Heaven knows, it’s not the way it should be

May 18, 2012

I will always love Donna Summer. She truly was the Queen of Disco (sorry Gloria, you were a high priestess, if you compare by commercial success at least), and the body of work she created with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte from 1974-1981 will continue to be enjoyed by many people around the world thanks to her wonderful voice. My favorite tune from the Summer canon is “On the Radio”, her ballad & disco confection from the 1980 film Foxes, but I’ve chosen to focus my tribute to the late singer on the hit that made her a star, “Love to Love You Baby”. She may have once chosen to later renounce the song because of her religious views, but as clips of live versions from as recently as 2010 on YouTube attest, she must have made peace with it as it continues to live on with her fans, aficionados of disco and those that like their music slightly sleazy. (There is a small audience out there for the latter. I’ll never forget being asked by a foreign customer when I was working in a record store if there was a section for music with sexy moaning on it.) Thanks to YouTube there are no less than five versions of this song I have to share with you, and they’re all different and fun for a variety of reasons.

Don’t worry, if you aren’t sure about having to listen to the same song again and again for the next 15+ minutes, just remember that this song is what truly launched the 12″ single in the 70’s, the album version being 17 minutes long. The story about how it came to be is legendary.

First up, we have the unintentionally hilarious:

Funkschnecke found this gem in one of his YouTube crawls years ago. It still makes me laugh, if only for the incredibly gawky male dancer. I only just realized upon re-watching it now that they used the censored version of the song for this broadcast. She more sings the hook than moans it, except for a little thrown on towards the end of the mix. Donna tries to distract from what the track is truly about by dancing, but she shouldn’t have worried since the background dancers were already incredibly distracting enough.

Now, the trippy overt version:

I’m not sure if this is indicative of her live shows in general at the time, but it’s pretty amazing how much she sinks into the groove here, treating it almost as a snake charmer or voodoo priestess would…giving in to sexual abandon but remaining firmly in control. The degraded quality of the video only contributes to the whole steamy affair, giving it a lost artifact vibe, something that was possibly censored yet finally escaped years later, to titillate and corrupt once again. The end of the track is truly glorious, as it cruises to the melodic uplifting end section of the long version and gets truly funky (and porno chic) for a moment. Sexy and fun. I wish I could go back in time to see this in person and just dance my ass off.

Next up, we have kick ass live version #1:

Those. f*cking. boots. Amazing.

This to me is the performance of the song (at least in a non-backing band setting). The idea to have her do a fully live vocal over a select backing track was brilliantly executed here, just the right combination of moans and letting her actually sing the main hook of the chorus. She nails her performance; the vocal is sexy yet playful, flirtatious but not slutty…a true seduction of the person she’s in return being seduced by. And of course there are those boots. Perfection.

Last, we have the real revelation, kick ass live version #2:

Wow. This just blew me away upon first viewing. I’m not sure if the Midnight Special show required a live band backing her up instead of a track (I think the show was always live as opposed to tape), but in any case it’s awesome. Donna’s truly getting to put on a stage show here, upgrading the dancers to more professionally choreographed ones, and dressing up as a high priestess (not Ms. Gaynor). It looks like this is what her show would have been like in a small Vegas nightclub. I love that the tempo of the song has been increased; I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out at first, considering the song is of such sultry seduction normally…but I love how rhythmic this version is. It’s again playing on the tribal nature of the song, and the band tightly controls the groove. They completely smoke through just the right selection of parts from the full length composition, and her singing on the end upward climax of the song gives 70’s Bette Midler a run for her money. (Imagine if they had shared a duet instead of Barbra Streisand.)

There are even more versions on YouTube that are amusing to watch. In one she’s lip-syncing on the Mike Douglas Show, and it’s to the fully moaning 7″ version! How awkward must it have been to have been with one’s family/grandparents in that audience? I couldn’t help but laugh. On another lip-synced performance in Europe, she’s seen dancing in a big flowing gown in front of a wall of television monitors, which turn closeups on her clothes into a heart that she sings in front of/next to! And things are much less awkward on the Soul Train clip, where the silhouetted dancers are a welcome addition and she’s spared the overt moans with the more chaste radio-friendly 7″ mix.

With all these versions of this one song alone Donna proves just how versatile of a performer she could be. (Not to mention just how good a composition the song is. I’ve now spent the better portion of my evening listening/watching it for much longer than said album version. And I still never got tired of it!)

She’s left us too soon, before the world could truly let her know how much we still love her & her music. As proof that Donna’s music continues to inspire, here’s a remix of the song that was done just last year. It’s kinda fun-and actually works as a fun memorial to her (and a shout out to the unexpected Simple Minds sample!):

Lastly, I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t post this. Enjoy.

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