Donna Summer, RIP: Hear Her Legacy in 15 Tracks
The disco queen's key tracks and songs she inspired
FIVE SONGS THAT COULDN’T EXIST WITHOUT HER
Andrea True Connection: “More, More, More” (1976)
Summer’s early hits laid out the blueprint that a lot of women disco singers (and those singers’ producers) followed for a while, in the hopes of getting the same effect: strings, mist, a few words repeated again and again, and a version of sexiness that was all about theatrical orgasms. Not all of her early disciples were quite as gifted at singing as Summer, but some of them, like Andrea True, managed to be even more blatantly bedroom-eyed.
Blondie: “Heart of Glass” (1979)
Blondie’s first American hit was a song that had been in their repertoire for at least five years. When producer Mike Chapman heard a demo, he suggested that it could use a different arrangement; singer Debbie Harry replied “Well, maybe it could be like a Donna Summer thing.” The result was a landmark: a punk band paying tribute to disco, with almost no irony. (Almost. The skipped beat in the bridge, drummer Clem Burke explained, was “to screw people up when they’re on the dance floor.”)
Pandi: “Coming” (1980)
For at least a few years, as far as the general public was concerned, “disco” meant “music that sounds like Donna Summer.” The bizarre 1980 sci-fi film The Apple involves an evil entertainment conglomerate whose tools of mind control are disco stars. In one scene, their star Pandi seduces the hapless hero with this ridiculous song and some bed-based choreography that has to be seen to be believed; its tune and arrangement are lifted wholesale from Summer’s album cut “Wasted,” from 1976’s A Love Trilogy.
Lil’ Louis and the World: “French Kiss” (1989)
One of the biggest European club hits of the period when the continent first discovered house music involves a monomaniacal synthesizer riff that slows, then stops, as a woman makes increasingly vehement orgasmic noises. It’s striking for sure, but if you inverted the instrumental part of “I Feel Love” and dropped Summer’s moans from “Love to Love You Baby” on top of it, you’d end up with almost exactly the same thing.
Skrillex: “Bangarang” (2011)
Oh, you like going berserk when the bass drops? Summer and Giorgio Moroder didn’t exactly invent that, but they noticed that dancers liked to have a reason to flip out in the middle of a song. Hence the slow part/fast part dichotomy in Summer hits like “On the Radio,” “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” and “MacArthur Park.”