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Music / Donna Summer

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"Mommy, what's wrong with the lady on the record? Why is she moaning? Is she hurt?"
— A Last.FM user on "Love to Love You Baby". Presumably, this is what he said when he first heard the song.

Donna Summer (born LaDonna Adrian Gaines, December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012) ...ah, how to describe her?

She was the Queen of Disco! Oh, but so much more.

LaDonna Gaines was born in Boston and originally trained as a gospel singer before becoming successful in R&B and Pop as well. She started her career in Europe, joining theatrical companies in Munich and Vienna and releasing several early singles in French and German. Her big break came when she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, who managed her for the rest of The '70s, and recorded the single "Love to Love You Baby" (1975). She made several concept albums before reaching her peak with Bad Girls (1979), a double album that mixed Rock & Roll, Funk, Blues, Soul and Electronic Music to massive success. She soon broke from Disco.

After the 1970s, she had success with songs such as "She Works Hard for the Money" and "This Time I Know It's for Real", although she never recaptured her former glory. Her last album, Crayons, was released in 2008.

She died at her home in Florida after a battle with lung cancer on May 17, 2012.

Studio albums:

  • Lady of the Night (1974). Two of the song off the albums were modest hits.
  • Love to Love You Baby (1975). Her breakthrough album, a certified gold album. The album was named after its major song, which became an international hit.
  • A Love Trilogy (1976). Certified gold.
  • Four Seasons of Love (1976). Certified gold.
  • I Remember Yesterday (1977). Certified platinum.
  • Once Upon a Time (1977). Certified gold.
  • Bad Girls (1979). Certified platinum. Her best-selling album overall, and called her best.
  • The Wanderer (1980). A New Wave-style album. Certified gold.
  • I'm a Rainbow (1981). Her last album with Moroder and Bellotte, recorded in 1981 but shelved. Bootlegged copies were circulated for years. Officially released in 1996. Never a major sales hit, but well-received by music critics and Summer's fanbase.
  • Donna Summer (1982). A Self-Titled Album. Certified gold. While several of its songs sold well when released as singles, the album underperformed in the sales charts.
  • She Works Hard for the Money (1983). Certified gold. The titular song, conceived as a tribute to the working woman, became her greatest hit of The '80s. Her popularity increased when its music video became a hit with the MTV audience.
  • Cats Without Claws (1984). First Summer album since the 1970s to not sell well enough to be certified golden. It peaked at #40 in the charts. Music critics view it as a decent but unspectacular effort.
  • All Systems Go (1987). A single song from the album, "Dinner with Gershwin", became a significant hit. Most of the other songs were considered forgettable, resulting in the album becoming a commercial and critical flop.
  • Another Place and Time (1989). A Europop-style album, a commercial and critical comeback. Certified golden in the United Kingdom, with several of its songs topping the charts across Europe. Curiously, the album underperformed in North America. "This Time I Know It's for Real", from this album, was her last Billboard top 10 (and top 40) hit, at least on the Hot 100.
  • Mistaken Identity (1991). A commercial flop. A single song off this album, "When Love Cries", became a notable Contemporary R&B hit.
  • Christmas Spirit (1994). Album mostly featuring traditional Christmas Songs, performed in the style of Soul Music. A few original songs were included, though nothing particularly memorable.
  • Crayons (2008). First album consisting only of original songs since 1991. The album peaked at #17 in the charts, her greatest commercial hit since the 1980s. Three of its songs reached #1 in the dance charts. It was, however, her last full album. A few singles followed the album, though it is still seen as her swan song.

Live albums:

  • Live and More (1978). Certified platinum.
  • Live & More Encore (1999). The most commercially successful Summer album of The '90s. Mostly covering older hits, but introduced two new songs. Both I Will Go with You (Con te partirò) and Love Is the Healer reached #1 in the dance charts of the year.

"Looking for some hot tropes, baby, this evening, I want some hot tropes baby tonight":

  • Award-Bait Song: "The Power of One" for Pokémon 2000.
  • Concept Album: Donna made a few of these during the Seventies and Eighties. Four Seasons of Love was a short album detailing the stages of a love affair like the changing of seasons, I Remember Yesterday is an homage to music through the ages to the present and future, and Once Upon a Time tells a modern version of the Cinderella story.
  • Downer Ending: "Hostage", from the pre-disco album Lady of the Night, is sung from the point of view of a woman whose husband is kidnapped. Things go From Bad to Worse and by the end of the song, she's a widow.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Donna might be known as the queen of disco, but you would never know it listening to her first album, 1974's Lady of the Night. This debut was much more of a rural-feeling folk pop record, with some light influences from country of all genres. It wasn't until the follow-up album, Love to Love You Baby, that her true musical direction was born.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • The album version of "Love to Love You Baby" runs 16:49, the entirety of Side 1.
    • "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It," on A Love Trilogy, runs 17:57, the entirety of Side 1.
    • Four Seasons of Love has "Spring Affair" (8:29) and "Summer Fever" (8:06). I Remember Yesterday is when she abandoned this trope and started focusing on songs of more conventional length (though ironically, a 15:43 Patrick Cowley remix of "I Feel Love" from this album would become one of the best-known examples of this trope).
  • Female Empowerment Song: "She Works Hard for the Money" praises a woman who works for tips, is needed and cared for by her customers, and wonders why some people have everything. The song's chorus is "She works hard for the money so you better treat her right." The song doesn't specify her line of work, but in the Music Video of the song she's a harried waitress.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: "Unconditional Love" featuring Musical Youth.
  • Here We Go Again!: Four Seasons of Love begins with "Spring Affair" and then follows the romance through the seasons to its end in "Winter Melody". Then the cycle starts all over again with the final track, a reprise of "Spring Affair".
  • The Immodest Orgasm: In "Love to Love You, Baby".
  • Incredibly Long Note: "Dim All the Lights" holds the record for the longest note held in an American Top 40 pop hit, at 16 seconds.
  • Intercourse with You: She's mostly remembered for these kinds of songs, as it was the theme for some of her biggest hits: "Love To Love You Baby", "Hot Stuff", "I Feel Love",... The rest ("Heaven Knows," "On the Radio," etc.) mostly fell under Silly Love Songs.
  • Job Song: "She Works Hard for the Money" is about the singer encouraging the listener to respect a blue-collar worker who had been working for 28 years.
  • Longest Song Goes First: the title track of Love To Love You Baby, and "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It" on A Love Trilogy each take up the entire first side of their respective albums. "Spring Affair" on Four Seasons of Love and "Get Ethnic" on Mistaken Identity don't dominate quite so much but are still their albums' longest tracks.
  • Love Letter: One apparently fell out of her ex's "old brown overcoat", someone found it, and "They said it really loud/They said it on the air, on the radio"
  • Marilyn Maneuver: The back cover of Four Seasons of Love.
  • Radio Song: "On the Radio," about how a man's letter to The One That Got Away is found by someone and read on the radio. The woman hears it and reunites with him.
  • Rearrange the Song: Her signature song, Love to Love You Baby was more or less inspired by Je t'aime... moi non plus(literally meaning I Love You... Me Neither), which was originally performed by Jane Birkin and her then-lover Serge Gainsbourg. A 1969 controversial, but internationally-famous French pop song, which Summer subsequently covered herself. As for Love to Love You Baby, the album version was quite heavily reworked, as you would expect given that it was expanded from a 3:23-long 7" to nearly seventeen minutes.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: From "She Works Hard For The Money":
    Never sell out she never will
    Not for a dollar bill
  • Shout-Out: "Fred Astaire"
  • Sitcom: Was "Aunt Oona from Altoona" on Family Matters.
  • Something Blues: "Need-A-Man Blues" on Love to Love You Baby
  • Visual Pun: The trope image was used for the cover art to the "On The Radio" single as well as a similarly titled Greatest Hits Album - note that she's literally "on the radio", as in sitting atop it.
  • Working Class Heroine: The subject of "She Works Hard For The Money."