtastic, as sampled this year by Texas (also fab)
    MacArthur Park – Epic Jimmy Webb, what’s not to love.
    Hot Stuff – the riffs
    No More Tears – diva battling with Streisand
    State Of Independence – Jon & Vangelis cover with a host of guest stars on backing vocals, we’re talking Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Lionel Richie, James Ingram & more. Epic.
    This Time I Know It’s For Real – SAW at their best, and Donna gives them heart and soul as a vibe.
    Grand Illusion (Flex Poolside Remix) – Experimental 1980 album track that sounds nothing like Donna Summer, remixed into a chilled-beats 21st-century delight

    • MacArthur Park and No More Tears were close to making the cut… I also quite like the second single from the SAW album, I Don’t Wanna Get Hurt, but thought one was probably enough…

  3. I like Donna and always have… She was the good disco to me…her and the Bee Gees…those two I can take. Donna could have been a rock singer just as easy but disco was the thing so off she went. Hot Stuff could easily be a rock song with that riff on guitar.

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