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Donna Summer

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Donna Summer

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Donna Summer's title as the "Queen of Disco" wasn't mere hype -- she was one of the very few disco performers to enjoy a measure of career longevity, and her consistent chart success was rivaled in the disco world only by the Bee Gees. Summer was certainly a talented vocalist, trained as a powerful gospel belter, but then again, so were many of her contemporaries. Of major importance in setting Summer apart were her songwriting abilities and her choice of talented collaborators in producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, which resulted in a steady supply of high-quality (and, often, high-concept) material. But what was more, few vocalists could match the sultry, unfettered eroticism Summer brought to many of her best recordings, which seemed to embody the spirit of the disco era perfectly. The total package made Summer the ultimate disco diva, one of the few whose star power was even bigger than the music.

Summer was born LaDonna Andre Gaines on December 31, 1948, and grew up in Boston's Mission Hill section. Part of a religious family, she first sang in her church's gospel choir, and as a teenager performed with a rock group called the Crow. After high school, she moved to New York to sing and act in stage productions, and soon landed a role in a German production of Hair. She moved to Europe around 1968-1969, and spent a year in the German cast, after which she became part of the Hair company in Vienna. She joined the Viennese Folk Opera, and later returned to Germany, where she settled in Munich and met and married Helmut Sommer, adopting an Anglicized version of his last name. Summer performed in various stage musicals and worked as a studio vocalist in Munich, recording demos and background vocals. Her first solo recording was 1971's "Sally Go 'Round the Roses," but success would not come until 1974, when she met producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte while working on a Three Dog Night record. The three teamed up for the single "The Hostage," which became a hit around Western Europe, and Summer released her first album, Lady of the Night, in Europe only. In 1975, the trio recorded "Love to Love You Baby," a disco-fied reimagining of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's lush, heavy-breathing opus "Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus." Powered by Summer's graphic moans, "Love to Love You Baby" became a massive hit in Europe, and drew the attention of Casablanca Records, which put the track out in America. It climbed to number two on the singles charts, and became a dance club sensation when Moroder remixed the track into a 17-minute, side-long epic on the LP of the same name.

In the wake of "Love to Love You Baby," albums (as opposed to just singles) became an important forum for Summer and her producers. The 1976 follow-up Love Trilogy contained another side-long suite in "Try Me (I Know We Can Make It Work)," and demonstrated Moroder and Bellotte's growing sophistication as arrangers with its lush, sweeping strings. Four Seasons of Love, released later in the year, was a concept album with one track dedicated to each season, and 1977's I Remember Yesterday featured a variety of genre exercises. Despite the album's title, it produced the most forward-looking single in Summer and Moroder's catalog, the monumental "I Feel Love." Eschewing the strings and typical disco excess, "I Feel Love" was the first major pop hit recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track; its lean, sleek arrangement and driving, hypnotic pulse laid the groundwork not only for countless Euro-dance imitators, but also for the techno revolution of the '80s and '90s. It became Summer's second Top Ten hit in the U.S., and she followed it with Once Upon a Time, another concept album, this one retelling the story of Cinderella for the disco era.

Summer's albums were selling well, bolstered by her popularity in the dance clubs, and she was poised to become a major pop hitmaker as well. Her acting turn in the 1978 disco-themed comedy Thank God It's Friday produced another hit in "Last Dance," which won her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal (as well as an Oscar for songwriter Paul Jabara). Doubtlessly benefiting from the added exposure, the double-LP set Live and More became Summer's first number one album later that year. It featured one side of new studio material, including a disco cover of the psychedelic pop epic "MacArthur Park" that became her first number one pop single early the next year. Her 1979 double-LP Bad Girls featured more of her songwriting contributions than ever, and went straight to number one, as did the lusty singles "Bad Girls" and the rock-oriented "Hot Stuff," which made Summer the first female artist ever to score three number one singles in the same calendar year. Her greatest-hits package On the Radio also topped the charts, the first time any artist had ever hit number one with three consecutive double LPs; the newly recorded title track became another hit, and Summer's duet with Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," became her fourth number one single.

At the peak of her success, Summer decided to leave Casablanca, and became the first artist signed to the new Geffen label. Sensing that the disco era was coming to a close, Summer attempted to modify her style to include more R&B and pop/rock on her first Geffen album, 1980's The Wanderer; the album and its title track were both hits. Not wanting to alienate her core audience, Summer returned to pure dance music on an attempted follow-up; however, Geffen deemed I'm a Rainbow not worthy of release (it was finally issued in 1996). Instead, Summer ended her collaboration with Moroder and Bellotte and teamed up with Quincy Jones for 1982's Donna Summer. "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" was a significant hit, but none of its follow-ups did very well. With producer Michael Omartian, Summer moved back into post-disco dance music and urban R&B with 1983's She Works Hard for the Money; its title track was a smash and became a feminist anthem of sorts.

However, with her career momentum slowing, it also marked the end of Summer's prime. Despite winning a gospel Grammy for "Forgive Me," Summer's 1984 follow-up Cats Without Claws flopped, as did the 1987 comeback effort All Systems Go. Hiring the British production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Summer scored her last major success with the 1989 Top Ten single "This Time I Know It's for Real," from the album Another Place & Time; around the same time, she began denouncing her earlier, "sinful" disco material. Released in 1991, the lackluster, urban-styled Mistaken Identity effectively killed her career momentum, and none of her new '90s albums produced that elusive hit. However, she did make some noise on the dance charts with "Melody of Love," from the excellent 1994 retrospective Endless Summer, and reunited with Moroder for the 1997 non-LP single "Carry On," which won the inaugural Grammy for Best Dance Recording. Summer subsequently signed a deal with Sony, which primed her for re-establishment with the 1999 greatest-hits live album VH1 Presents: Live and More Encore!; it featured the new song "I Will Go With You (Con Te Partiro)," which had some success on the dance charts. The energetic and eclectic Crayons, her first proper studio album since Mistaken Identity, was released on the Burgundy label in 2008. She remained intermittently active with concert and TV appearances during the next several years, and released the "To Paris with Love" single in August 2010. After battling breast cancer, Donna Summer died at her home in Naples, Florida on May 17, 2012; she was 63 years old.

-- Steve Huey of All Music Guide.

She Works Hard For The Money
Bad Girls [Live 1979]
MacArthur Park [Live 2005]

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1974Lady Of The Night
1975Love To Love You Baby
1976A Love Trilogy
1976Four Seasons Of Love
1977I Remember Yesterday
1977Once Upon A Time
1978Live! And More
1979Bad Girls
1979On The Radio . . . Greatest Hits Vol. I & II
1980The Wanderer
1982Donna Summer
1983She Works Hard For The Money
1984Cats Without Claws
1987All Systems Go
1989Another Place And Time
1991Mistaken Identity
1994Christmas Spirit
1999VH1 Presents: Live & More Encore!
2008Shout It Out


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1974 Lady Of The Night

01. Lady Of The Night
02. Born To Die
03. Friends
04. Domino
05. The Hostage
06. Wounded
07. Little Miss Fit
08. Let's Work Together Now
09. Sing Along(sad song)

1975 Love To Love You Baby

01. Love To Love You Baby
02. Full Of Emptiness
03. Need-A-Man Blues
04. Whispering Waves
05. Pandora's Box
06. Full Of Emptiness(reprise)

1976 A Love Trilogy

01. Try Me, I Know We Can Make It
02. Intro: Prelude To Love
03. Could It Be Magic
04. Wasted
05. Come With Me

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1976 Four Seasons Of Love

01. Spring Affair
02. Summer Fever
03. Autumn Changes
04. Winter Melody
05. Spring Reprise

1977 I Remember Yesterday

01. I Remember Yesterday
02. Love's Unkind
03. Back In Love Again
04. I Remember Yesterday(reprise)
05. Black Lady
06. Take Me
07. Can't We Just Sit Down And Talk It Over
08. I Feel Love

1977 Once Upon A Time

01. Once Upon A Time
02. Faster And Faster To Nowhere
03. Fairy Tale High
04. Say Something Nice
05. Now I Need You
06. Working The Midnight Shift
07. Queen For A Day
08. If You Got It Flaunt It
09. A Man Like You
10. Sweet Romance
11. Once Upon A Time(theme)
12. Dance Into My Life
13. Rumour Has It
14. I Love You
15. Happily Ever After

1978 Live! And More

01. Once Upon A Time
02. Fairy Tale High
03. Faster And Faster To Nowhere
04. Spring Affair
05. Rumour Has It
06. I Love You
07. Only One Man
08. I Remember Yesterday
09. Love's Unkind
10. My Man Medley
11. The Way We Were
12. Mimi's Song
13. Try Me, I Know We Can Make It
14. Love To Love You Baby
15. I Feel Love
16. Last Dance
17. Theme From The Deep

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1979 Bad Girls

01. Hot Stuff
02. Bad Girls
03. Love Will Always Find You
04. Walk Away
05. Dim All The Lights
06. Journey To The Center Of Your Heart
07. One Night In A Lifetime
08. Can't Get To Sleep At Night
09. On My Honor
10. There will Always Be A You
11. All Through The Night
12. My Baby Understands
13. Our Love
14. Lucky
15. Sunset People

1979 On The Radio . . . Greatest Hits Vol. I & II

01. On The Radio
02. Love To Love You Baby
03. Try Me, I Know We Can Make It
04. I Feel Love
05. Our Love
06. No More Tears(enough is enough)
07. On The Radio(reprise)
08. I Remember Yesterday
09. I Love You
10. Heaven Knows
11. Last Dance
12. Mac Arthur Park
13. Hot Stuff
14. Bad Girls
15. Dim All The Lights
16. Sunset People

1980 The Wanderer

01. The Wanderer
02. Looking Up
03. Breakdown
04. Grand Illusion
05. Running For Cover
06. Cold Love
07. Who Do You Think You're Fooling
08. Nightlife
09. Stop Me
10. I Believe In Jesus

1982 Donna Summer

01. Love Is In Control(finger on the trigger)
02. Mystery Of Love
03. The Woman In Me
04. State Of Independence
05. Livin' In America
06. Protection
07. If It Hurts Just A Little
08. Love Is Just A Breath Away
09. Lush Life

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1983 She Works Hard For The Money

01. She Works Hard For The Money
02. He's A Rebel
03. Unconditional Love
04. I Do Believe I Fell In Love
05. Stop, Look & Listen
06. Tokyo
07. People, People
08. Love Has A Mind Of Its Own
09. Woman

1984 Cats Without Claws

01. Supernatural Love
02. It's Not The Way
03. There Goes My Baby
04. Suzanna
05. Cats Without Claws
06. Oh Billy Please
07. Eyes
08. Maybe It's Over
09. I'm Free
10. Forgive Me

1987 All Systems Go

01. All Systems Go
02. Bad Reputation
03. Love Shock
04. Jeremy
05. Only The Fool Survives
06. Dinner With Gershwin
07. Fascination
08. Voices Cryin' Out
09. Thinkin' Bout My Baby

1989 Another Place And Time

01. I Don't Wanna Get Hurt
02. When Love Takes Over You
03. This Time I Know It's For Real
04. The Only One
05. In Another Place And Time
06. Sentimental
07. Whatever Your Heart Desires
08. Breakaway
09. If It Makes You Feel Good
10. Love's About To Change My Heart

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1991 Mistaken Identity

01. Get Ethnic
02. Body Talk
03. Work That Magic
04. When Love Cries
05. Heaven's Just A Whisper Away
06. Cry Of A Waking Heart
07. Friends Unknown
08. Fred Astaire
09. Say A Little Prayer
10. Mistaken Identity
11. What Is It You Want
12. Let There Be Peace

1994 Christmas Spirit

01. White Christmas
02. The Christmas Song
03. O Come All Ye Faithful
04. Christmas Is Here
05. Christmas Medley
06. I'll Be Home For Christmas
07. Christmas Spirit
08. Breath Of Heaven
09. O Holy Night
10. Lamb Of God

1999 VH1 Presents: Live & More Encore!

01. Mac Arthur Park
02. This Time I Know It's For Real
03. I Feel Love
04. On The Radio
05. No More Tears(enough is enough)
06. Dim All The Lights
07. She Works Hard For The Money
08. Bad Girls
09. Hot Stuff
10. My Life
11. Last Dance
12. Love Is The Healer
13. I Will Go With You(con te partiro)

2008 Shout It Out

2008 Crayons

01. Stamp Your Feet
02. Mr. Music
03. Crayons
04. The Queen Is Back
05. Fame(the game)
06. Sand On My Feet
07. Drivin' Down Brazil
08. I'm A Fire
09. Slide Over Backwards
10. Science Of Love
11. Be Myself Again
12. Bring Down The Reign

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Graphics by YSM

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