Donna Summer

***Love to Love You Baby (Casablanca, 1975)
***Love Trilogy (Casablanca, 1976)
***1/2Four Seasons of Love (Casablanca, 1976)
***1/2I Remember Yesterday (Casablanca, 1977)
***1/2Once Upon a Time . . . (Casablanca, 1977)
***1/2Live and More (Casablanca, 1978)
****Bad Girls (Casablanca, 1979)
****On the Radio (Greatest Hits) (Casablanca, 1979)
****She Works Hard for the Money (Mercury, 1983)
***1/2The Dance Collection (Casablanca, 1987)
***Another Place and Time (Atlantic, 1989)
****The Donna Summer Anthology (Casablanca, 1993)
****Endless Summer (Casablanca, 1995)
**1/2VH-1 Presents: Live & More Encore! (Epic, 1999)
****The Best of Donna Summer: The Millennium Collection (Mercury, 2003)
*****Bad Girls (Deluxe Edition) (Mercury/Chronicles, 2003)
****The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer (UTV/Mercury, 2003)

When Donna Summer broke her first hit, little more than whispers and moans over a tepid eurodisco beat, her career didn't seem to promise more than another Andrea True. That the best song on her second album was written by Barry Manilow wasn't very promising either. But two things changed all that: producer Giorgio Moroder figured out how to deploy the string synth, and Summer took charge of her material. Turns out that she could sing, belt even. Turns out that she liked rock and roll as much as disco. Turns out that she discovered that niche at the crosshairs of rock, soul, dance, and showbiz pop that Madonna exploited so successfully a decade later.

Summer was born in Boston, but went to Europe to sing on stage in productions of Hair and Godspell. There she hooked up with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, who were cranking out disco fluff as the Munich Machine, and they had a hit with "Love to Love You Baby." Summer became a instant disco icon, and her early records exploited that: the first two albums were more Moroder/Bellotte than Summer, with side-long disco suites on the first side, and filler on the second. Indeed, one of the things that we notice now is that all of Summer's albums were conceived as LP sides, usually laid out in a continuous mix, which makes for some inconsistencies as the sides were piled up on CDs. Four Seasons of Love, a cycle of disco songs for each season, is one of the few albums that benefits from being heard whole; the transitional I Remember Yesterday, with its strong first side and filler plus hit on the second, is less consistent. But two songs there portended where Summer was going: "Love's Unkind" was updated girl group rock, while "I Feel Love," her second big hit, was so propulsive that Brian Eno called it "the future of music."

Summer's next album, Once Upon a Time, was an ambitious double-LP retelling of the Cinderella story, a suite of songs connected by a relentless disco beat. It was a lot to swallow at the time, but it contains some of her strongest work, especially Act One with "Fairy Tale High" and "Say Something Nice." This was an intensive, ambitious period for Summer, with four double-LPs in a two years stretch from 1977 to 1979. Bad Girls was the next new studio set, another big advance in songcraft and a broadening of her music: more rock, more soul, one side of ballads, and hits as compelling as "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," and "Sunset People." The other two doubles were the improbable Live and More and the inevitable On the Radio. The much panned live album actually sounds remarkably fresh now, the sound clear, the energy palpable. Perhaps the reason for the pans was the side-long "MacArthur Park Suite," moved from the Live and More CD to The Dance Collection, but even though it's built around one of rock's all-time worst songs, the extended music there is some of Moroder's most elegant disco, and there's nothing wrong with two interpolated Summer songs. As for On the Radio, it not only sums up Summer's oeuvre to date, half of it was new to LP, coming from singles and soundtracks.

Summer's discography falls apart after 1980: she sued her manager, divorced, changed labels and producers several times, remarried, proclaimed herself born again, moved to Nashville. Not much of her post-1980 work is in print. (Hard to say why; maybe God is punishing her for blaspheming her gay fans.) Still, the Michael Omartian-produced She Works Hard for the Money is one of the best things she's ever done. Another Place and Time, produced by Bananarama braintrust Stock Aitken Waterman, is more rigid rhythmically, but she's more than ever a skilled, powerful singer. This period is chronicled, for better or worse, on the second disc of The Donna Summer Anthology. Since then we only have the second coming of Live and More -- if tragedy returns as farce, perhaps ambition returns as conceit. Then there are the comps: the first disc of Anthology ends with Bad Girls, a fine selection from the rising slope of her career. Endless Summer compresses Anthology's two discs down to one, including two new cuts not likely to stand the test of time. The Journey is almost a carbon copy, with two (not bad) new songs added, but both comps thin out post-1980. The Millennium Collection is more canonical, using longer mixes to stretch its 11 mostly early cuts to 51 minutes. But the most effective use of her long dance mixes is on the extra disc to Bad Girls (Deluxe Edition).


Other albums:

Lady of the Night (1974; Repertoire, 2001)
The Wanderer (Geffen, 1980)
Donna Summer (Geffen, 1982)
**1/2Cats Without Claws (Warner Bros., 1984)
The Summer Collection (Mercury, 1985)
All Systems Go (Geffen, 1987)
The Best of Donna Summer (Warner Bros., 1990)
Mistaken Identity (Atlantic, 1991)
This Time I Know It's for Real (WEA, 1993)
Christmas Spirit (Mercury, 1994)
Shout It Out (Blue Moon, 1995)
Nice to See You (Prime Cuts, 1995)
I'm a Rainbow (Polygram, 1996)
Greatest Hits (Mercury, 1998)
Shoot It Out (Magnum, 1999)
Remixed and Early Greats (Goldenlane, 2000)


  • Discography: aside from the stuff above, this lists:
    • Haare (Polydor, 1968): original German cast
    • Godspell (Mcp, 197?): original Austrian cast
    • Lady of the Night (Basart, 1974): album produced by Bellotte
    • Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Columbia, 1977): soundtrack: Prelude to Love, Could It Be Magic, Try Me I Know We Can Make It
    • The Deep (Casablanca, 1977): soundtrack: Theme From the Deep
    • Thank God It's Friday (Casablanca, 1978): soundtrack: With Your Love, Last Dance, Je t'aime (moi non plus)
    • The Music for Unicef Concert: A Gift of Song (Polydor, 1979): Mimi's Song
    • Foxes (Casablanca, 1980): soundtrack: On the Radio
    • Walk Away (Casablanca, 1980): Bad Girls, Hot Stuff, On the Radio, I Feel Love, Walk Away, Last Dance, Sunset People, MacArthur Park, Our Love
    • Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Full Moon, 1982): soundtrack: Highway Runner
    • Flashdance (Casablanca, 1983): soundtrack: Romeo
    • Edith Piaf Tribute (AB Disques, 1993): La vie en rose
    • Grammy's Greatest Moments Vol. 1 (Atlantic, 1994): She Works Hard for the Money (live)
    • The Casablanca Records Story (Casablanca, 1994): Love to Love You Baby, I Feel Love, MacArthur Park Suite, Hot Stuff, Bad Girls, On the Radio, Last Dance
    • One Voice (MCA, 1996): From a Distance
    • Casablanca's Greatest Hits (Casablanca, 1996): Hot Stuff, Bad Girls, On the Radio, Dim All the Lights, Last Dance
    Various others since then. There's also a singles list.
  • Discography: