From her disco days to her reinvention in the 1980s and beyond, Donna Summer was a one of a kind star in the music world. Known famously as the Queen of Disco, Summer scored four No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 chart and was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach No. 1. As we mourn the loss of the five-time Grammy winner from cancer at the age of 63, we celebrate Summer’s legacy by highlighting her essential hits.
“Love To Love You Baby,” 1975
Her first hit as Donna Summer (rather than her given name, Donna Gaines) is easily the sexiest song of her career, thanks to breathy vocals, racy moans and a funky bass line. Summer’s audible moaning even led to the song’s banning on a handful of radio stations. Through the years, film has immortalized the No. 2 hit by using “Love To Love You Baby” to soundtrack on-screen “sexy time.” Listen to it here.
“I Feel Love,” 1977
By 1977, disco was at its peak, and Donna Summer was the songstress of choice during those long nights spent on the dance floor, strutting under the disco ball. But with her No. 6 hit “I Feel Love,” Summer sounded ahead of her time, channeling a future era when dance music would become more about fast electronic beats than a groovy bass line and a catchy chorus. Listen to it here.
“Last Dance,” 1978
The concept of “Last Dance” seems simple, but its structure is a real piece of work, filled with dramatic tempo changes and instrumentation (strings, horns, synths, oh my!). Perhaps that’s what made “Last Dance” so cinematic, thus earning it the best original song Oscar and Golden Globe for its appearance in the film Thank God It’s Friday. Listen to it here.
“MacArthur Park,” 1978
Many artists have covered the Jimmy Webb-penned “MacArthur Park,” but Donna Summer’s dramatic disco version remains the most well-known. Summer made the song her own, and for her efforts, she was rewarded with her first No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart. Listen to it here.
“Hot Stuff,” 1979
Even before the spacey synth on “Hot Stuff” picks up, it’s not hard to identify the song, thanks to its rock guitar riff and toe-tapping beat. Its unmistakeable sound, along with Summer’s lady-on-the-prowl lyrics, helped “Hot Stuff” launch up the charts, eventually reaching No. 1. Listen to it here.
“Bad Girls,” 1979
From the “toot-toot, beep-beep” to the whistle noises, few disco hits sound as distinct as “Bad Girls” – and continue to get dance club play. The song – Summer’s third of four No. 1 hits in a year’s time – was supposedly inspired by her assistant being mistaken for a prostitute by a cop. Listen to it here.
“No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” 1979
Like many other disco divas, Summer has become an icon in the gay community, due to little more than her dance music and tales of empowerment. Perhaps her most empowering tale, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” – a duet with Barbra Streisand – went on to become a full-fledged gay anthem. The five-minute song – half ballad, half dance track – was just as much of a smash in the mainstream as well, reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100. Listen to it here.
“She Works Hard for the Money,” 1983
While she proudly reigned as the Queen of Disco, Summer managed to transcend the genre when it fell out of vogue in the 1980s, incorporating elements of new wave, R&B and pop-rock into her sound. In 1983, Summer scored her biggest post-disco hit, “She Works Hard for the Money,” an upbeat song that not only felt modern for the era due to its empowering working girl narrative but also its epic guitar, saxophone AND synth solos. Listen to it here.
–Jillian Mapes, CBS Local