From the time spent reminiscing:
Donna Summer, Dim All The Lights. It's not even my favorite song, but it's a prime example of the kind of disco music that came to define the era: the slow jam opening to an extended sped up note, the percussive rhythms, the connecting bridge, followed by repeats of the chorus to the end. It's Summer's longest held note (a pop music record at the time for number of bars held), and lyrically, it's arguably one of the best of her songs from that era, sexy without being sleazy, a clear idea expressed from start to finish. For me, it's a reminder of the weird, wonderful sophistication of my childhood: the things we were exposed to at 11, 12, 13... gee whiz. They played this at junior high school dances, for goodness sake. I keep saying we were the generation that was 40 before we were 25. One other thing - it's this song, in many ways, that also turned the "disco" concept into pure formula; in many ways, this song is simply an improvement on the structure, lyrics and instrumentation of Last Dance. From there... you could list a raft of songs that essentially did the same thing (for artists such as Cher, Streisand, France Joli... I could go on). And that, as much anything, goes a long way to explaining why disco kind of wore itself out.
Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). Neither of these women did all that many duets; even more rarely were they ever paired with a singer anywhere near as strong (Summer may have married Bruce Sudano, but she could sure outsing him). Aretha Franklin has always had a similar problem. So this duet is remarkable, if nothing else, for how well matched these two are, both technically and in terms of range. Indeed, it's rare to have a duet where both the voices are fairly high sopranos. And the song is a marvel - never mind the pyrotechnics, just listen to them harmonize on "and we won't waste... another tear," with complete care and precision. Technically, I'm among those who think Summer wins this one, if we have to judge a contest; she's more naturally suited to the material, and Streisand can get strident. But it's a close call, and calling it a contest is to miss the point: this is just an amazing song, a remarkable duet, and it holds up amazingly well (consider how theatically similar it is to "I Will Survive" and how that song has been more or less been played into the ground.
Donna Summer, Last Dance. There's this moment, towards the end of every version (Casablanca edited the song a number of ways over the years), when Summer is doing the final repeat of the refrain "I need you by me, to guide me, to guide me..." (she apparently forgot "beside me"), and it's a long song and she's working it hard... and still, she sounds amazing. More than that, over a complicated orchestral arrangement (listen to the way the strings swirl, and the horns climb), she never gives the impression of the arrangement leading her, instead she's focused, in control, and very much in charge of where all this energy is headed.There's a reason this song became, commandingly, the song that sums up the end of an evening of dancing: it's not just the universal notions of the lyrics, or the obviousness of the title; it's that Summer gives it the authority it deserves. When she says "I need you..." and all the rest, the sense of need is actually palpable, and only one more dance can possibly satisfy. And so, come on baby... there's that dance. Yeah....
Donna Summer, Love Is In Control (Finger on the Trigger). J, my best friend, was the first person to point out to me that thinking of Summer as a "disco died" casualty was a mistake: even as disco vanished from radio and clubs, Summer was back in the Top 40 with The Wanderer, a fairly adventurous album that was actually well received. That was followed by a self titled album, including this single. Objectively, Love is in Control isn't necessarily great - you can hear the heavy hand of Quincy Jones in the instrumentation which borrows heavily from the similar work he was doing for Michael Jackson, and I realized, today, that Summer's voice is barely present for half the track. But she wins again, because her growling, fearsome delivery of lines like "you better raise your sights up high..." offer no room for hesitation.
Donna Summer and Musical Youth, Unconditional Love. It's also easy to forget that Donna Summer was actually a very versatile singer who could easily handle a wide variety of genres and styles; on top of disco, she was actually one of the artists to help bring reggae into mainstream pop musical culture, both with State of Independence, and with this charmer, done with the then trendy, kind of a flash in the pan act Musical Youth. The song lopes along genially, and Summer's "ya mon" diction may be somewhat mannered, but underneath it all... she gets it, and it shows. Plus, the duet softened her image tremendously, taking her from the saucy siren image of the seventies into a more wholesome, Earth Mother type presentation (which was probably the most natural fit).
Donna Summer, This Time I Know It's For Real. When word began to drift out that Donna Summer was in London working with producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman, the anticipation, especially among knowledgable gays, was palpable. Proven hitmakers, S-A-W had already made dance music stars out of Rick Astley, Bananarama, Kylie Minogue, and a number of others. And when "This Time" showed up, the wait was worth it. However lightweight lyrically, the song was a revival of the kind of upbeat dance music not seen since disco's heyday, and as it turned out, lots of people liked it, and missed it. Summer's so in her elements, it's hard to know where to begin about why this song is simple perfection. You'd be amazed... how much I love you so.
Donna Summer (with Bruce Roberts), Whenever There Is Love (the Junior Vasquez mix). In the early days, a disco track wasn't really a "remix" effort, not in the way we see them today. Producers started out recording long tracks, and simply cut them down for radio, editing out instrumental breaks, and even verses. Go back, and you can hear an enormous difference from the seventies era songs (they're fuller, more fully arranged), then a lot of the early "remixes" where songs were lengthened or sped up artificially after the fact of their initial recording. That means that much of Donna Summer's hits were never touched, at the time, by the deejays who became remix stars. It was years before Summer joined the ranks of artists with multiple remixes of one song by different deejays... and naturally, they all wanted the chance to work with the Queen. This song, for the forgettable film Daylight, was the first time Junior Vasquez (legendary, dear) worked his magic... and magic it is. At his best, Vasquez plays with the dynamics of the singer, but never loses sight of the song's overall structure, and here, he's in top form. So is Summer, and it hardly matters that Roberts (who wrote it) is more or less blown away as a result.
Donna Summer, Love Is The Healer (Thunderpuss mix). But the part that kind of defies explanation is buried, deep down, in Summer's success: it's the connection she made, on the dance floor, with the dancers, in their hearts, down to their souls. Oh sure, maybe you just danced to Last Dance at your cousin's wedding. Fun... right? That's not the half of it. It's that late night, 2 in the morning moment when a group of ecstatic revelers - probably gay men, but whoever - were lifted that much higher by the voice of a Goddess who spoke to their deepest feelings. The place where love is eternal, we are all one, and everything is possible. This is not stuff for amateurs. It's dance as a religion, the communion of true believers. I am on a mission... a mission of love. "Love is the mission, baby," Summer says in this song's spoken break, and it's the priestess, speaking to her flock, open and ready to receive. Thunderpuss, a remixing duo, are naturally up to the challenge of translating this into the realm of anthem - there's similar ecstasy to be found in their remix of Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" - but it's Donna who reigns. That's why she was Queen.