This article originally appeared in an adult-oriented magazine. Parents may wish to review the article for language, etc. before allowing younger readers to have access. (It's not that the article is "bad", it's just that interviewers for these types of magazines have a way of saying things sometimes that you wouldn't see in a more family-oriented publication. LOL)
Donna Summer When we're finally introduced, I'm ready for one of the great cock teasings of my life, but Donna just shakes my hand and mumbles "Niceta meetcha."
It's the night before dress rehearsal. In exactly two says, this mini Las Vegas revue goes out on the road. Donna Summer, the star, isn't here yet, and nerves in the rehearsal hall are stretched tighter than a stripper's G string. Smoke, Donna's back-up band, is easing into Need-a-man Blues, and two singers in red leotards are sashaying across the stage, when suddenly Donna rushes through the door, drops an armload of paraphernalia into a chair and hops onto the stage while struggling into a pair of tight black pants. She gives up and does the whole song with one leg in and one leg out.
One thing is immediately evident: Summer can really sing. If you've heard Love To Love You Baby, you think she'd got this cute little mousey voice, the kind you always hear from chicks who can't
sing. But Donna can belt.
She pulls her other leg into her pants while Smoke slides into the intro of Could It Be Magic? Then she does
this perfect little pirouette that lands her right in front of the mike, and it's funny because, just for a glimmer there, she looks all the world like Mary Tyler Moore. But just for a glimmer.
When Donna does her last number, Love To Love You Baby, the room is absolutely still. As songs go, it's nothing impressive: slow, swelling intro, back-up singers, the catchy hook—"Love to love you, baby" – over and over again. Standard Philadelphia-sound R&B. What gets you is the way the words ooze out and her moans of delicious appreciation. The song envelopes you, and you suddenly realize that your lecherous instincts are coming into play. Donna makes Tina Turner look arthritic.
When we're finally introduced, I'm ready for one of the greatest cock teasings of my life, but she just shakes my hand and mumbles "Niceta meecha." I almost expect her to punch me in the shoulder or chuck me under the chin. The next night, after dress rehearsal, she won't go anywhere until she's removed every last speck of glitter from her eyelids with a pair of tweezers; she doesn't want to "look like a hooker."
I interview Donna Summer in her house high up on the side of a mountain overlooking Beverly Hills. It has all the crazy slants and cantilevers of a 1959 Impala; but you know it's the Seventies because of the sturdy black-iron guard rails on the windows – put up, no doubt, to ward off would-be Charlie Mansons. It's the kind of place that all new stars rent when they arrive in Hollywood. On a clear day, only God has a better view of Los Angeles.
Peter is using the den as his studio. On a workbench set up by the floor-to-ceiling windows is one of his paintings. It shows a sinewy black arm grasping the decaying shaft of an inverted microphone. The bulb of the mike is cracked eggshell with several pieces missing. In one hole is a disembodied human mouth. In two other holes, there are eyes, the pupils floating in the whites like egg yolk.
Peter tells me that it's a surrealistic representation of what people are doing to Donna.
Like Alice Cooper, Donna is using rock 'n' roll, controversy and sexual taboo as steppingstones into big-league showbiz. The major difference is that Cooper knew what he was doing from the start, whereas success just sort of happened to Donna.
But Donna's no fool. She says she knows what's going on and she's going to stay on top of it.
At about the same time that the McLendon campaign was losing steam, 19-year-old Donna Summer was on her way to Germany to ply in the European tour company of Hair. She had begun to see her home town of Boston as a "boring city" and also to realize that music was the only thing that interested her.
"I never wanted to do anything but sing," Donna says today. "And that's all I ever tried to do well. I was never a good student – unless my parents said that I couldn't sing unless I got this or that grade. Then I studied."
Donna was the daughter of an electrician father and a schoolteacher mother – and one of seven children. "I was raised in a three-family house that was like an orphanage," she says. "Besides the seven kids in my family, there were eight children on the other two floors of the house. We always had the best back yard in the neighborhood; all the others would have come to our house to play."
For all the back-yard good times, however, Donna's adolescence had its downers. "I hated school and couldn't study," she says. "Then when I was 16, a teacher who hated my guts told me I might as well drop out, since I wasn't doing anything anyway. So I told my father, 'If I leave school now and get a job, I can put myself through music school and do what I want right off the bat.'"
That was not to be, however. A few weeks later Donna was third in her class in a city-wide scholastic-achievement test and was induced to return to her classes.
Little wonder. Donna was shortly on her way to Germany and, by the time she left the Hair tour, she was dating an Austrian actor and had settled down in Munich, doing occasional singing jobs in local musicals and movies, and once even for the Viennese Folk Opera.
Eventually, Donna married her actor-boyfriend and had a child, But six months later, she was back at work. When she met Pete Bellotte, who was to become one of her producers, she was singing back-up for a Three Dog Night demo at Musicland Studios in Munich. Bellotte liked her voice and asked her to sing a few songs for him. At the time, she says, she wasn't looking to get back into the business on a recording level, but she recorded three songs for Bellotte anyway, and he took them to MIDEM, a recording-industry convention in Cannes. He sold all three. One of them, The Hostage, became a a number one in Holland and Belgium, number two in France and hit the Top 10 in Spain and Scandinavia. Donna was visiting her family in Boston when she got a call from her producer's office, asking her to get back to Europe immediately: "Your record is a hit. They want you to do television."
Donna Summer One day, when Bogart was having a party, he slipped "Love To Love You Baby" onto the stereo. Instantly, the mood changed. Everybody started dancing, touching.
A few more hits followed, and Donna Summer became pretty big in Europe. Then came Love To Love You Baby.
It all happened, she says, because, one day, Giorgio Moroder, Bellotte's partner, announced challengingly that Je T'Aime
was doing well in England.
Donna said, "Oh, really? Well, why don't we make our own?"
Bellotte and Moroder thought she was serious and they got upset. No way, they said: "It's not your image."
That got Donna upset. "What do you mean, it's not my image?" she asked. "Who are you to say I can't make a song?"
Two days later, Moroder asked her to come down to the studio, and it was there that she developed Love To Love You Baby.
It was just under four minutes long, and it was released in Europe, but it didn't do as well as her straighter songs – probably, she says, because her producers were right: It wasn't her image – at least not in Europe.
In the meantime, Bellotte and Moroder were looking for someone to distribute their label in the United States, and were glad to know someone who knew someone who knew Neil Bogart, president of Casablanca Records.
The record business would be very boring if it weren't for people like Bogart. Big record companies are usually backed by bigger corporations. They don't take chances. They stick to established formulas and aim for a solid six percent return. Guys like Neil Bogart, who start with nothing but street sense, keep the industry spinning with new ideas.
In the mid-Sixties, when Bogart was starting Buddah Records, the only thing happening in the record business was heavy electronic-guitar music. Bogart thought that the gum-chewing teenyboppers might be a market. People laughed when Buddah released hum-along tunes like Yummy, Yummy, Yummy; Chewy Chewy; One, Two, Three, Red Light; Simon Says; and Green Tambourine.
Buddah sold 18,000,000 singles in its first year.
Time called Bogart "the bubble-gum king of America," and the label stuck. When Buddah signed the Isley Brothers and hit the charts with It's Your Thing, everybody called it R&B bubble gum. Then Buddah signed Melanie, and everybody called it folk bubble gum.
Today, Time is calling Bogart a sex-rock pioneer.
Bogart started Casablanca Records as a joint venture with Warner Bros. after leaving Buddah in 1974. But after only eight months, he decided to buy Warner Bros. out and start over again with an independent company.
Casablanca's first major offering was a Johnny Carson album that sold a lot of records but lost almost enough money to close the company down.
It was around this time that some of
the people from the company asked him for a Christmas-card idea.
"I don't know," he said. "Show a gold album and snow falling."
"But what do you want to say on it?" they asked.
Bogart thought about how dark everything looked for Casablanca and said, "In every desert, there's an oasis."
Six months later, Giorgio Moroder walked into Bogart's office and announced, "I have a label in Germany called Oasis Records. I'd like you to distribute it in America. Here are my first three acts:
Schloss, Einselganger and Donna Summer."
And Bogart thought, "In every desert, there's an Oasis."
Moroder had brought along a copy of Love To Love You Baby. Bogart liked it and bought it immediately. Then he sat on it for several months. There was something about it that bothered him.
One day, when Bogart was having a party at his house, he slipped Love To Love You Baby onto the stereo. Instantly the mood in the room changed. Everybody got up and started dancing, touching.
"I've got to put that record out," Bogart says he thought then. The song finished and one of the chicks went "Awwww, put that on again." So he put it on again. A few people applauded and someone else said "Hey. Play that again."
And then he realized what had been bothering him about the record: One play wasn't enough. "If I put this out the way it is," he thought, "it's going to be a real downer."
It was two o'clock in the morning in California, but Bogart got on the phone to Germany. The call woke Moroder.
"I need a twenty-minute version!" Bogart said.
"You're crazy," Moroder mumbled.
"Believe me!" Bogart said. "It's the greatest dance record! But I've got to have a twenty-minute version."
"I think maybe you call me back later," Moroder said. "I don't think I understand too well."
"We thought he was crazy," says Donna. "But then Giorgio and I looked at each other and said, 'Well, if that's what he wants, let's give it to him.'"