May 17, 2012


Donna Summer's Biggest Songs: A Primer

Michael Ochs Archives
Michael Ochs Archives

Donna Summer's catalog reads like a playlist of disco's greatest hits. Out of her 20 Top 40 singles, tracks like "Love to Love You Baby," "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls" became disco classics and, unlike so many tracks of the era, remain timeless. Following her death from cancer at 63, let's celebrate the singer's legacy with some of her most beloved tracks.

"Love to Love You Baby" (1975)
The title track from Summer's second album is the closest thing you'll get to hearing an orgasm on the radio (Seriously. It was banned by certain radio stations for being too explicit). Despite Summer's original plan to pass this on to someone else, she was convinced to record the track by pioneering disco producer Giorgio Moroder. Good move. Already big in Europe, the track peaked at No. 2 and launched her career stateside.

"I Feel Love" (1977)
Written by Summer to represent "the future," Moroder's arpeggiated synths and driving drums helped the track become a club mainstay and techno precursor. Electronic producer Brian Eno reportedly said after hearing the track, "I have heard the sound of the future."

"Last Dance" (1978)
In the camp disco film Thank God It's Friday, Summer plays Nicole Sims, an aspiring disco singer who badgers the local DJ into playing the instrumental version of this one before singing over it at the disco. Spoiler alert: She wins the crowd over.

"MacArthur Park" (1978)
Summer's first No. 1 song was a cover of actor/singer Richard Harris's 1968 hit. Despite the song being covered more than 50 times, Summer's remains one of the most memorable. The song was her first of four No. 1s in 13 months.

"Heaven Knows" (1979)
Recorded with disco group Brooklyn Dreams, this iconic track was the second single from Summer's Live and More and remains one of her best-known tracks. She would later marry Dreams singer Bruce Sudano.

"Hot Stuff" (1978)
If there's one place to start with for Summer newbies, it's Bad Girls, her widely acclaimed, multi-platinum album that stands as the singer's only No. 1 album. "Hot Stuff," the first single from Bad Girls, would earn Summer a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, the first African-American to achieve such a feat.

"Bad Girls" (1979)
The head of Summer's label Casablanca Records wanted her to give this one to Cher. Summer refused, and the song would eventually become a simultaneous No. 1 song on Billboard's pop, R&B and dance charts.

"No More Tears (Enough is Enough)" (1979)
A joint release between Summer and co-vocalist Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears" starts off balladic before morphing into a propulsive disco track. Hip hop fans will recognize this one as the inspiration behind Raekwon's "Rainy Dayz."

"On the Radio" (1979)
The film for which this one was written for, Foxes, is a footnote now, but Summer's last hit of the 1970s remains a disco staple.

"The Wanderer" (1980)
As disco faded going into the 1980s, Summer began incorporating pop, rock and New Wave more into her sound, as heard in "The Wanderer" below. TV host Tom Snyder nails it in the intro: "Anybody here who has turned on a radio or a television set or a phonograph during the past five or six years or has been to a disco... is certain to know the name... of Donna Summer." Truth.

"She Works Hard For The Money" (1983)
It's hard to overstate the importance and impact of Summer's ode to the working woman. The track became a rallying cry and anthem for female empowerment and, equally important, was the first video by an African-American female to be placed in heavy rotation on MTV. Like Michael Jackson before her, Summer helped tear down the idea, as viewed by critics of MTV, that only white musicians could command a wide audience.

"This Time I Know It's For Real" (1989)
Summer's last big hit saw the singer delving into New Jack Swing and earning her biggest hit in years.

Check out:
  Fuse remembers Donna Summer with her most iconic photos from throughout her career.