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RIP Donna Summer

Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 01:46 PM

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. 

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Comments [5]

On The Radio - resonates with me as the distint, committed disco sound of Donna Summer provided a soundtrace for a young boy growing up in the l8 70s and 80s. Ms Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, the AWB, and the Bee Gees finished the all star line up. You had 2 be there - but, of course, Gen-Yers, u were NOT. ;) #Someonefoundaletteryouwroteme ... #ontheradio ...

May. 23 2012 02:49 PM
Bernie from UWS

What about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one of the greatest song interpreters of the 20th century? Not even a mention? No disrespect to Ms. Summer but he had much deeper impact on the history of music and than a disco star ever will.

May. 18 2012 04:29 PM
Darren in NJ from The Garden State

David Bowie said (in an interview from the past decade or so) that Brian Eno went crazy when he first discovered Donna Summer singing "I Feel Love." Bowie recalls that Eno excitedly hailed him to the TV screen and shouted something like: "This is it! This is the future! Teutonic drums with African vocals! This is the new direction!" So a musical heavyweight of Eno's heft also recognized the sonic innovation and Ms. Summer's influence right from the start.

May. 18 2012 03:49 PM
Gary

I Had The Distinct Pleasure Of Witnessing The Power Of Donna Summer At Jones Beach A Few Years Back - A Friend Told Me Rather Cattily That The Audience Would Consist Of Middle Aged Gay Men Reconncting To Their Youth-
Nothing Could Have Been Further From The Truth !!
Grandmothers , Children, Husbands And Wives , And Yes Gay Men And Women;
All Dancing With Joy To The Power That Is Donna.
Donna Summer Conncted With EVERYONE - That Voice And It's Power !
John , I Have Loved New Sounds ( And Later Sound Check ) From The
Early Eighties On : You Intoduced Us , The Listeners To So Much Great Music-ie. Moss Garden ( Bowie / Eno ) A Long Time Favorite !
Maybe Donna Is Up In The Sky Crating The Vocal Part To It!!
Or A New Career In New Town! ( Low )
Anyhow The Sadness Of A Graet Singers Passing Is Sad - However Donna Will Live On Through Her Music - Fans Check Out Donna's Grand Illusion From The Wanderer - Sublime!!!
CARRY ON - GMH
!

May. 17 2012 10:53 PM
Platypus Daron from Astoria, NY

There is a disco mirror ball spinning high in heaven today/tonight. The glittering orchestra is being assembled with an angelic string section under the co-direction of Maestro Barry White and Van McCoy. Rumour has it that even Saint Peter may take to the "Floor" and ask Donna for the honour of the "Last Dance."

May. 17 2012 02:05 PM

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