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Hot Stuff - Donna Summer

(Casablanca 978)

I was born in Boston," said Donna, "and began singing at the age of ten. I practiced every day. Mahalia Jackson was my idol. She was the only singer I had ever heard who had the type of volume and control I wanted. At first, I couldn't even get into the church choir, but I worked at my music, almost fanatically. Finally, I was accepted. I'll never forget that day. My whole family started crying. I don't know if they were proud, shocked, or overwhelmed. All I knew was that if I hadn't made up my mind before, I did at that instant. I knew I was going to be a singer.

"I left Boston for New York, where I met someone connected with the production of Hair. Then things started happening to me overnight. Within a week, I was in Europe, with one of the title roles in the German company! I could hardly speak the language then, but by the time I got home again, I was speaking it like a native.

"While doing Hair, I got a lot of other stage offers, because, at that time, there weren't many blacks in Europe doing that type of theater. I also did some background singing on quite a few German films. I spent about one year with Hair in Germany, and then joined the Vienna company. I also worked with the Vienna Folk Opera. We did Porgy and Bess and Showboat as light operas. It was an incredible experience. Then I returned to Germany, and legit theater, where I did Godspell and The Me Nobody Knows.

"One day, while recording some demos, I met Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder. Pete was in the studio doing a demo for Three Dog Night. We got along together and tried a few recordings, but nothing seemed to happen with them."

Then, in 1976, "Love to Love You Baby" hit the American music scene like a hurricane. The lyrics of the song, and the sensual way they were sung, stirred up a whirlwind of controversy. Donna was praised -- and blasted -- as the new "Queen of Sex Rock." Many dismissed her as a flash-in-the-pan novelty success.

"I knew the industry refused to consider me a legitimate singer," she said, "but it just made me work harder. A lot of people run from obstacles, but I'm just the opposite. I love challenges. I said, 'Let's show 'em.'"

And that's exactly what she did, cutting seven remarkable albums in less than three years. Love to Love You Baby, A Trilogy of Love, Four Seasons of Love, I Remember Yesterday, Once Upon a Time, and the soundtrack of Thank God It's Friday all became million-selling albums. In 1978, an in-concert set, Live and More, went double platinum.

Donna Summer emerged as the most versatile and adventurous of all disco performers. But, as she told the press, she didn't want to "die with disco." She wanted "validity," like that of stars such as Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand.

To that end, she sat down and sketched out "Hot Stuff," an energetic blend of disco, R&B, and hard rock 'n' roll (her inspiration: separation from Bruce Sudano, a guitarist with Brooklyn Dreams, and her future husband). Donna took the song to label chief Neil Bogart, who became alarmed when she explained she wanted to "expand" her sound. He suggested she give the tune to Cher instead. With that, Donna exploded, vowing to "go back to singing in church" before she'd continue being "stuck doing something that had been choking me to death for three years." Finally, Neil agreed to let half her next album, Bad Girls, be "rock-oriented."

"Hot Stuff" turned out to be the opening track -- a raunchy pulse highlighted by the blazing guitar of Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (an original member of Steely Dan and later of the Doobie Brothers). It quickly became the hottest song in the nation's discos and by May was the number-one pop hit as well. Today it ranks as one of the best -- and most successful -- examples of rock-disco fusion, along with the Stones' "Miss You" and Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

Later in 1979, Donna hit number-one for the second and third times with "Bad Girls", and a duet with Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)." But success also brought problems. In 1980 she sued her manager, Joyce Bogart, and husband Neil for $10 million for mismanagement. This ended her association with Casablanca and she then signed with Geffen Records, where the title track to her debut album for that label, The Wanderer, became a strong-selling single, although the album didn't live up to sales expectations.

In 1983, Donna had her biggest hit album since Bad Girls with She Works Hard for the Money, which yielded a massive hit single in the title track, a video for which was played heavily on MTV. In 1989, the British production team of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman, who'd had synth-driven dance hits with Bananarama and Dead or Alive, brought Summer back to the Top Ten with "This Time I Know It's for Real." As of 1995, Donna Summer has earned eleven gold and two platinum singles, and eight gold and three platinum albums.

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