Friday, 18 May 2012

Donna Summer

I really don't ever have the urge or find the need to get sentimental or overly sensitive to the news of a celebrity passing away. But, that most certainly hasn't applied to the very sad news of the untimely passing of the "Queen of Disco", Donna Summer.

I distinctly remember as an air-headed 12 year old in 1977 sitting listening to the stuff which had just been put onto the jukebox in my parent's public house (The First and Last as seen in my blog entry "Where I Grow'd Up") when this record came on that was prove to be a major turning point in my life, setting me on a new and long pathway. The sounds coming out of the jukebox were new to me and instantly registered something that has stayed with me until this day because it was the day I discovered electronic music. That record was "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer and it was through this incredible collaboration with producer Giorgio Moroder that I began, to date, a 35 year love affair with the synthesizer and all the wonderous and magical sounds it can create. I still recall with absolute clarity the pulsating bassline sequence bouncing from speaker to speaker, the sequenced synthesized clicks and the phased pads, the wonderfully divine voice of Donna Summer and the absolute thrill of discovery of something new. I remember asking everyone and anyone at the time how those sounds were created, what was used to make the record and if there was anything else like this about.

It took another year before the petrol was thrown on the fire that had been lit by my first hearing of "I Feel Love". I had the single (which wasn't the full-length version) and from the off I played it to death. Then for Christmas 1978, I was given Donna Summer's "Live and More" double album (1978 means it vinyl, hence the "double" aspect) - it was a gift from the gods I can tell you. I loved everything on it, especially the stunning "MacArthur Park Suite" - in my view Donna Summer's finest recording - and this album, with it's synth solos and electronic drums, spurred me on to seek out more stuff by Donna Summer. A week after getting the "Live and More" album, I used my Christmas money to buy her "I Remember Yesterday" album which had another favourite Donna Summer track, "Love's Unkind" and yes, the full length version of "I Feel Love". I was made up. Totally.

By now, I was discovering more about electronic music through a group of students who used my parent's pub. They introduced me to Kraftwerk, Japan, Ultravox, Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre amongst many others over the 1977 to 1978 period. It was in April 1979, whilst in Germany, I bought the Donna Summer album "Once Upon A Time", a fantastic disco concept double album (this was the days of vinyl don't forget) which had one side devoted to three synth tracks with Moroder driving everything with Moogs and electronics. From here I went and bought "Love To Love You baby" and once I got over the silly schoolboy giggles over the nature of the album (keep in mind I was 13 years old and we all know how 13 year old schoolboys are), I came to see the amazing depth of the music and cast-iron structure and arrangements. At this time I was sitting all my music exams and, of course, composition and arrangement were a strong part of what I was studying. I was in awe of the way in which albums had been constructed, the string arrangements and naturally the synthesizers. I spoke to my music tutor about this fabulous new music I had found, however he instantly dismissed all of it as trivial and told me it was a un-necessary distraction from what I should be concentrating on (I stopped having music lessons a year later - enough was enough). It didn't stop me listening or loving any of it though.

And with it being 1979, that meant the release of the album "Bad Girls", another brilliant concept double album which had the hit singles "Hot Stuff", "Bad Girls" and "Dim All The Lights". It also had the customary Summer/Moroder electronic side, now with a slightly rockier edge, the way in which Donna Summer wanted to go. The Summer of '79 was a great one for me musically as it was a defining year on a number levels because alongside acquiring Donna Summer albums, it saw the emergence of Gary Numan and I discovered Isao Tomita.

So there I was, in a joyful pit of fantastic music, rich new sounds and a defining pathway when Donna decided to go and release some little tune with Barbra Streisand called "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)". Again, completely blown away. It was pure and unashamed disco featuring two amazing talents giving it rockall over 11 gloriously camp minutes, and those string sections!!! To die for.

I enjoyed Donna's material over the next few years, but it did, for me, lack the fire and sparkle of the Moroder collabs. That was until 1989 and the release of "Another Place and Time" which Donna did with legendary 80's producers, Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Now say what you like about SAW (and believe me, I have!!!) but they did produce some seriously successful tracks with the likes of Kylie, Dead Or Alive and good old Rick Astley. So when you put their skills alongside those of Donna Summer, it's bound to good. In fact, it wasn't good. It was great. Well-written club-orientated songs backed with solid production and Donna's amazing vocal gift made the album a winner, the album tracks are all as strong of the chosen singles and it's not often you can say that about any album.

So, my 35 year love affair with Donna Summer remains strong and not even death can tear it asunder. Her music provided large elements of my life with it's required soundtrack (is that kind of statement getting a little overused now? Oh well, it suits what I'm trying to say at the moment), it provided me with musical inspiration, it gave me enjoyment and yeah, Donna was a tad foxy ;-)

You will be missed, so sing to the stars and the Universe Donna, the greatest stage you could play.

1 comment:

  1. Say what you wish about SAW but the production was usually solid and sparkling...


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