Donna Summer's latest LP, simply titled Donna Summer, is an absolute creative
solstice by one of modern music's most resourceful and singularly gifted
Appropriately, the album was released during the summer of 1982 and with
the play on words aside, there is indeed something bright, hot and shimmering
about the lady's latest release on Geffen Records.
Donna is at the height of her abilities and it is obvious on this album.
The listener gets the sense of a new spirit in her sound- a calm, confident
and totally assured artist, who knows the meaning behind her music. She manages
to express that meaning with the effortless ease that comes only from experience
and hard won lessons.
A prime cause for the confidence and surety that suffuses Donna's new work
is her growing family. "I've found a proper balance between the two," she
explains. With a pair of children and one more on the way, she has discovered,
"having a family, being committed in that way, has freed me so much more
to express myself in my music. The pressure is off.
"I'm doing what I do now because I love it. That's the only reason anyone
should have for doing anything ... having children, making records, whatever
it might be."
Donna Summer is a work that stands as a testament to living what you're doing.
This album is highlighted by a crackling energy level and a stylistic gamut
that showcases the full range of Donna's powerful interpretive skills. The
lp is further abetted by Quincy Jones' non-pareil production.
The album's immediate strong suit is the strength of her performances. Its
second most striking quality is the nearly perfect selection of songs. "Of
course I had to like everything on the album," Donna confesses, "but it was
Quincy that really searched out the tunes and he really worked hard to find
just the right ones."
Two of the tunes on the lp are co-authored by its namesake - the rousing
"Livin' In America" and the ethereal "Love Is Just A Breath Away."
"Livin' In America' is just about my favorite cut," Donna enthuses. "It's
really how I feel about this country: the land of the free, one nation under
God, indivisible. It may sound corny, but to me it's about believing and
being positive about what you believe."
The tune is a sort of rags-to-riches rap story, co-written by Jones and long-time
collaborator Rod Temperton, both of whom also contributed to the album's
blistering debut single - "Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)." Ifs
the pace-setting song of the album because it's highly charged, with a powerful
emotional punch in an instrumental setting that is quite simply awesome -
an incendiary challenge to the airwaves.
Contrasting nicely are such cuts as the sultry "The Woman In Me," and "(If
It) Hurts Just A Little" with its high-stepping horns and marvelous melodic
tunes. But the lp's real surprises are a trio of songs that map out whole
new stylistic territories for Donna.
"State Of Independence" could well be the album's centerpiece. It is a
magnificent, cyclical choral piece that sweeps and soars from speaker to
speaker with an elation to match the subject it celebrates. "It's a song
that really expresses what I've been feeling lately," Donna comments.
"It's got an optimism and sense of purpose that is based in reality." The
song indeed stands as a kind of musical Chariots Of Fire and is written,
fittingly enough, by that hit film's soundtrack composer, Vangelis, along
with Jon Anderson.
"Protection" is a galloping rock anthem written especially for Donna by Bruce
Springsteen and proves conclusively her consummate skills in the arena. "When
Bruce brought me the song originally," says Donna, "we tried doing it as
a duo. It was a great idea, but it really didn't work out."
"The tune just wasn't written that way and eventually I did it myself. But,
it's funny... I heard him doing it so much in the studio, that to me, I sound
just like him on the track."
Closing out Donna Summer is the evergreen Billy Strayhorn torch ballad, "Lush
Life." "It was the hardest song I've ever sung," confided Donna. "Quincy
insisted I do it and I'm glad he did."
Widely considered one of the best ballads ever penned, "Lush Life," with
its urbane lyric twists and haunting melody stands as a new height in Donna's
remarkable career. She carries the meaning and emotional import of the tune
with a natural feel for nuance that is breathtaking.
Donna Summer's career has been an interesting one to say the least. She was
born in 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts. At the age of ten, she sang for the
first time as a church choir soloist. In 1967, Donna landed her first
professional job in Munich, Germany, in the cast of Hair. While in Europe,
Donna broadened her musical experience by joining the Vienna Folk Opera and
appearing in productions of Porgy And Bess and Showboat. At the same time
she was also a featured vocalist in German productions of Godspell and The
Me That Nobody Knows.
Donna's big breakthrough came in 1975 when two aspiring producers, Giorgio
Moroder and Pete Bellotte, produced "Love To Love You Baby," written by them
and Summer. The single and subsequent album reached number one all over the
world. Donna returned to the United States as a new reigning queen. In 1976,
Donna's second album Trilogy Of Love, was released, followed by Four Seasons
Of Love. Both of these albums went gold while Donna traveled around the country,
performing before SRO audiences.
1977 found Donna riding the crest of the disco phenomenon. Two more LPs were
released -Once Upon A Time and I Remember Yesterday. Donna's next number
one single was "Last Dance." which won both a Grammy and an Oscar for best
song from the film Thank God It's Friday. Live And More was released in 1978.
This album went double platinum and the single "MacArthur Park" went to number
one, joining "Heaven Knows" in gold status.
1979 turned out to be Donna Summer's most successful year up until that point.
Her Bad Girls LP was released and quickly achieved triple platinum status.
The singles "Hot Stuff' and "Bad Girls" were both certified platinum. In
that year she also teamed up with Barbra Streisand and came up with the super
smash "Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)," which made it to the top of the
charts. In 1980, Donna signed with Geffen Records and released The Wanderer,
which was quickly certified gold. Now comes the summer of '82 - Donna Summer.
"In a way, it's really a people's record," Donna muses about the album. "So
many talented people put so much into making it, that it really belongs to
all of us." The manifest talents of Quincy Jones, the producer/arranger/composer/
renaissance man, fused with those of singer/songwriter/consummate stylist
and woman-for-all-seasons Donna Summer, surely marks an historic high-water
mark in the chronicle of contemporary popular music.