Posts Tagged ‘Donna Summer’

From approximately 1976 until 1979, disco was the law of the land. Many people were unhappy under disco’s thumpa-thumpa-thumpa rule, and a rebellion broke out on July 12, 1979 in Comiskey Park, Chicago.

The White Sox, who were not enjoying a victorious season, had tried to lure paying customers into the ballpark with the promise of Disco Demolition Night. Fans were invited to bring their most hated disco records. The records were to be placed in a box in centerfield and blown up between games of a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers.

You’d go to that, wouldn’t you? Explosives in a stadium where they sell beer. Fun!

The idea was the brainchild of a Chicago dj who was a cultural-reactionary or a shock-jock or simply attention-starved. In the days leading up to Disco Demolition Night, this dj whipped his fellow anti-disco insurgents into the kind of frenzy you only saw in, well, discos. His plan worked: The White Sox had hoped for an attendance figure of about 35,000, but what they got was 55,000, which was more than that stadium could hold. Also much like discos.

A lot of beer and hallucinogenics happened, records were thrown like frisbees at frightened ballplayers, the beleaguered security guards locked most of the gates which meant that the sane people couldn’t leave, the first game ended, and when the records blew up, so did the crowd. Due to multiple felonious assaults on the landscaping and Tiger manager Sparky Anderson’s refusal to let his team take the field, the White Sox and the Tigers were unable to play the second game.

(The Tigers won the first game, 4-1. The White Sox forfeited the second game because they were unable to provide a safe work environment.)

I’d like to remind everyone that when the Sox held a pro-disco night in 1977, it was completely non-violent, though I’m willing to bet that there was sex in the bathrooms. Just like in a disco.

So was Disco Demolition Night caused by a homophobic or racist reaction to shifting cultural standards, or was it simply the joy of morons who’d found each other? All I know is, white people always riot over stupid shit, and afterwards we never have a national conversation about family values.

White Sox pitcher Rich Wortham said, “This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.”

I was a disco activist
I thoroughly enjoyed my disco years and if I still had my leisure suit I’d wear it to work. Actually, if I still had my leisure suit, my wife would’ve confiscated it at gunpoint. The late Donna Summer was always billed as the Queen of Disco, and I pledged my service to her. Let’s look at her collected works of the ’70s. This won’t take long, because most of these were – forgive me, my queen – crud.

(I’m not going to quote any of her lyrics, either, but I can’t help saying Toot toot. Hey. Beep beep.)

Lady of the Night (1974)
Ms. Summer’s debut demonstrates her astounding voice and her producer’s astounding confusion. Giorgio Moroder has no shortage of ideas, all of them bad:

“Born to Die” is country.
“Domino” is folk.
“Let’s Work Together” is from a Broadway show that closed in the middle of its first night.
“Sing Along (Sad Song)” is Judy Collins in an alternate, less-musical universe.
“Hostage” is ridiculous in any universe.
“Little Miss Fit” is right – Donna Summer doesn’t fit on this disc.

The only reason to listen to Lady of the Night is the title track, not because it’s good – it stands on stilettos to reach passable – but because of the way it showcases Summer’s voice, particularly that moment in the chorus when she ascends through laaaaaaaaady of the night.

All but one of these songs was co-written by Moroder, who despite this chaos is about to make Summer a star. Signor Moroder also has an excellent claim on the invention of disco. Brace for impact!

Love to Love You Baby (1975)
The title is 17 minutes long. Until this track, 17 minutes was the province of prog rock and heavy metal. The sex sounds are silly but the sensuality in Summer’s voice is not. I listened to all 17 minutes this afternoon, but I admit I took a couple of breaks. I found a flute solo in there! I might’ve been the first person to hear it in 40 years.

A Love Trilogy (1976)
This one opens with “Try Me, I know We Can Make It,” which is 18 minutes long. Oh no you don’t! And don’t try to sneak Barry Manilow past me, either (I found him in the credits).

Four Seasons of Love (1976)
This is a theme album. Based on the cover and the glamour girl calendar inside, the theme is Summer’s legs. Good call.

The five songs average 7 minutes apiece. The disco sounds routine to me now, but in 1976 this was an exciting record that would’ve kept you going at your favorite club.

By this time, Summer was writing or co-writing many of these songs. Moroder could use all the help he could get.

Once Upon a Time (1977)
Like Lady Gaga 30 years later, Summer acknowledges her enthusiastic gay following and tries to say something encouraging. Daring for that era, but this double-record set is too pretentious to contemplate.

I Remember Yesterday (1977)
An odd title for the world of disco, where everyone was living for the next bump, but the underrated “Love’s Unkind” does sound like the updating of a ’60s R&B hit even though it’s an original.

This album gave us “I Feel Love,” one of the most significant tracks of the decade. Entire genres of electronica (for example, “Tribal-Progressive House,” a name I don’t understand even though I listen to that channel), thousands of raves, and many career opportunities for techie djs with enormous egos all descend from “I Feel Love.” I can only wonder how many 38-year-olds are walking around today because their parents were inflamed by “I Feel Love.” (My parents were inflamed by Perry Como burning down the house with “Papa Loves Mambo.”)

You can find the extended version of “I Feel Love” on Donna Summer: The Dance Collection (1986), which also includes the extended “Hot Stuff” (but not “Bad Girls”), her “MacArthur Park Suite” (most of that one’s pretty good), and, out of nowhere, an appearance by Barbra Streisand.

Thank God It’s Friday (1978)
This is the soundtrack to the magna-crap film. “Last Dance” won an Oscar, crushing Olivia Newton-John and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease. In your face, ONJ! It’s particularly fun on a dance floor because of the 1:20 build-up to the 4 minutes of dancing. It always left me quivering with antici – say it already – pation.

Live and More (1978)
Way too many songs from Once Upon a Time.

Bad Girls (1979)
Was disco dying in 1979? Just like the Red Sox? No, it was evolving. Unlike the Red Sox.

Bad Girls gave Summer two mega hits (“Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff”). How do you beat an album with that pair in the first and second spots? They’re exciting disco/rock hybrids that are descended from all the funk/rock experiments that began 10 years earlier with Sly & The Family Stone, Isaac Hayes, and Curtis Mayfield. I remember standing on a dance floor in 1979 when the lights changed, the fog rose, and “Bad Girls” came on with that beat like a John Phillips Sousa march performed in jackhammers. I was happy and I didn’t even have sex in a bathroom.

There are not many albums you can put on at a dance party and let ride for eight tracks before you have to skip the slow songs or change the disc. Welcome to Bad Girls.

“Love Will Always Find You” is disco grafted to New Wave – it reminds me of Talking Heads’ “Memories Can’t Wait” and even some work by Graham Parker. “Dim All the Lights” and “Journey to the Center of Your Heart” are terrific dance numbers. They even have some Stevie Wonder-inspired keyboards. “One Night in a Lifetime” and “Can’t Get to Sleep At Night” (I admit that that one is too slow) finish this surprising set, which frankly kicks The Rolling Stones’ skinny asses on Some Girls.

In 1979, this is where you finished side two of the first record. You were supposed to put on side three of the second record, but that’s where Summer and Moroder reverted to their early form and delivered four awful ballads. One of them, “There Will Always Be a You,” was bad enough with a title like that, but Summer finished it off with a little yodeling.

So let’s return to 2015 and the present tense and with a single click head straight to side 4, because, Dear Readers, side 4 is as avant-garde as disco ever got. With these last three songs it’s as if David Byrne and Brian Eno had been turned loose with a synthesizer and a disco ball while Annie Lennox and Debbie Harry dirty-danced with Gary Numan and David Bowie.

In “Our Love,” the “Our love/will last forever” bridge is the most unusual 30 seconds in the disco genre. The rest of the song sounds like Bowie’s “Heroes” played at dance speed by Blondie.

Next there’s “Lucky,” which belongs in a category of music loosely called Synth Pop or New Romantics. Examples of bands that manufactured this stuff are all from the ’80s: Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Flock of Haircuts, The Spoons, Spandau Ballet, Erasure, ABC, Talk Talk, The The (I’m not making these up), and sometimes Duran Duran but not Duran Duran Duran.

The closer is “Sunset People,” and at this point I’m out of metaphors and stuck with words such as weird and bizarre and other synonyms suggested by Microsoft. I’m still happy, though.

I have never compiled a Top 10 list of disco records, but if I did, Bad Girls would smash smash smash them all. This is the toughest disco ever made, a set that in places blows away many straight rock bands of that era, including The Cars, Foreigner, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Little River Band, and REO Styxjourneywagon. Donna Summer doesn’t have the thunder of AC/DC or Aerosmith, but there are stretches on this record where she doesn’t trail by much, plus she has a better sense of rhythm and her stupid lyrics aren’t as stupid as these stupidheads’ stupid lyrics.

It took Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder five years to get to Bad Girls, and there were plenty of places along their journey where we could’ve abandoned them (I did, more than once), but the important thing is that they arrived. Summer has a crossover hit, “She Works Hard for the Money,” waiting for her in 1983, but after Bad Girls all the rest was commentary.

If I still had my disco regalia I’d wear it in your honor. RIP, Your Highness.


Bildungsromans 1


After hours of wrestling with customer service and how to teach it to people who spend their days testing oil viscosity and tracking down Mason jars sent in by irate customers, the last thing I wanted to do was light a fire under my brain. But Crash Davis was right. After five consecutive victories (every day I write is another victory), why settle for a defeat?

So I dragged myself into Chapter 6, where I’ve been dumping misfit paragraphs since Monday. It looked like my parents’ basement in there. But after an hour I felt I brought about some order, and if I keep this up through the weekend I’ll have a milestone to report on Sunday night.

Speaking of my parents: They just celebrated their 59th anniversary! Three cheers to Irving and Gloria. You crazy kids!

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care
Loyal Reader Linda brings up a good point in her comment on yesterday’s very exciting post. Sometimes, staying awake is the hardest part of thinking and writing. Geniuses and other productive people typically sleep less than eight hours per night (Edison only slept on national holidays), and I’ve read that as you grow older, you require less sleep.

This is bullshit. My Personal Sleep Quotient, which is approximately 10 hours per night, hasn’t budged since I was a teenager. With less than 10 hours stored in my head, I don’t feel like I’m at the top of my game. Very few people have made a name for themselves while spending that much time unconscious. The only two I know are Calvin Coolidge and Tony Conigliaro. Coolidge wasn’t much of a president, but Tony C still holds the record for most home runs as a teenager (24 at the age of 19, in 1964). It doesn’t help that I’m the only human being in Portland or Seattle who doesn’t drink coffee. Somehow I soldier on.

Box score
– I’ve written for 6 days out of 6
– 7.5 total hours
– Here’s the Clarion West Write-a-thon
– Here’s my first post on the Write-a-thon

Random Pick of the Day
Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Stratagem (1994)
Stratagem isn’t very good at all, but it has the only two songs I like by Big Head Todd: “Shadowlands,” one of those rare rock songs that builds a mood of approaching menace, and the title track, which sounds like a Pink Floyd ballad with a heart. Todd Park Mohr doesn’t have a great voice, but with what he does have he can move some pretty big hills.

Bonus: “Turn the Light Out” on their first album, Sister Sweetly, is a bouncy update of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

Random Musical Fact of the Day
Donna Summer (“Lookin’ for some hot stuff baby this evenin’ ”) was discovered while singing back-up for Three Dog Night (“Jeremiah was a bullfrog”).

I’ll never forget my teenage sister, Gayle, and her best friend, Debbie, singing Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and making all the car horn noises. In the summer of 1979 there were critics who claimed that 16-year-old girls should not be singing songs about happy hookers, but it’s plain that the girls in “Bad Girls” are not happy. Anyway, I’m sure that by September, Gayle and Debbie were singing something else. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” probably.

Donna Summer had one of the best voices of her generation. She wasn’t in the same class as Buffy Sainte-Marie or Minnie Ripperton, but she was sexier than Buffy and had better material than Minnie. I wish she had done an album with Chrissie Hynde.

In that long-ago era I heard Donna Summer’s songs every time I went to a disco, but the song that remains with me pre-dates the entire movement: “I Feel Love.” All forms of synthesizer or computer-based dance music – electronica, trance, house, acid jazz, whatever you want to call it – descend from this song. This is my favorite music to write to! Rest in peace, Donna. Save the last trance for me.

Random Pick of the Week
Los Lobos, Kiko (1992)
Tex-Mex meets Pink Martini. Totally joyful.

Random Pan of the Week
Fun., Some Nights (2012)
I don’t understand why “We Are Young” is getting so much radio time. I haven’t heard anything this bad since Mitt Romney covered “Who Let the Dogs Out?” I also don’t get the surplus punctuation in their name. Do you call them “Fun Stop”? “Fun and Done?” “Fun Up to a Point”?

I give Some Nights an F. Period.

Random Run-DMSteve Reader of the Week
Judy Gould, whose ambition for many years was to jump out of a cake on The Edge’s birthday. When she was getting ready for an Aerosmith concert at the age of 56, she wrote, “I figure that as long as I remember that I can no longer wear fringe as an actual piece of clothing, I should be OK.” Judy is wearing a hospital gown rather than fringe at the moment, though she hasn’t lost her sense of humor. You pretty much have to have an indestructible sense of humor to be an Aerosmith fan. I know this is Journey and not Aerosmith, but don’t stop believin’, Judy.

In the summer of 1979 we danced to “I Feel Love,” possibly at a club that is now a pricey stack of condos. It might’ve been the night that Yaz hit his 400th homerun. If it wasn’t, it should’ve been.

Today at Run-DMSteve we contemplate disco. As the 1970s recede in our rearview mirror we should remind ourselves that the disco phenomenon did not engulf the entire decade. It wasn’t even around long enough to become the theme music to the Carter administration.

Disco had an intense but relatively short initial run, breaking upon the world in 1976 with the release of the film
Saturday Night Fever and cresting in ’77 as punk and New Wave appeared and people got tired of dressing like circus clowns and stuffing themselves into ice-fog-shrouded, money-sucking discotheques. (I miss the fog.)

Disco staggered on, too oblivious or coked-out to die, though the industry probably got some kind of message after Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in 1979, when the White Sox blew up a pile of disco records while beer-soaked anti-disco fans rioted. This is probably not what Ronald Reagan meant by “Morning in America.”

You may believe that such acts as KC & The Sunshine Band (“Shake Shake Shake, Shake Your Booty”), Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”), The O’Jays (“Love Train”), and Chic (“Le Freak”) have had little impact on our civilization. If you believe that you are like so wrong.

This music dovetails to perfection with pop from the ’60s and the ’80s in any Golden Oldies format. You could easily bookend 15 minutes of British Invasion with Donna Summer on one side and Evelyn “Champagne” King on the other, or follow Frankie Goes to Hollywood with Kool & The Gang. The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” has become a traditional, and much-anticipated, part of baseball games, wedding receptions, corporate retreats, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and Christmas parties, whereas if you’d tried that in 1978 when the song was fresh you would’ve had a fight on your hands.

Burn baby burn! Disco inferno, yeah! Burn baby burn! Gonna burn that mama down!
My problem with disco is not that I regret loving it when I was 21 – I wore a leisure suit and I’m proud – but that I can no longer dance to it. Our dance standards have changed, altered by decades of electronica, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga. Here in 2012, disco sounds slow.

While disco was happening, dances with formal steps sprang up to match the music, but who dances like that anymore? Britney runs rings around Donna and Evelyn with “Womanizer.” Lady Gaga sprints past The Bee-Gees with “Born This Way.” You can get hours of nonstop, hands-in-the-air, jet-propelled glow-stick insanity from any trance artist. (Christopher Lawrence’s Un-Hooked is totally off the hook.) You can’t get any of that from “Well she’s a brick. HOUSE. The lady’s stacked and that’s a fact, ain’t holding nothing back.” Even The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno,” a signature event when they played it at discos in 1977, sounds today as if The Trammps were dragging their feet. Must’ve been the burden of that extra m.

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is the 10th best-selling album of all time. Disco is part of our heritage, and though there are no post-graduate programs in Disco Studies (that I know of), the field probably has depths none of us suspect.

But I doubt it.

Get down, get down, get-down-get-down, get down tonight! Oh woo hoo oo hoo hoo hoo hooooo.