Saturday Night Music Byte
Donna Summer (born LaDonna Adrian Gaines; December 31, 1948) is an American singer and songwriter who gained prominence during the disco era of music, earning the title “The Queen of Disco”.
Summer was trained as a gospel singer before her introduction to the music industry and has always been known for her “powerhouse” vocal delivery. Though she is most notable for her disco hits, Summer’s repertoire has expanded to include contemporary R&B, rock, pop, and gospel. Summer is one of the most successful recording artists of the 1970s and was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums hit number one on the Billboard charts. She also became the first female artist to have four number-one singles in a thirteen-month period. Summer’s website claims that she has sold more than 130 million records worldwide.
Born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Summer was one of seven children raised by devout Christian parents. She sang in church, and in her teens joined a psychedelic rock group called The Crow, so named because Summer was the only black member of the group. At eighteen, Gaines left home and school to audition for a role in the cast of the Broadway musical, Hair. Unsuccessful in getting the part in the Broadway show (Melba Moore got the role), she was offered the European Tour when the show moved to Germany, where Summer also performed in the German versions of several musicals including Godspell and Show Boat. She settled in Munich and also performed with the Viennese Folk Opera and the pop band Munich Machine.
In the summer of 1975, Summer had an idea for a song. She had come up with the lyric “Love to love you, baby” as the possible title for the song. Record producer Giorgio Moroder was interested in developing the new sound that was becoming increasingly popular (which later would become known as Disco), and used Summer’s lyric to develop the song. He had the idea that she should moan and groan orgasmically, but Summer was reluctant. Eventually she agreed to record the song as a demo. She has stated that she was not completely sure of some of the lyrics, and parts of the song were improvised during the recording. Summer later stated on a VH1 “Behind the Music” program that she pictured herself as Marilyn Monroe acting out the part of someone in sexual ecstasy. Moroder was so astounded with Summer’s orgasmic vocals that he insisted she release the single herself. The song, titled “Love to Love You”, was released to modest success in Europe. When it reached America to the hands of Casablanca president Neil Bogart, he was so ecstatic over the demo that he asked Moroder to produce a twenty-minute version of the song. Summer, Moroder and producer Pete Bellotte cut a seventeen-minute version, renamed it “Love to Love You Baby”, and Casablanca signed Summer and issued it as a single in November 1975. Casablanca distributed Summer’s work in the US while other labels distributed it in different nations during this period.
“Love to Love You Baby” was Summer’s first big hit in America, reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in early 1976 and becoming her first Number-One Hot Dance Club Play chart hit. The single was quickly certified Gold with 1,000,000 copies in the US. The album (side one of which was completely taken up with the full-length version of the title track) was also released in late 1975 and was soon certified Gold for sales of over 500,000 US copies. The song was branded “graphic” by some music critics and was even banned by some radio stations for its explicit content. Time magazine reported that 22 orgasms were simulated in the making of the song, and some of the music press dubbed Summer “The First Lady of Love.” Two successful, Gold-selling concept albums followed: A Love Trilogy which featured the single “Could It Be Magic” and Four Seasons Of Love which featured the uptempo “Spring Affair” as well as the ballad “Winter Melody” which was a top-30 hit in the UK – the first of Summer’s singles to be aired on Radio 1 and a hit on the US R&B charts.
Here is a late 1970’s performance by Donna Summer of “Love To Love You Baby.”