Fifty-seven years ago today, my parents traveled through a snow storm to get Mom to the hospital because she was in labor. Around 6:30 am, I was unleashed on this world. Since my dad was a rising high school basketball coach at the time, my birth announcement made the sports page in a local newspaper, marking the first time my name was on a sports page. Unfortunately, today also marks the first anniversary of Mom’s passing, so today is now a mixed bag. But, let’s stick with the good stuff, and Mom’s life was pretty good too.
It may come as a surprise to my friends, but my birthdays are not really that exciting to me. To be perfectly honest, I have preferred to playing or coaching basketball or track on my birthdays. When I was born, my birthday marked the beginning of Sectional week in Indiana, which was when every schools’ teams played in a week-long single-elimination tournament to determine which school had the best team in the area. Now, that week is two weeks later, but you are getting ready for the championship week. Also, in Indiana, President’s Day always marked the opening day of the track & field season, so I always had something going on during the athletic and coaching days.
In fact, I had a grand total of two birthday parties in grade school. The first was when I was in first grade, and the second was in third grade when I had three guys spend the night, and we went to a high school basketball game. Then, my junior year, my mom held a “surprise” birthday party for me in which my basketball teammates, cheerleaders, friends and some coaches attended. That happened to be the last non-alcoholic party I had, though this party did devolve into a bunch of teen guys singing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” to a bunch of girls. Thank God we did not have smartphones back then.
Of course, in college, we partied on my birthday since it was always the weekend before Finals Week of Winter Quarter. Those last weekends were always blowouts right before Finals, no matter the quarter, but since it was my birthday weekend, the parties were hearty, especially my 21st, which I hear was a great time. However, I have little recall of the event after my roommate and I met up with a lab partner who was this crazy man from Canada. After he brought over five shots of Canadian Mist over for each of us, I lost track of things. You have to remember that I started drinking that day before an afternoon Ball State basketball game, so when the Mist hit me, I was done. Still, it must have been a stellar night as I came home from the bar crawl with a bandanna wrapped around my head, singing Donna Summer’s “Dim All the Lights” as we got back. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
Of course, there was my 30th birthday which was another surprise, in which a bunch of college friends met up with us at a restaurant and ended the night at a comedy club. I can’t remember who the comedians were, but I do remember the female emcee being impressed with my deep voice. Fortunately, she couldn’t see me and just had to use her imagination. But, she kept asking me to talk. Then, during one of the comedians, we were laughing so hard, that my old college roommate literally fell out of his chair onto the floor laughing, which caused me to follow suit. Of course, the comedian just starting ripping on these two thirty-year-old “men” who were rolling on the floor in laughter. Of course, the booze was flowing that night.
Don’t get me wrong! I just prefer my birthdays to be more subdued. I am not sure why, but I just like to spend the time with my family. So, today, I will be spending my time with the family. I guess I’m just getting too old for that crap.
So, instead of going down the usual musical path today with one of my ten favorite artists, I thought I would dip into a birthday memory with the music of Donna Summer. Now, you might ask why I was singing Donna Summer at the end of my 21st birthday night, especially in 1984? Well, first, my mind is warped, meaning the years of Monty Python and SNL had taken a toll. Apparently, while at a nightclub, the DJ was playing Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” and I took offense. So, I marched my beer/whiskey/rum-and-Coke soaked body up to the DJ booth and demanded “classic” Donna Summer, to which the DJ immediately played “Hot Stuff,” “I Feel Love” and “Dim All the Lights” in succession for me. According to reports, I led the crowd in a rousing throwback of disco dancing in the club, along with getting the crowd to sing the first and last songs. Of course, upon the conclusion of that outburst, my friends quickly got me out of the club and back to my room, safe and sound. Oh, and did I mention that the night supposedly ended before 1:00 am? By ending at that moment, I had had a strong 12 hours of partying under my belt without any sickness or smart-ass comments to people. So, my friends cut their losses and got me home before my mouth started going.
Therefore, in honor of my 21st birthday and that night that supposedly happened (once again, there is no concrete evidence, only stories from my bar crawling posse so can they really be trusted?), let’s take a look at one of music’s most grossly overlooked singers, Donna Summer. Summer is remembered as the Queen of Disco, but that title is extremely limiting to what she truly was. Yes, Summer casts a HUGE shadow on the disco floors of the day, but she created, along with Chic, the whole dance/rock genre of the Eighties that Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Duran Duran and INXS all delved into. Think about this: Summer not only created the erotic sounds of “Love to Love You Baby,” gave us perhaps the disco anthem of “Last Dance,” the 80s dance/rock template with “Hot Stuff,” covered Bruce Springsteen on “Protection,” did Eurodisco in the late-Eighties with “This Time It’s for Real,” modernized the Gospel sound on “He’s a Rebel” AND brought techno to the dance floors with “I Feel Love.” So, please tell me why the woman does NOT belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This woman’s voice was versatile enough to be both a diva, a Broadway vocalist AND a pop star at the same time. Please!
Since it’s my birthday, and this is my blog, I am presenting my 25 favorite Donna Summer songs. And, remember, a party ain’t a real party until Donna Summer is blasting out of the speakers! Not Snoop or Dre or Biggie or Ramones or The Boss! Okay, yes, Prince or Michael or Madonna, but ya gotta have some Donna Summer to making it perfect! Plus, I want to prove to all the Taylor Swift fans out there what true talent is.
25. “I Love You” (Once Upon a Time, 1977)
24. “Who Do You Think You’re Foolin'” (The Wanderer, 1980)
23. “I Remember Yesterday” (I Remember Yesterday, 1977)
22. “Love Shock” (All Systems Go, 1987)
21. “He’s a Rebel” (She Works Hard for the Money, 1983)
20. “Could It Be Magic” (A Love Trilogy, 1976)
19. “Winter Melody” (Four Seasons of Love, 1976)
18. “State of Independence” (Donna Summer, 1982)
17. “Cold Love” (The Wanderer, 1980)
16. “Walk Away” (Bad Girls, 1979)
15. “Heaven Knows” – Donna Summer & Brooklyn Dreams (Live and More, 1978)
14. “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” – Donna Summer & Barbra Streisand (On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2, 1979)
13. “The Wanderer” (The Wanderer, 1980)
12. “On the Radio” (On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2, 1979)
11. “Bad Girls” (Bad Girls, 1979)
10. “MacArthur Park” (Live and More, 1978). Donna Summer took this cheesy 60s song and made it into a disco anthem. Sure, no one can discern the lyrics, but in this version, no one cares.
9. “She Works Hard for the Money” (She Works Hard for the Money, 1983). Just four years after Summer created the female-empowering Bad Girls album, she comes back with an anthem for all working women. And, don’t call this a comeback!
8. “Dim All the Lights” (Bad Girls, 1979). Laugh all you want! I think this song is sexy.
7. “This Time It’s for Real” (Another Place and Time, 1989). Disco never really died in the UK and Europe. So, when Rick Astley hit big, his producers were ready to help bring the Disco Queen back to the dance floors around the world. And, together, they created a timeless comeback (And, yes, this WAS a comeback!).
6. “Protection” (I’m a Rainbow, 1981). This album was supposed to be the last collaboration between Summer and über producer Giorgio Moroder, but for some reason the album was shelved for a decade or so. Regardless of that mistake, we got Summer’s finest example of her dance/rock sound she was perfecting with this Bruce Springsteen-penned song that should have been a megahit back in the day. As great as Blondie’s “Call Me” is, this is the better song.
5. “Hot Stuff” (Bad Girls, 1979). What?!?!?! A disco song with a guitar solo?!?! This song made it possible for Prince to dominate the Eighties.
4. “Love to Love You Baby” (Love to Love You Baby, 1976). Now, just imagine a thirteen-year-old boy hearing this song on the radio. Uh huh…
3. “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)” (Donna Summer, 1982). Everyone seems to want to forget this Quincy Jones-produced album, but how can you? This song alone previewed us to the magic Jones and Michael Jackson were making on Thriller. This hit song was a major dance hit at Ball State. Plus, I’ve got a great memory of dancing to this song at some campus dance. That’s where my memory will end.
2. “Last Dance” (Live and More, 1978). THE disco anthem…period.
1. “I Feel Love” (I Remember Yesterday, 1977). One of the five most important songs of the 70s, “I Feel Love” dropped the whole synthesizer vibe on us and made us dance. We are still feeling the ripples of its innovations in music today. I cannot emphasize enough just how important a song this continues to be. Everything from synth pop to techno to industrial rock have their roots in this dance classic. It was the sound of the future in 1977.