The international star's career get off on the right foot in Germany's rich
dance-music scene of the '70s
Donna Summer started her professional singing career in Germany back in the
late '60s, performing in the stage musical "Hair" and going on to land roles
in European productions of "Godspell," "The Me Nobody Knows" and "Porgy &
But it was in 1974, two decades ago, that she was discovered--in Munich--by
producer/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, and recorded her
first single, "The Hostage," at their newly opened Musicland Studio, where
such artists as Marc Bolan, Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin,
ELO and, later, Freddie Mercury and Queen, were to record.
Moroder and Bellotte placed that debut single with Global Records in Munich,
which was then distributed by WEA in Hamburg. Label owner Peter Kirsten recalls,
"Giorgio Moroder had offered the production to virtually every other record
company and couldn't get a deal. It was later I found out that we really
were their last chance. However, I immediately believed in the recording,
and we made a deal for three singles with additional album options.
"I signed Donna Summer because I was genuinely optimistic about her prospects
and reckoned I could almost smell success for this particular single. You
don't always sense these things right away, but this time everything worked
out. I had this feeling of excitement and those butterflies in the stomach,
like when you meet a beautiful woman for the first time."
Donna Summer's first single took off in Holland and was on its way up in
Germany when a prominent Berlin politician was kidnapped and held by terrorists.
Because of its title, and understandably so, "The Hostage" was taken off
the playlists at German radio stations, and all TV appearances were canceled.
So, alas, the single died an early death in Germany.
Tony Berk, now managing director of Dino Records, says he worked with Donna
Summer from the beginning, first as A&R manager at Basart Records and
later when he became managing director of the record company.
"Frans de Wit, now head of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society in
London, who worked for the publishing arm, picked up the master in Munich,
and we did a five-year licensing deal for the Benelux countries. However,
the key man in the making of Donna was Ton van den Bremer, our promotion
man at Basart. He really was the driving force behind her success in Holland,
and without him I doubt it all would have happened. He's the one who drove
her around Holland in an old VW from radio station to radio station. Since
the single was not immediately well received by DJs, he lined up an alternative
television show for her.
"Donna performed 'The Hostage' on this comedy show 'Disco Corner,' hosted
by Sjef van Oekel. While she was singing, Sjef played out a funny sketch
and she had to try and keep a straight face. This sketch went down so well
that it was repeated several times by special request, and the record started
selling and eventually went on to the No. 2 spot on the German national chart."
Berk happily hands out the credit for the Donna Summer breakthrough to Van
den Bremer. "She definitely had this star quality about her, but with our
small company we couldn't have launched her in a worldwide career. Neil Bogart
was to give her that star status !by signing her to his Casablanca Records
label^, along with all the accompanying glamour."
Van den Bremer, who now runs his own company, says, "The first time I heard
'The Hostage,' I got goose bumps. I really believed in that song, so I started
working on the record. My first response was from Radio Veronica. We visited
every single radio DJ in Holland and did jingles like, 'Hi, this is Donna
Summer...' That first comedy TV showcase actually proved she had acting ability,
"With the second single, 'Lady Of The Night,' she broke in Belgium, and we
started doing clubs so she could make some money. Every Friday afternoon,
I would leave the office to pick her up at the airport in Brussels. I was
the chauffeur, roadie, bodyguard and agent all in one. We'd do club performances
all weekend, then she'd fly back to Munich and I'd drive home, completely
"When the contract was signed with Casablanca for the worldwide rights,"
Van den Bremer continues, "there was a clause excepting the territories where
I was working. During these times, we became good friends, and to this day
have a good relationship because we'd worked hard together--she used to call
me 'slave driver.'"
In Germany, the second single off the album of the same name was "Lady Of
The Night," which peaked at No. 40 in September 1975 and spent seven weeks
in the official Musikmarkt chart. The third single was "Love To Love You
Baby," which made No. 6 the following February and stayed on the German chart
for five months.
At that time, Munich had a very innovative music scene. The city's special
disco sound scored international popularity through such groups as Silver
Convention ("Fly Robin Fly"), Penny McLean ("Lady Bump") and the studio group
Munich Machine. Such studio musicians as drummer Keith Forsey (who was later
to produce Billy Idol) and keyboard player Harold Faltermeyer (two-time Grammy
award winner for tracks from "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Top Gun")--plus Giorgio
Moroder--were making their mark. Moroder also went on to collect a Grammy
for the soundtrack to the movie "Midnight Express."
Originally from Austria's Tyrol, Moroder had his first success as an artist
via his composition "Son Of My Father," which became a massive hit in Germany,
both through his own recording of it and a German-language version by Michael
Holm (now one of the two masterminds behind the widely praised new-age group
Cusco). It also charted in the U.K. through a version by British band Chicory
Dick Leahy, then MD of GTO Records in London, now of Morrison Leahy Music
in London, recalls, "I heard a record produced by Giorgio called 'Son Of
My Father,' and thought it was an excellent bit of work. So I wrote to him
care of his publisher, Trudi Meisl, of Edition Intro, in Berlin. I told him
I'd be interested in hearing any of his future productions.
"At MIDEM in France the following year, I met up with him, and he played
me his latest, which was 'Love To Love You Baby,' and we made a deal on the
spot. I like the uniqueness of the record, but the surprise package for me
was just how good a singer was Donna.
"We put out the record in the U.K., and nothing happened. But Neil Bogart,
owner of Casablanca Records, licensed the record for the U.S. The story goes
that he had Giorgio make a 16-minute version of the song. Then that new single
edit took off in the U.K., too. We were the first to release 'I Feel Love,'
which was the U.S. B-side. We had a great relationship and lots of success."
In 1976, Donna Summer released a disco cover version of the Barry Manilow
hit "Could It Be Magic," which went Top 20, and followed up with "Try Me,
I Know We Can Make It," which made the Top 40. These hits were topped, though,
by the massive success of "I Feel Love," which peaked at No. 3 in July 1977.
In the next 12 months, Global Records released three more singles by Donna
Summer: "I Remember Yesterday," "Love Is Unkind" and "Rumour Has It." They
all charted before the contract for the German territories expired. Then,
in 1978, Summer covered the Jimmy Webb tune "MacArthur Park," which
coincidentally was sub-published by Global Music. And in 1979, her success
continued with the Top 5 hit "Hot Stuff" and the chart singles "Bad Girls"
(which made No. 9), "Dim All The Lights" (25) and "No More Tears (Enough
Is Enough)," which got to 31 on the German national chart.
The year 1980 brought forth the airplay hit "On The Radio," which also got
to 34 on the sales charts, and that was the singer's last single on the
Casablanca label. Her Warner Bros. debut was the Top 40 hit "The Wanderer."