If Donna Summer hadn’t existed, there would be no Madonna, no Katy Perry and no Lady Gaga. Let’s make that clear.
Donna Summer was the one who pushed the boundaries of music. Anyone who heard “Love to Love You Baby” in the mid-1970s knew at the time that a line not only had been crossed in terms of musical sexuality, it had been obliviated. When Madonna came around in the early ’80s and “shocked” American sensibilities, she was just tagging on to the disco bandwagon that Donna Summer created.
And Donna, despite all her hits, was really under-appreciated in America. Remember the “Disco Sucks” craze? The target was Donna. When disco was recast as club music, the beneficiary was Madonna.
That’s not to say that Donna was ignored. She was a hit factory. But when you contrast her performances in the U.S. with her performances in Europe, you see that the folks on the other side of the Atlantic “got it.”
“Bad Girls” is the definitive Donna Summer song. Plug our headphones into your MP3 player and listen to this while you’re walking through a place like New York, or London, or Paris. That’s the sound of the city.
Here’s a performance of “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff” from 2005 in my favorite European country, Belgium:
Can you believe it? There’s a full orchestra. There’s a corps de ballet. Maybe in the U.S. she gets a bunch of synthesizers and a drum machine with guys dressed up like the Village People in the background.
Now, I thought the previous video was over the top, but check this out:
Same songs, but that’s from the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo in 2009.
So let’s make the parallel: Donna Summer, Nobel Peace Prize. Madonna, Super Bowl Halftime show. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Madonna wannabes.
So, who’s the class act?
Donna Summer died today of lung cancer. She was 63.