Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer - Endless Summer

My Mom was mad at my Dad.

This would have been 1977 or ’78; a time when fashion was questionable and disco was the preferred music on the weekends, particularly at the many clubs around the Midwest that suddenly began to install lighted dance floors in their poolrooms just to take advantage of all the boogie oogie oogien that was going down.

My father was known to dance on occasion and my mom liked to cut a rug every now and then. The trouble was, my Dad was never at home much, and when he was, he was somewhere else. This would have been the around the time when he was working for the teacher’s union on top of his teaching duties. We’d have a lot of weird teachers come over unannounced and they’d go on the porch, drink beer, and discuss all the bullshit they thought the administration was doing to them.

This was back when people gave a shit about making sure everyone got a fair shake. The kind of thing that people today are too busy with themselves to fight for, and if they do they run the risk of being perceived as some lazy union fuck. Behind all the harsh words and perceptions is some 24-year-old girl at her first teaching gig just trying to make enough to pay rent, her student loans, and to have a $50 left over to go have a drink with her girlfriends a couple times a month.

With Dad’s union demands, he was away from home a lot After a while, my Mom starts to get pissed because Dad’s really wrapped up in himself, is spending no time with us, and is clearly not providing not enough attention to her.

The solution to all of this was to have my Mom sign her and Dad up for disco dance lessons.

Within days, an influx of disco records began cropping up around the house: Chic, A Taste of Honey, and Donna Summer.

I thought it was cool that the record, the aforementioned Live and More, featured three sides of live music and a fourth side called the “MacAuthur Park Suite,” essentially a seventeen-minute long version of the song with “Heaven Knows” thrown in the middle for no apparent reason.

But in good faith, I cannot recommend any full-length Donna Summer record-Bad Girls would be the exception, I guess-because most of them were just vehicles for her endless supplies of new hit singles wrapped around in extended filler whose purpose was to only make sure the total track time hovered around 16 minutes per side.

There is probably no other Donna Summer record you need other than Endless Summer. I’m sure by now there’s probably a dozen greatest hits compilations you can choose from, but let’s begin with the first, most comprehensive greatest hits collection that really needs no additional repackaging, Endless Summer.

Somehow-and perhaps this is a testament to her voice, a beautiful mezzo-soprano-she transcended her original label as the “Disco Queen” and even found herself on the nominating ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago.

I don’t think she belongs there, but that doesn’t diminish her overall body of work and importance in late twentieth century pop music. You simply could not get away from Donna Summer if you were anywhere near a radio between 1975 and 1980.

I found this out immediately upon the first listen of Endless Summer, 18 tracks of her best know songs, set chronological so you can hear the progression in her music throughout the years, a critical feature in making sure each year attempted to exceed the last..

Each song held some kind of brief memory from the 70’s: from the elaborate packaging of Live and More, to Summer awkwardly acting her way through Thank God It’s Friday to my Mom dragging my father on to the living room floor to work out a bit of dance fever to keep it fresh between practices.

Endless Summer bypasses all of the extended versions, club mixes, and other disco novelties by offering only the versions that we heard over the airwaves. The “hit it and quit it” approach makes the songs fly by, and suddenly you’ll find yourself into Donna’s Geffen years where the hits rather dried up. Then, “She Works Hard For The Money” shows up and you’re back on the cavalcade of hits once again.

The radio mix does put a damper on the awesome “I Feel Love,” probably the first Krautrock song in history to make the top 5 of the Billboard charts. You need to hear the trance-like state that tune can put you in with the right conditions, but it ain’t gonna happen at a radio-friendly 3:30.

I found it interesting that during these last years were spent quietly in the Florida Keys, painting and making occasional appearances. It was ironic to me that her location choice was relatively close to Miami, a city known to promote it’s love of dancing, a town that most certainly would recognize her as the Disco Queen.

Her reign was not just restricted to South Beach. Endless Summer provides the evidence that Ms.Summer’s reach was felt all the way into the land-locked states like Iowa, where her music was the catalyst of makeshift marriage counseling and the lighted floor industry.

It’s truly sad that she had to let go, but Endless Summer makes everything feel like sunny and in the mid 70’s once again.

No comments: