The Donna Summer Tribute Site

Summer Fever Pick for October 2016:

The Wanderer (1980)

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Started out good, working out bad....

By the mid-1980, Donna was the hottest thing going in music. She had just come off of back to back to back hit albums (Live & More, Bad Girls, and On The Radio) and a streak of top 10 hits that was unprecedented for a female artist at the time. But change was in the air. Disco was on the way out and Donna was growing increasingly dissatisfied with her relationship with Casablanca Records. 

Enter David Geffen.

At the time, Geffen was starting up a new record label. After a little legal tap dancing, Donna became the first act to sign on board. Donna's first release for the fledgling label was an album that was more rock-oriented than anything she had put out previously. That album was called The Wanderer, and in a glowing review Rolling Stone called it "Summer's finest LP."

Unfortunately circumstances conspired against The Wanderer. A strong disco backlash coupled with the "white boys club" of rock radio made it virtually impossible for any Donna Summer record to be played on rock radio. And many disco fans were taken off guard by Donna's new style. So although the lead single went gold, and the album made #13 on the Billboard album chart, The Wanderer was not the run away success that Donna's previous albums had been. This, unfortunately, set the stage for Donna's remaining years at Geffen Records. Even so, The Wanderer was critically acclaimed and remains a favorite of many fans. So this month I invite you to relive The Wanderer.

[Note: A while back, Pop Matters posted a really interesting article about this album. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so now.]

 

Other Art:

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wand3.jpg (13149 bytes) Some of these pictures came from the original Donna Summer fan club membership kit.
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A Few Quotes:

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Her new album, The Wanderer, offers further evidence that Summer has classily outlived the fad that once threatened to badge her. Rather than being dominated by the metallic hum of electronic synthesizers and a monotonous beat, The Wanderer features electric guitar playing by versatile musicians such as Jeff Baxter and Steve Lukather. The result is an album with a warm human feel.

- Newsday, 1981

The Wanderer is Donna Summer's most consistent album, and that alone would make it her best. But this disc does something more for Summer. By placing her firmly within a rock & roll context in which she thrives, The Wanderer clearly proves that she's an artist as well as a star. The result is music that exudes both strength and delight.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone March 19, 1981

On The Wanderer, Summer, Moroder, Bellotte and Faltermeyer mesh more smoothly than ever, revealing (among other things) how shamelessly padded their early work was. But the LP also shows they've reached a peak where the pieces fall into place with a certain inevitability. This is a position of rare strength, and it's been achieved because, while collaboration remains the essence, Donna Summer is the controlling center, the single indispensable element.  Teamwork gives The Wanderer its remarkable consistency, but it's Summer who pulls everything together with such purposefulness that the album is finally a complete and convincing statement of innocence, faith, joy, terror and the ability to deal with life head on.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone March 19, 1981

The Wanderer is less a breakthrough, however, than a consolidation of all the good points of Summer's recent records. It picks up the loose threads on albums like I Remember Yesterday, Once Upon A Time and Bad Girls, and weaves them into a personal sound and statement.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone March 19, 1981

Donna Summer has ridden out disco, and she is just fine, thanks. This is her best album yet with intricate melodies that sound like musical handstands and vocals that have the easy undulation of a water bed.  The Wanderer is an informal concept album in which Summer's teasing sensuality is used as a point of departure. The album begins with a sexuality that is randy and raggedy at once, eases through various tales of love lost and remembered, and ends with a statement of faith and a hope for redemption.  The range of the record is still a little too long for Summer's reach, but The Wanderer demonstrates that she's got the best shot at being the premier woman rocker of the 80's.

- Billboard Magazine, 1981

With disco on the wane, Summer has again donned her traveling shoes at 31, and with this 10-song collection works her way to the top of femme fatale rock.  Her smoother, more complex style, which appeared in pubescent form on last years Bad Girls, is here confidently sassy.  And her heavenly aspirations, (she's among pop music's "born again" congregation) surface in a pleasing Pentecostal way in Looking Up, Running For Cover and the hypnotic I Believe in Jesus. Yet side by side with those are Breakdown and Nightlife, paeans to earthier delights.  The album's clincher is Cold Love, which sizzles like a block of dry ice.  Much credit for this impressive disc belongs to Summer's virtuoso producer, Giorgio Moroder.  

- People Magazine, 1981

This is the album where Miss Summer's fascinations - with dance rhythms, rock & roll, Christianity and the degradations of street life - coalesce.  It is also the record on which she, and her production team (producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, arranger-engineer-keyboardist Harold Faltermeyer) begin to find a collective style which elevates the production team concept to the actual status of a band.

On Cold Love, The Wanderer, Who Do You Think You're Foolin' and the final, exultant I Believe in Jesus, Miss Summer simply demonstrates the whole labyrinth of pop music barriers, and emerges as one its leading artists.

Rock fans ought to listen up, especially those who think that, Private Idaho and Whip It are hot dance music.  And hopefully Miss Summer's older followers will stick with her as she makes the final stages of her transition from disco icon to committed artist.

- Dave Marsh, King Features Syndicate, 1981

Her Running For Cover is a pessimistic vision of solitary life in the city, tagged to an appropriately nervous and jagged rock beat.

- Newsday, 1981

Yet Donna Summer's journey from innocence to experience is built on such firm foundations that it's utterly without bitterness. Even in The Wanderer's most awesome and shattering love song, the brittle and brilliant Cold Love, she's triumphant: "Hope in the dark, love in the light/ I keep on looking for someone who's right." 

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone March 19, 1981

Summer's vocal phrasing remains as natural on rock-oriented songs such as Night Life and Cold Love as it was on her earlier disco hits.

- Newsday, 1981

I Believe In Jesus is the first convincing gospel-based vocal performance of Summer's career. Based on the militant fundamentalist hymn Onward Christian Soldiers and the nursery rhyme Mary Had A Little Lamb, the composition escapes being cloying only by the narrowest of margins - a chorus so perfectly sung that to deny it is practically inconceivable: "I believe in Jesus you know I know him oh so well/ And I'm going to heaven by and by 'cause I've already been through hell."

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone March 19, 1981

The Wanderer itself is the summation of these themes: musically and lyrically, it sets up what is to follow. Inevitably, the tune emerges as a declaration of independence - not only the independence from the business entanglements of past years but from creative pigeonholing and whatever fears the artist may have had.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone March 19, 1981

BONUS AUDIO CLIP: Donna talking about being "a wanderer" on The Hot Ones radio special. (March 6, 1983)

 

The Tracks:

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(Click the audio icon to hear a clip in streaming mp3 format)

1. The Wanderer (G.Moroder/D.Summer)
2. Looking Up (D.Summer/G.Moroder/P.Bellotte)

3. Breakdown (H.Faltermeyer/P.Bellotte)

4. Grand Illusion (G.Moroder/D.Summer)
5. Running For Cover (D. Summer)
6. Cold Love (P.Bellotte/H.Faltermeyer/K.Forsey)

7. Who Do You Think You're Foolin' (P.Bellotte/S.Levay/J.Rix)

8. Night Life (G.Moroder/P.Bellotte)
9. Stop Me (P.Bellotte/K.Forsey)
10. I Believe In Jesus (D. Summer)
FULL SONG BONUS: The Wanderer live from Tomorrow Coast To Coast, 1981.
FULL SONG BONUS: Cold Love live from Tomorrow Coast To Coast, 1981.

 

Videos:

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Other Stuff:

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The Wanderer peaked at #3 on Billboard's Hot 100 and became Donna's ninth gold record.
Donna received Grammy nominations for Cold Love (Best Rock Vocal Female) and I Believe In Jesus (Best Inspirational Performance).
The Wanderer was the first real music video Donna ever made. (You can see it on the video compilation, Endless Summer.)
Donna was the first artist to sign with the newly formed Geffen Records. She reportedly signed a long- term deal that guaranteed her advances of $1.5 million per album.  (For all you younger people out there - that was big money at the time. This was before people like Madonna, Michael Jackson and others started signing deals that make $1.5 million look like pocket change.)
The Wanderer was Donna's first release for Geffen Records. (See background info below.)
By the time The Wanderer was released, Donna was Mrs. Bruce Sudano and shortly after its release the Sudanos welcomed into the world their daughter Brooklyn. 
David Geffen blamed racism for rock radio's reluctance to play Donna's singles. According to The Operator by Tom King (Random House, 2000), Geffen told the Los Angeles Times: "The problem with Donna's album is that it's a rock record, but rock stations aren't playing it because of a prejudice against black artists and female artists. When you look at a rock station playlist and can't find a single black act, I think there is something radically wrong, and it has nothing to do with Donna Summer." In an interesting irony, Donna was one of the very few non-white acts Geffen ever signed, AND Geffen Records' greatest successes came from the white rock acts (such as Guns N Roses) that populated those very same rock radio playlists. 
To the delight of the fans, Donna brought Cold Love back to her live set for the November, 2004 shows.

 

The Big Switch:

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As I said in my introduction, by 1980 Donna was getting increasingly unhappy at Casablanca Records. So she was looking for a way out of the contract so that she could move on to greener pastures. That involved a lawsuit and of course a countersuit. (Hey, those lawyers have to earn their keep somehow, right?) You will see the details in a minute, but since I know how protective of Donna most of us are, I want to say something first. Yes, Donna sued Neil and Joyce Bogart (and Casablanca, etc), BUT -  it's all water under the bridge now. Donna still speaks well of Neil in interviews, she attended his funeral, and Joyce has appeared in 2 Donna Summer TV biographies. So whatever went down back then - it's over now. You don't have to harbor any grudges on Donna's behalf - she can do that herself IF she even wants to.  ;-)

Okay - on to the big switch......

Donna Summer, Casablanca's most successful act, recently filed a $10 million lawsuit against Bogart, Casablanca, and her ex-manager - Bogart's wife, Joyce. At the heart of the complaint, according to Summer's lawyer, Donald Engel, is the allegation that "the agreements between Summer and Casablanca were the result of undue influence, misrepresentation and fraud." In February 1977, Summer entered into a formal management contract with Joyce Bogart that ended last year. Her suit charges that, during that period, the Bogarts jointly made managerial decisions primarily to benefit Casablanca rather that herself. In effect, said attorney Engels, "the advice Summer was getting [about her career] was coming from the president of the company, the person with whom she was contracted."

The suit seeks punitive damages of $5 million, actual damages in excess of $5 million and termination of all Summer's contractual obligations to Casablanca Records And Filmworks.

- Alan Weitz, Rolling Stone (March 2, 1980)

Summer's main contention is that Bogart and his wife Joyce - the singer's personal manager at the time - acted not in her best interest, but in their own. Specifically, Summer charges that the accountants, attorneys and business managers hired to represent her in negotiations with Casablanca "had pre-existing business and/or personal relationships" with the Bogarts.. As a result, Summer says, she did not receive the "strong, independent and vigorous advice and representation" required by "the very nature of the entertainment industry." The Bogarts deny the charges.

- David T Friendly & Jonathan Kirsch Newsweek March 3, 1980

News of the signing [with Geffen] angered Casablanca, which promptly slapped her with a countersuit, charging that she was two albums short of fulfilling her contract. Summer argued that her contract was with Bogart, not the label, and further contended that a "greatest hits" collection as well as her appearance on the Thank God It's Friday movie soundtrack completes her obligations. Casablanca sought a restraining order prohibiting her from recording for Geffen Records, but the motion was denied. Geffen had his first big star.

- The Operator by Tom King (Random House, 2000)

Then, in February 1980, Donna Summer filed a $10 million lawsuit against [Neil Bogart], his wife Joyce, and Casablanca, claiming she had been financially defrauded. When Neil brought Summer to the United States in late 1975, she did not have a manager, he provided one for her: Joyce Bogart. Summer alleged that every attorney who represented her was chosen by Neil of Joyce and did legal work for Casablanca.

When Summer at last decided to find a lawyer who had no ties to the label,  she settled on California litigator Don Engel. "We developed evidence that Neil had tried to subvert Donna's previous attorneys," Engel said. "He even tried to subvert me. The first time I met with him as Donna's lawyer, he sidled up to me and said,  I heard you're a hot shot litigator. Our company spends a small fortune on legal fees, and we're going to start using you."  For once the ploy backfired.  Engel asked Summer's co-counsel, John Mason, who had overheard the remark, to record it in an affidavit as evidence. "I had no malicious feelings toward Neil," Engel said. He was merely doing to Donna what other companies do, what he was taught to do in the business."

The Bogarts denied Summer's charges and filed a cross complaint, alleging that she had breached the recording pact. Neil died before the case could come to trial, and Polygram settled with the singer. Summer was permitted to leave Casablanca for Geffen records, but she was required to deliver one last album to Polygram, She Works Hard For The Money.

- Hit Men by Frederic Dannen (Random House, 1990)

You had your greatest success at Casablanca. Did many other labels try to woo you away?

Oh, all the time. Everybody was telling me that [Casablanca was] ripping me off, but I didn't find that out until much later. Anyway, that's all water under the bridge.

How did you find out?

Well, see, my records were black marketed severely. At one point, I think, I was one of the three top black-marketed artists. And we're talking megabucks.

And you feel Casablanca was doing it?

Till today we don't know. But the black market pressings… some of them were better than some of the tapes my company was pressing. So they had to have real material from somewhere. I don't think they could have gotten it anywhere else.

-Donna Summer interviewed by Bill Ervolino for Long Island Nightlife (October, 1987)

BONUS AUDIO CLIP: The segment from VH1's Behind The Music: Donna Summer about Donna's split from Casablanca. The people you hear talking are the announcer, Joyce Bogart, Mary Bernard, Pat Naderhoff and Donna. (June, 1999)
Note: Ironically, She Works Hard For The Money was the most successful album Donna had while signed to Geffen Records.

 

Bonus Pick:

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Walk Away (1980)

 

As Donna was litigating to end her contract with Casablanca, the label decided to see how much more mileage they could get out of Donna's hits by releasing Walk Away. This was less a greatest hits collection than it was a severely edited down version of Bad Girls with a couple other big hits thrown in for good measure. By that time Casablanca knew they couldn't keep Donna on their roster, so I think it's no coincidence that the cover looks a lot like a tombstone. The title song was released as a single and in October of 1980, peaked at #36 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Walk Away is unfortunately out of print, but occasionally you can find used copies for sale at Ebay or other auction sites. 

Bad Girls
Hot Stuff
I Feel Love
Last Dance
MacArthur Park
On The Radio
Our Love
Sunset People
Walk Away

 

Purchase Info:

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It looks like The Wanderer has gone out of print - but you can still find used copies at places like Gemm, Musicstack and eBay. You  may even find some leftovers in offline stores. 

 

     

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