With a stunning vocal range that ran the gamut from breathlessly erotic (Love To Love You Baby, I Feel Love) to full-throttle rock (Hot Stuff) via disco powerhouse (Last Dance) and SAW belter (This Time I Know It’s For Real), Donna Summer’s legacy has thankfully become all about the music she made, not things she may or may not have said about the gay community. Summer, who died from cancer in 2012, went to her grave denying she’d ever gone on an anti-gay rant but, whatever did or didn’t happen there, the discography she left behind is what really matters – and boy, what a discography it is.
The Queen Of Disco and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee’s 1970s back catalogue throbs with sexuality, sass and more gay dance floor anthems – MacArthur Park and On The Radio and Bad Girls and that legendary Barbra duet among them – than any other disco diva could lay claim to. Then, when the hateful Disco Sucks! movement felled the genre at the end of the decade, Donna wasn’t deterred; she simply switched styles, trying pop-rock on for size.
Some say it wasn’t as snug a fit, but Summer’s true fans – myself, as someone who bought every record, firmly among them – stuck by her. Chartwise there were more misses than hits, but Donna’s post-Giorgio phase lead to a wonderful collaboration with Quincy Jones on her self-titled 1982 album, plus the quirky Brenda Russell-penned Dinner With Gershwin (a number 13 hit in 1987), then a triumphant Stock Aitken Waterman hook-up for 1989’s Another Place And Time.
This is the era that Demon Music Group’s painstakingly compiled and altogether wonderful-for-fans boxset covers. It’s a 24-disc collection of singles, with replica sleeves, B-sides and rare mixes (many of which are in addition to those collated for the label’s splendid reissues of 1981-1991 Donna’s albums).
It is, of course, only for completists but completists will love it. It offers a reminder that many of the misses were just as cracking-good pop songs as the hits: Songs like The Wanderer (number 3 in the States, a measly number 48 over here), Eyes (number 97, go figure), When Love Cries and Only The Fool Survives (both of which didn’t even chart). There are international-only inclusions, two discs of State Of Independence remixes, a detailed booklet, even a 28-minute audio interview about the SAW collaboration… It’s enough to give fans a dose of Summer fever.
It’s also a chance to relish that awesome voice. Just listen to how she tears into All Systems Go (a forgotten gem if ever there was one), rocks out on Protection (which Springsteen wrote for her) and turns Love’s About To Change My Heart into one of the most joyous pop songs ever.
Demon Music Group, who recently brought us the epic Bananarama singles boxset and has given lots of TLC to Everything But The Girl’s back catalogue, continues to be the keeper of musical legacies and they’ve done Donna proud. Yes, this set would be even better if it covered the disco era too and the omission of She Works Hard For The Money (presumably due to rights issues) is a glaring one. But it’s a treasure trove that proves there was life in the old gal long after disco had had its day.
Order from My Play Direct.
Words by SIMON BUTTON