Donna Summer - Hit Singles & More (2015)

Donna Summer
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Donna Summer spent the better part of the 1970s being promoted as a sex goddess and the “Queen of Disco.” Summer, who died of cancer in 2012, wasn’t comfortable with the first description that became attached to her after a marathon and orgasmic performance on her first hit song, “Love To Love You Baby.”

The latter identity – Queen of Disco – is one that Summer wore for the rest of her life, and is included in her New York Times obituary. However, Summer spent the final three plus decades of her career proving that she was so much more. The fruits of that effort can be heard on the Summer retrospective Hits Singles & More – a two CD set consisting primarily of the music that the Boston born singer and actress made in between 1981 and 1991.

Donna Summer spent the better part of the 1970s being promoted as a sex goddess and the “Queen of Disco.” Summer, who died of cancer in 2012, wasn’t comfortable with the first description that became attached to her after a marathon and orgasmic performance on her first hit song, “Love To Love You Baby.”

The latter identity – Queen of Disco – is one that Summer wore for the rest of her life, and is included in her New York Times obituary. However, Summer spent the final three plus decades of her career proving that she was so much more. The fruits of that effort can be heard on the Summer retrospective Hits Singles & More – a two CD set consisting primarily of the music that the Boston born singer and actress made in between 1981 and 1991.

Summer’s desire to move beyond the Queen of Disco was borne partly out the simple need for an artist to be allowed to evolve and partly (some will argue mainly) that, after a segment of the music buying public rebelled against disco, the artists who were so closely associated with the genre such as Summer, The Bee Gees and Gloria Gaynor had to adapt or their careers would wither.

While Summer never approached the level of superstardom that she achieved during the height of the disco era, she had a solid career. Summer scored a big hit in 1983 with the anthem “She Works Hard for the Money,” a tune that is not included on this compilation. However, she continued to get radio airplay with cuts that are on Hits, Singles & More such as “The Wanderer,” “Dinner With Gershwin” and “This Time I Know It’s For Real.”

The true value of Hits, Singles & More is that it will allow people to see how the sex goddess Queen of Disco label obscured a vocalist who possessed a diverse musical palate. Tracks such as the aforementioned “The Wanderer” reveal that Summer was a great rock ‘n roll singer.

Summer had the vocal range, vocal control and an actress’s sense of flair that she honed in musical theater – she was in the cast of the musical “Hair” that performed in Germany in the 1960s – and she pulled those gifts out of her musical toolbox on power ballads such as “The Woman In Me.”

Both CDs contain 16 tracks, and I think that the disc two is the stronger due to the fact that the middle third of the first disc is weighed down synthy post-disco 80s pop. Still, the first disc recovers nicely with strong ballads as well as the rocker “Highway Runner.”

Disc two features Summer operating in a nice mix of styles, and that includes a return to disco (or as it was called by that time, dance music) on tracks such as “Love’s About to Change My Heart,” and the musically funky and lyrically witty “Dinner With Gershwin,” a great song that had the misfortune of being released right when hip-hop was becoming the popular music in the 1980s.

Summer continued to record and tour. Her last record, Crayons, came out in 2008, and she continued to be a presence on the dance chart well into the first decade of the 21st Century, proving that she remained the Queen of the Dance Floor to the children of the people who made her the Queen of Disco. But Hit Singles & More shows again that Donna Summer was a much more varied, creative artist than the popular narrative gave her credit for, and that she had a distinguished, accomplished career away from the strobe lights as well. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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