Synopsis of Pop Music
"She works hard for the money,
So hard for it, honey,
She works hard for the money,
So you better treat her right..."
If the Bee Gees were the kings of disco, then Donna Summer was the queen. Her passionate voice lent a distinctive personality to her records that was often imitated but never duplicated by her fellow disco divas. She also brought new levels of intelligence and ambition to disco music by weaving her songs into concept albums. In the process, she recorded a series of singles and albums that defined and innovated the disco sound.
Donna Summer began her musical career when she moved to Europe in the late 60’s to appear in musicals like Hair. She began recording with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte in the early 70’s, and the two would soon become her most important collaborators. They scored their first hit in 1975 with a breathy dance song called “Love To Love you Baby.” It became a hit in America when a record executive asked for a long version of the song and Moroder remixed it into a 17-minute epic that covered a full album-side. The short version became a #2 hit single and the long version was played extensively on radio.
In 1976, Summer released two albums. A Love Trilogy had another side-long suite in “Try Me, I Know, We Can Make It.” The inventive arrangement worked a separate musical motif for each part of the phrase and wove them together into a surprisingly complex and coherent disco symphony. The follow-up, Four Seasons Of Love, consisted of four songs that compared the stages of a love affair to the seasons of the year. The dance-club hit from this album was “Spring Affair,” a bass-driven dance song reminiscent of “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross.
Donna Summer’s next album was I Remember Yesterday, for which each song was done in a different genre (“Love’s Unkind” was done in a girl-group style, while the title track had a boogie-woogie 40’s sound). The album's final song, “I Feel Love,” was also its biggest hit, and represented to Ross and company ‘the future of music.’ It showcased Summer’s ethereal falsetto vocals over a completely electronic backdrop of synthesizers and drum-machines. This forward-thinking song became a #6 hit and is recognized by dance-music fans as laying the groundwork for all future electronic dance music.
Once Upon A Time was also released in 1977. This double-album told the Cinderella-like story of a girl searching for love in the big city over a lush backdrop that mixed synthesizers with movie-style orchestration, containing a Top-40 hit in “I Love You.” In 1978, Summer appeared in the disco-themed comedy Thank God It’s Friday and sang the hit “Last Dance,” an Oscar winner for Best Song. Donna also released Live and More, a double album with three sides of live recordings and one side containing her suite-length cover of “MacArthur Park.” Its single version became a #1 hit.
These hits were impressive, but Donna’s most definitive success arrived in 1979 with Bad Girls, a conceptual double-album that focused on a woman trying to carve out a life on the mean streets of Los Angeles. The album gave Summer back-to-back #1 singles in “Hot Stuff,” a song that daringly mixed a throbbing disco beat with a hard-rock guitar solo, and “Bad Girls,” which was punctuated by a catchy hook played on a whistle. “Dim All The Lights,” a love song with a clever arrangement that veered between a ballad tempo and a faster dance section, went to #2.
At the end of 1979, Donna Summer scored a duet hit with the legendary Barbra Streisand on “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” a song that gave the two divas plenty of room to strut their vocal skills. Summer started 1980 with two hits: a successful compilation called On The Radio and the album’s title song, which became a #5 single. Later that year, she became the first artist to sign on Geffen Records, the new label run by legendary mogul David Geffen. She recorded The Wanderer, an album that moved her out of disco and into rock and r&b territory. Its title track became a #3 hit single.
In 1982, Donna Summer teamed up with producer Quincy Jones for a self-titled album. She scored a Top-10 hit with "Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)." The album also included “Protection”, an original by Bruce Springsteen, and “State Of Independence,” which had an all-star chorus featuring the likes of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. In 1983, she scored another massive hit with “She Works Hard For The Money,” a tribute to the working woman that fused guitar-rock with a dance beat a la “Hot Stuff.” The song hit #3 on the charts and a similarly-titled album went Top-10.
Donna Summer continued to record throughout the 80’s, releasing the occasional single like “Dinner With Gershwin.” In 1989 she scored another big hit with “This Time I Know It’s For Real.” The disco diva also began to pursue a side career as an artist and held a successful exhibition of her neo-Primitive paintings in 1990. She received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, and a new compilation of hits, Endless Summer, was released in 1994. The greatest hits album also contained a new track, “Melody Of Love,” that became Billboard’s #1 Dance Record of the Year.
Donna Summer continues to record and tour successfully today. She toured both the U.S. and Brazil in the mid-90’s to great acclaim and success. When the Best Dance Recording Award was created for the Grammys in 1997, Summer won the award with “Carry On.” Most recently, she has gotten much exposure on VH-1 through her Donna Summer Live special (which resulted in a successful soundtrack album) and also an appearance on Divas 2000 - A Tribute To Diana Ross. And as long as people want to dance, the music of Donna Summer will continue to be popular.
Artist Release History1974 - Lady of the Night
1975 - Love to Love You Baby
1976 - Love Trilogy
1976 - Four Seasons of Love
1977 - I Remember Yesterday
1977 - Once Upon a Time
1978 - Live & More
1979 - Bad Girls
1980 - The Wanderer
1982 - Donna Summer
1983 - She Works Hard for the Money
1984 - Cats Without Claws
1987 - All Systems Go
1989 - Another Place & Time
1991 - Mistaken Identity
1993 - This Time I Know
1993 - The Donna Summer Anthology
1995 - Endless Summer: The Very Best (compilation)
1994 - Live
1994 - Christmas Spirit
1995 - Shout it Out
1995 - Nice to See You
1996 - I'm a Rainbow
1999 - VH-1 Presents: Live and More Encore
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsBad Girls (Casablanca)
Endless Summer (Mercury)