As you’ve likely heard by now, Donna Summer passed away this morning in Florida at age 63.
It’s an incredibly sad day in music, especially for dance lovers: Donna Summer truly was (and forever will be) the Queen of Disco. The iconic songstress has dozens of songs to her name–nearly a hundred singles alone, in fact–that, to this day, are still lodged in the public’s consciousness: “Love To Love You Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “On The Radio.” Once sweated out to on the dance floor of Studio 54 and Danceteria, now being covered terribly on American Idol and tacked onto film trailers for slapstick comedies. Still, they’re with us.
I fell deep into an obsession with Summer right around the time I was discovering another disco (turned-avant garde) legend, Grace Jones, in the middle of college. I was assigned to cover pop divas and their various gay controversies for Queerty, and Donna’s alleged outburst was one of them. After a bit of research, I was hooked (and for the record, I don’t believe she was “anti-gay.”)
The Summer fandom made itself public at some point. I remember my friend Marianna and I had some inside joke where we’d reference “MacArthur Park” (a cover, I know) whenever we possibly could. Honestly, what’s more hysterical than a song about someone leaving a cake out in the rain? Nothing.
Around that time, Summer released her 2008 record Crayons which, in retrospect, was a much smarter, well-crafted dance-pop record than anyone was going to give her credit for years ago (including myself admittedly–why was I such a little brat in my earlier posts?) Songs like “Stamp Your Feet,” the perfect “It Gets Better” anthem before “It Gets Better” happened, and “Fame (The Game)”, which saw Summer taking sass to another level with its biting, fame-weary lyrics (“Botox faux-forced interventions/Nude job, boob job, all nouveau/It ain’t what, but who you know”) found the then 59-year-old singer still very much on top of her game–if not ahead of the pack.
But of her entire discography, there’s one song that truly influenced me (and the world) like no other: “I Feel Love.”
There aren’t too many songs that are objectively perfect: “I Feel Love” is one of the few. Produced by Eurodisco legend Giorgio Moroder and released in July of 1977, the space-age 8-minute electronic opus–a slow building climb of breathy coos and ecstatic yelps resulting in, essentially, a complete aural orgasm–forever revolutionized the music industry, and continues to do so over three decades later. It is the quintessential disco record.
To say that “I Feel Love” was ahead of its time is an understatement: Madonna incorporated the song into “Future Lovers” on 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, while Kylie Minogue interwove the song with “Light Years” on her 2002 Fever Tour. Recent efforts by modern disco divas, including Little Boots‘ “Shake” and Róisín Murphy‘s “Stimulation,” all pay tribute in terms of structure and sound to Summer’s timeless, tranced-out classic. There will be more.
With such an extensive (if not intimidating!) 40 year back catalog at hand, there’s plenty of lesser known album tracks, remixes and oddities still to discover. It’s nearly impossible to browse through the disco section of any record store without thumbing through at least one Summer record.
For anyone who hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of Donna Summer’s work, don’t feel bad. I’d recommend Donna Summer: Gold, which was released in ’05–an incredibly comprehensive start. You’ll also want her most recent (and devastatingly, her final) album Crayons. It’s really fantastic.
Thanks for sharing the love, Donna. Rest in peace.