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Top 8 Best Donna Summer Songs of All Time

Punk Rock was seen as a reaction to the peace and love of the hippies. Or, as the words of The Who’s “Tommy” resonated, “We’re not gonna take it.” Similarly, what was termed ‘disco’ was a cultural reaction to the dominance of rock in the late 60s and early 70s.

Some artists like the Bee Gees ‘morphed’ into this new musical ‘fashion.’ Others came from similar soul/pop-based genres like Gloria Gaynor. But, the real big disco artists were already there. Chaka Khan, Earth Wind & Fire, Chic, and, of course, Donna Summer.

They all had a big impact, but some would argue not as big as her. So I decided to take a look at some of the best Donna Summer Songs of all time. Some were successful, others not so much; let’s get started with…

It Went Quick

The ‘disco thing’ seemed to disappear as quickly as it had arrived. And the artists, like Donna Summer, who had been one of the big names associated with it, struggled. Acts like Chaka Khan and Chic had their niche. They didn’t seem to be so mainstream ‘chart’ orientated. 

Artists like the Bee Gees ‘morphed’ into something else again. They were quite good at that. Disco eventually turned into ‘House’ and ‘Techno.’ 

The disco scene just barely survived the ‘Disco demolition’ evening at a baseball game in Chicago in the early 80s. But, it went soon after and was never quite the same.

But in the 70s

 Best Donna Summer Songs of All Time

It was so different. Donna Summer was the ‘disco diva,’ dominating the charts in America and several other countries. But she hadn’t always been that. 

She was originally in a rock band and was also in the German production of the musical “Hair.” It was there she was to meet her future producers. Great success followed.

Did They Change The Course?

Some would argue that they changed the course of music history. I am not sure about changing it. Rock and its associated genres are still King, or Queen, of course, depending on who you are talking about. 

But, the 70s disco thing certainly added something to the history of music. And the music is still played and enjoyed today. Furthermore, Donna Summer’s music will always be at the top of most people’s lists. 

She died in 2012 from lung cancer, having sold over 100 million records around the world. Not bad for a genre that was in its heyday for a relatively short time. Her songs, it cannot be argued against, made an impact. Let’s take a look at a few of the best Donna Summer songs of all time.

Love’s Unkind

It wasn’t only The Beatles and Pink Floyd that could make concept albums. I Remember Yesterday was the fourth concept album Donna Summer released. From it came “Love’s Unkind.”

The idea of this concept album was to combine the sounds of the past ten and twenty years with what was then a modern disco beat. It was written by her producers, and she added the lyrics. Each track on the album gave a representation of a different era.

How Relationships Can Be Unfair

It reached #3 in the UK in 1977 and #32 in Holland but didn’t get an American release. The song is about growing-up relationships that occur at school and the way that some people handle them. And a commentary on how unfair they seemed at the time.

It has a ‘girl-group’ feel to it with a good hook and plenty of that infectious disco beat.

MacArthur Park

It was only ever intended to be a single but was released as part of a live album, Donna Summer: Live & More.

This was an interesting choice by her producers for her to record. I can’t say for sure why they chose this particular song. Unless they were running out of their own ideas, I suppose.

It was written by Jimmy Webb. To some, amazingly, a complete unknown. It is only when you start to list the songs he has written that people get flashes of recognition. In my view, one of the greatest songwriters of them all.

An Unlikely Home

This song was part of a larger project that he had been working on. Interestingly, and despite some obscure references in the lyrics, the words were all true. Based on the breakup of a relationship that had blossomed in a park in Los Angeles. 

The song had been requested and written for the American band The Association. It was rejected as being too complex but found an unlikely home. 

Richard Harris, not known for his vocal attributes, had just finished his stint in the musical “Camelot.” He had sung some songs and thought it would be fun to do a single. He met Webb in Los Angeles accidentally and mentioned it. 

Fun?

To cut a long story short – #2 in America, #4 in the UK, and #1 elsewhere. It proved to be rather more of a success than just fun. It was quite a bit of fun then, and if you want, you can take a listen to a great recording of MacArthur Park by Richard Harris.

Disco Lays Claim

Donna Summer’s 1978 disco-type version reached #1 in America, #5 in the UK, and also had number 1’s in other countries. I suppose it proves the point that you could play a Jimmy Webb song on a tin whistle, and it would still be a number 1.

People were quite surprised at the way it was produced. But, it worked and provided her with even more attention than she was already getting. Certainly a great Donna Summer song and worthy of inclusion among the best Donna Summer songs of all time.

Bad Girls

This track was the second single taken from her hugely successful 1979 album of the same name, Bad Girls. As usual, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte wrote the song, and Donna added the lyrics. Although, this time, she was helped by the singing group Brooklyn Dreams. 

This was her seventh studio album and was her biggest selling album and one of her most critically acclaimed. Not surprisingly, it had plenty of everything that she was now well-known for.

A Joint Bestseller

This, along with another track we shall look at later, became Donna Summer’s biggest selling single. It only reached #14 in the UK but was at #1 for five weeks in America and found success elsewhere. It sold over two million copies.

An Interesting Backstory

She was inspired to write this song after an incident that occurred with a friend. A lady that worked for her was stopped by the police and accused of being a prostitute. Perhaps not the brightest thing to do.

That story was written in this song, released, and became what might be described as an anthem for those involved in the sex trade. And an embarrassment to the police officer.

Hot Stuff

Another single taken from the Bad Girls album, and another reason that album was so successful. This was a hugely popular album. But, by the time its success had begun to fade, the Disco Era was fading as well.

Some argue that it started to lose its importance when The Knack released “My Sharona.” The timeframe certainly coincided. There had been a genre war brewing for a couple of years, and it erupted.

Mindless, and Moronic

Disco was labeled as mindless, moronic, over-produced rubbish. Even though established artists like Rod Stewart and David Bowie introduced a ‘disco sound’ to the songs, but its days were numbered, and so it was for most of the artists involved.

To have such a backlash against a genre of music is palpably pathetic. The perpetrators of Chicago and other incidents who coined phrases like “Death To Disco” needed their nappies changing. 

I suppose it was a manifestation of an attitude that was growing. If you don’t like something, have a riot.

She Wasn’t Finished Yet

The grown-ups amongst us, even possibly not disco fans themselves, agreed. There was a place for this sort of music if that is what some people wanted. 

But, in the midst of all this, Donna Summer kept churning it out. And, as we have seen, this became her best album. It was also used as part of the soundtrack for a British film, “The Full Monty.”

I Feel Love

Back to the 1977 album I Remember Yesterday, this track was a huge hit. Furthermore, if you are going to talk about Donna Summer and her music, this will always be a song that comes to mind. 

This song was credited as having laid the foundations for electronic dance music. That style was not so popular in certain quarters. Once again, it was written by her producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, and she added the lyrics.

Criticisms

While it was a big success sales-wise, it brought criticisms from people who termed themselves ‘real music fans.’ If you exclude the ‘oohs,’ there are not even twenty words in the lyrics. A magazine highlighted that and stoked the fires of ‘anti-disco’ sentiment. They missed the point entirely.

This was never supposed to be literary work to challenge the best. Not going to lyrically challenge the efforts of Lennon and McCartney or, while we think about it, Jimmy Webb.

The Sound

It was all about the sound – layered, dreamy vocals and synthesizers. A rhythm that is constantly there but doesn’t overpower you. It was a song to dance to, not to sit and evoke critique on the hidden meaning of the lyrics.

However, one of the criticisms laid at the door of disco is its sterility. It is manufactured music, and you can’t hide from that. The bass line is clearly electronically manufactured on a computer.

Does that matter? 

Nearly fifty years later, it is still being played on the radio. And it is still one of the most popular Donna Summer songs played in clubs to this day.

Before we move on to the final choice, let’s give an honorable mention to a few of the most underrated Donna Summer songs.

The Wanderer

A track from the album of the same name, The Wanderer. By 1980, the disco scene was in its last days, and ‘new wave’ was in the ascendancy. 

So, Donna Summer decided to change her sound a little to incorporate these new ideas. The result of that was this album, her eighth studio effort.

It certainly wasn’t disco, but the shuffling beat meant that it was still a track you could dance to. Remarkably, it still sold well and went to #3 in America but only #48 in the UK and had mixed fortunes elsewhere. A change of tack or not, she still moved over a million copies.

Grand Illusion (Le Flex Poolside Mix)

This is another track from the album, The Wanderer. The single of the same name had done well, but the album was not a commercial success. 

I haven’t included this track because of its commercial success but more as an example of how she tried to stay with the pace. Music was changing. It was becoming more electronic in some ways, but without the thumping disco beat. That was moving to other genres she would never be involved with.

A new sound for her… 

And maybe that was the problem. People were expecting Donna Summer. They got something else. One commentator said it sounded like Kate Bush. Not quite, but the message was clear. It wasn’t going to work.

So, let’s go to the last track on the list. A track that has the great Donna Summer in full flow at the height of her career.

Love To Love You Baby

By 1975, Donna Summer had been in Germany for eight years working in musical theater. She was already known to a certain extent there and in Holland. Additionally, it was in Holland that I first heard about her.

This was a track that was released in the Netherlands at first as a ‘tester.’ It was something a little different, but most Dutch cities by this time had disco, dance-based clubs. They thought it might have some, but only limited, success. They were wrong.

Second Release

It was released again a few months later with a new title and ‘Baby’ added at the end. It had a worldwide release. They had a hit on their hands. It was a track recorded for her second album. Her first album, Lady Of The Night, released only in Holland in 1974, had seen minor success.

Her native America was unaware of this success until a tape was sent over. They listened and suggested an extended single and a 16-minute single for an album.

Packed Dance Floors

You cannot mention Donna Summer without thinking of this track. It was a song that brought people out to dance clubs and then packed the dance floor. It smashed its way to the top all around the world and is the most well known Donna Summer song of them all.

Looking for More Awesome Music?

We can help. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Gloria Estefan Songs of All Time, the Best Mary J. Blige Songs of All-Time, the Best Chicago Songs of All Time, the Best Maroon 5 Songs of All Time, and the Best Fleetwood Mac Songs for more incredible song selections.

You’re going to need to hear those tracks. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Most Comfortable Earbuds, the Best Bass Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, and the Best Headphones for Music you can buy in 2023.

Best Donna Summer Songs of All Time – Conclusion

It didn’t take long to make our journey through the “Disco Age.” In terms of musical longevity, it didn’t last that long. There were quite a few pretenders to the sound. People that attempted to jump on the bandwagon. No need to mention names.

But, right at the front, and synonymous with the era, was Donna Summer. You might not always have appreciated the sound or the genre. That is fine. Nobody likes every form of music. But, you can’t argue that she won’t be remembered for what she and her production team achieved.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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