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30 Great Songs of Donna Summer

The Best of Donna Summer

By Rick Henry ChristopherPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 21 min read
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Donna Summer banner designed by Rick Henry

Donna Summer achieved major success throughout her career. She made it into the Top 10 with 14 songs in the US and has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. To this day her albums still sell about 1.5 million copies per year every year and her fan base is as strong and fervent as it was in the 1970s. I love Donna Summer. Her voice was amazing. I would go so far as to call her one of the greatest vocalists of all-time.

From 1968 to 1973 Donna Summer found success as an actress/singer in stage musicals in Europe, primarily Germany. 1975 rolled around and she lit the disco world on fire with her #1 Dance Hit, "Love to Love You Baby." The rest is history. Donna ended up with thirty-one #1 Dance Hits in the US.

A time of sadness...

The five-time Grammy Award winner died on May 17, 2012 from lung cancer at the age of 63. In 2013 she was posthumously and rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Choosing the Songs

The following are 30 great songs recorded by the Queen of Disco - Donna Summer. There was no real method behind the choices on this list. I tried to choose songs that are either historically or musically great. I also included several lesser-known songs that deserve more attention. Of course as with any list like this many great songs are left out such as “Need a Man Blues,” “Summer Fever,” “I Love You,” “I Remember Yesterday,” “The Woman In Me,” “Eyes,” “All Systems Go,” “Melanie,” “Carry On,” “The Power of One,” “You’re So Beautiful,” “I Got Your Love,” “To Paris With Love,” and several other greats.

“30 Great Songs of Donna Summer”

30. With Your Love (1978)

Parent Album: Thank God It's Friday (Soundtrack)

One of Donna's hottest disco songs. I discovered it as the B-side of Donna's mega-hit "Last Dance." The song was strong enough, it could have been an a-side single itself. The song was a favorite in dance clubs everywhere.

With its screaming synthesizers, repetitive electronic rhythm, and Donna's breezy vocals, "With You Love," is in a similar style as "I Feel Love" and would have been that trendsetting song had it been released first.

29. True Love Survives (1981/1996)

Parent Album: I’m A Rainbow

Recorded in 1981 for the album I'm A Rainbow which was shelved by Geffen Records and finally released in 1996, this song laments the death of her boyfriend who died in the war. She honors him by stating that even in death “True Love Survives.” Donna wrote the lyrics and Pete Bellotte wrote the music. Her message is that love lasts forever. Donna sings this song entirely in her haunting lower voice which gives the song a certain feel of sentiment. This was a missed opportunity and should have been a single.

28. Spring Affair (1976)

Parent Album: Four Seasons of Love

“Spring Affair” was a marginal hit reaching #58 in the US (the song did reach #5 in Italy and 313 in Spain). Despite its generally lower chart performances the song was a classic track and was played in discos across the world. It reached US #1 and Canada #4 on dance chart.

27. Rumour Has It (1978)

Parent Album: Once Upon a Time

“Rumour Has It” was a moderate hit, peaking at #53 in the US as well as #19 in the UK, and #20 in the Netherlands, #21 in Germany, and #64 in Canada. The song was a worldwide hit in dance clubs and has gone on to be regarded one of Donna’s classic dance tunes.

26. This Time I Know it’s for Real (1989)

Parent Album: Another Place and Time

For her album Another Place and Time Donna took a decidedly different direction and hired the SAW (Mike Stock, Matt Aitkin, and Peter Waterman) to write the songs and produce the album. Donna helped co-write “This Time I Know It’s for Real.” The production is the standard Eurodisco SAW style which can be heard on songs by Rick Astley and Dead or Alive. The song was a Top 10 hit throughout Europe and North America. It was her biggest hit in the UK since 1979’s “No More Tears” her duet with Barbra Streisand.

25. Mr. Music (2008)

Parent Album: Crayons

I was thrilled when Donna's "Crayons" album was released. It was her first all studio album released in 12 years and realistically her first new material since 1991. I was not expecting this. I came across it while looking at new releases on Amazon. I would say it competes for being my favorite Donna Summer album alongside "Bad Girls."

The song is simply catchy and has a good feel to it. The lyrics are superficial, "I got my iPod, shake my body," but that's all right not every lyric has to be deep and provoking, sometimes we can just have fun.

24. Cry of a Waking Heart (1991)

Parent Album: Mistaken Identity

"Mistaken Identity" introduced an urban style which leaned more on R&B than any of her previous albums. She even dabbled a bit with a newer genre, at the time, New Jack Swing.

"Cry of a Waking Heart" is a yearning and soulful ballad which takes advantage of Donna's full vocal range to great effect.

This one should have been released as a single, at the very least it would have climbed up the Adult Contemporary and R&B charts.

23. Cats Without Claws (1984)

Parent Album: Cats Without Claws

Initially I overlooked this song from the album. I bought the album which is titled, "Cats Without Claws," when it was first released. It was the album cover that drew me in. I thought Donna looked great on the cover photo. The first song I played from the album was "There Goes My Baby," because it was a remake of a favorite song by The Drifters. I liked what I heard; Donna did a good job with the song. From there I went to the beginning of the album and took a listen to the opening track, "Supernatural Love," and though it was a good song it lacked the energy and excitement I look for in a Donna Summer song, so I put the album away and forgot about it. In the year 2003 I began a big project of transferring some of my vinyl albums over to CD. "Cats Without Claws" was one such album. As I listened to "It's Not the Way" and "Suzanna," I thought, "Why didn't I dig deeper into this album back in 1984?" Then came the title track, "Cats Without Claws," and I loved it. I loved it so much that I had to play it a second and third time. This is classic Donna Summer. The keyboards and synthesizer drive the song behind a gutsy forward lead vocal by Donna.

Interestingly, there's a good bit of spiritual symbolism in the lyrics. During the 1980s Donna added hints of her Christianity into her lyrics.

22. Cold Love (1980)

Parent Album: The Wanderer

With her Bad Girls album Donna decidedly introduced a harder edge with aggressive guitars on songs such as "Hot Stuff" and "Walk Away." Donna continued her foray into rock music with her album The Wanderer. The single "Cold Love" saw Donna rocking with the best rock and rollers and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female category. Pat Benatar won the award that year for her song "Fire and Ice."

A few tidbits... Bill Champlin was one of the backing singers on "Cold Love," he was a member of Chicago from 1981 to 2009. Champlin sang lead vocals on "Look Away" which was a #1 hit for Chicago in 1988. Keith Forsey's drums open the song with a sharp and crisp ear-catching beat. While for me it's the aggressive guitar work that puts the song over the top.

21. Journey to The Center of Your Heart (1979)

Parent Album: Bad Girls

I first heard this song as the B-side to single edition of "Hot Stuff" and for a second I favored it over the A-side.

Right from the opening guitar and deep bass synthesizer I was hooked. This song is loaded with tons of trippy guitar which is a treat for me as I am a huge fan of the guitar. The song is rock and it's disco and its rock again. Gary Herbig kills it with his uptown silky brass toned saxophone sounds.

But the driver of the song is Donna's powerful lead vocal. She ties it all together. Donna is a singer's singer, and she proves it here. Her voice is deep with rich tones like that of the finest big band vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and powerfully gospel tinged as Aretha Franklin or Mahalia Jackson. All the while hitting a hard rock sensibility which challenges the best. Pat Benatar and Heart's Ann Wilson had to have taken notice. Even Karen Carpenter loved Donna Summer.

Though the song was not released as an A-side single it was hugely popular and was played in discos all around the world.

20. Love to Love You Baby (1975)

Parent Album: Love to Love You Baby

Donna’s worldwide breakthrough!!! This is the song that established Donna as the Queen of Disco and brought her to worldwide fame. Some critics called the song a novelty and others said she would be a one hit wonder – in both cases they were wrong. Donna was still a complete unknown in her home country when she suggested the lyric "Love to Love You Baby" to Moroder in 1975. He turned the lyric into a full disco song and asked Summer to record it. The full lyrics were somewhat explicit, and at first, Summer said she would only record it as a demo to give to someone else. However, Summer's erotic moans and groans impressed Moroder so much that he persuaded her to release it as her own song, and "Love to Love You" became a moderate hit in the Netherlands.

19. Bad Girls (1979)

Parent Album: Bad Girls

"Toot, toot, hey beep, beep" was uttered on dancefloors around the world as dancers grooved feverishly to the rhythms of this mega #1 hit. "Toot, toot, hey beep, beep" became the disco catch phrase of 1979.

My interpretation when I read the lyrics is that Donna was saying, the women of the night, who are pulling tricks, are the same as you and me. They're people with families that care for them. They're human beings. Donna wrote this song from a view of compassion. That's what I appreciated most about her, that she was a human being with a heart.

18. I Will Go with You (1999)

Parent Album: Live and More Encore

During her later years Donna would pop up unexpectedly with a new single or other release from time to time. I saw "Live and More Encore" at a Circuit City store but passed on it because I've never been hot on live albums. But when I found out there were two new studio tracks on the album I went back the following week and bought it. Suddenly, I had to have it.

"I Will Go with You" had previously been a hit for Andreas Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. Donna Summer took the song and gave it some teeth without forfeiting the song's romanticism.

At the age of 50 Donna's voice was stronger than ever and her influence was still top of the charts. "I Will Go with You" reached #1 on the Dance Music charts and earned a Grammy Award nomination in the Best Dance Recording category. Madonna's "Ray of Light" won the award that year.

17. She Works Hard for The Money (1983)

Parent Album: She Works Hard for The Money

Definitely a Donna Summer classic. This song is a tribute to working women everywhere. After the 1983 Grammy Awards, she went to an after party at Chasens Restaurant, in Beverly Hills. Donna escaped to use the restroom and saw the attendant, Onetta Johnson, sleeping. Onetta woke up startled and told Donna that she was exhausted because she works two jobs. At that moment Donna thought that this woman really works hard for her money. Not wanting to lose her thoughts Donna took some toilet paper and wrote her ideas down. When she made it home that night she wrote the song in 20 minutes, all the time keeping Onetta in mind. Onetta appears on the back cover of the album.

16. No More Tears (Enough is Enough) (1979)

Parent Album: On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II (Donna Summer) and Wet (Barbra Streisand)

When you pair two of the biggest stars in music history you're going to end up with a super mega-hit or a colossal flop. Fortunately, for Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand this song was a mega-hit sailing to #1 in the US and Sweden and made into the top 5 in numerous countries around the world.

It was Paul Jabara that teamed Barbra Streisand with Donna Summer after she (Streisand) hit it big with Jabara's disco song "The Main Event." Streisand proved she could handle a disco song as well as anybody in the business. The blending of their voices was a success. It's as if they were born to sing together. Equally yoked in vocal power and range. One did not overpower the other - they complimented each other perfectly. Too bad they never recorded anything else together.

15. Working the Midnight Shift (1977)

Parent Album: Once Upon a Time

I have always considered this to be a partner song to "She Works Hard for The Money." Musically the songs are very different from each other. "She Works Hard for The Money" is an 80s pop-dance tune. While "Working the Midnight Shift" is a 1970s deep disco/deep house composition. The connection comes lyrically. In "She Works Hard for The Money" Donna sings about a lady who works hard to make ends meets and in "Working the Midnight Shift," she speaks in the first person as she sings, "I'm just a working girl, just earning a living."

"Working the Midnight Shift" was a highlight from the album "Once Upon a Time" and despite not being released as a single it received heavy rotation in discos and night clubs across the US, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe.

14. It's Only Love (2008)

Parent Album: Crayons

on International relases "It's Only Love" was released on Donna's final album "Crayons." The song for some reason was not released on US editions of the album except as a bonus track on an Exclusive edition sold only through (the now defunct) Circuit City.

In the song Donna sing the lyric "Take me on a journey to the bottom of your soul," which is taken from her 1979 song "Journey to The Center of Your Heart," in which she says, "Take me on a journey, on a journey to the bottom of your soul." This is one of the few times I'm aware of Donna borrowing from any of her earlier songs.

"It's Only Love" is a Euro disco, EDM, progressive house deep cut. The electronics on the song are as intense and moving as on "I Feel Love." Despite being one of the hottest single releases of 2008 "It's Only Love" failed to chart, most likely due to lack of promotion from the record company. The song was very much in touch with what was going on with Electronic Dance Music at the time. Once again, Donna way ahead of her time. - always a trendsetter.

13. Dim All the Lights (1979)

Parent Album: Bad Girls

This was Donna's song. She wrote this one alone - the lyrics, melody, music. She originally wrote the song as a ballad and intended on giving it to Rod Stewart, but at the last minute decided to record the song herself. She upped the tempo when she was in the studio, turning it into a ballad which transitions to disco.

Donna does a live version of "Dim All the Lights" on her 1999 album "Live & More: Encore" in which she sings the song the way she envisioned Rod Stewart would have done it.

12. Sunset People (1979)

Parent Album: Bad Girls

A friend of mine played this song for me in the summer of 1979. By this time, I was well on my way to becoming a full-fledge Donna Summer fan. She was much more than just disco - the lady could really sing.

I love this song because it draws a picture of the nightlife on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. The lyrics are vivid giving us a glimpse of what you see on the boulevard with mention of some of the popular nightspots, Rainbow Bar & Grill (Rainbow Girls) and The Whiskey a Go-Go (Whiskey Man).

11. On the Radio (1979)

Parent Album: Foxes (Soundtrack)

After his successes with the soundtracks to the films "Midnight Express" and "American Gigolo," producer, composer, songwriter, musician Giorgio Moroder was commissioned to produce and compose the music for the teen coming of age film Foxes." Unlike his previous soundtracks this time he featured Donna Summer on one of the tracks, the opener, "On the Radio."

"On the Radio" opens as a soul-stirring ballad than works its way into an upbeat disco rhythm. This is a formula Donna successfully used on previous hits including "Last Dance," "MacArthur Park," "Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)," and "Dim All the Lights."

10. State of Independence (1982)

Parent Album: Donna Summer

Written by Jon Anderson (singer/songwriter from the band Yes) and Vangelis (Greek composer/musician) and was recorded for the 1982 Jon & Vangelis album titled The Friends of Mr. Cairo. The song became a Top 40 hit when Donna Summer recorded it later in the year. Her recording includes a great all-star chorus which includes Lionel Richie, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Brenda Russell, Christopher Cross, Dyan Cannon, James Ingram, Kenny Loggins, and Stevie Wonder.

9. Stamp Your Feet (2008)

Parent Album: Crayons

Donna's long-awaited comeback and she's done it with an invincible wall of sound. Had "Stamp Your Feet" been released in her heyday the song would have been a huge hit. This fight anthem is filled with terms of strength and confidence.

One of the song's co-writers is the popular child actress Danielle Brisebois. Danielle is best remembered for her role as Stephanie Mills in the 1970s sitcom All in The Family and then Archie Bunker's Place. She played the role from 1978 to 1983.

8. Love Is the Healer (1999)

Parent Album: Live & More: Encore

This was released 25 years after her first album and Donna was still as hot as she was from day one, I would argue - even better.

"Love Is the Healer," has a slight spiritual message to it, as do several of Donna's songs. She sings with Gospel strength, "Love is the healer, love is the healer, set me free."

This is one of Donna's most powerful and complex vocals of her entire career. It takes someone who really knows what they're doing to sing a song like this... and Donna succeeds on all levels.

7. The Wanderer (1980)

Parent Album: The Wanderer

When I first heard this song I was floored. It quickly became my favorite Donna Summer song (at the time). Everything was there - excellent guitars, new wave style synth riffs, and an Elvis Presley effect in Donna's lead vocals.

The song burned up the dance floors of the world, the world, it was an instant favorite. People would run to the dance floor upon hearing the opening rhythms of the song.

6. Heaven Knows (1978)

Parent Album: Live & More

One of Donna's biggest hits was a duet with the R&B, disco group Brooklyn Dreams. Her, then, boyfriend Bruce Sudano (married in 1980) was a member of the group. Singer/songwriter Joe "Bean" Esposito sang along with Donna on the song.

5. MacArthur Park (1978)

Parent Album: Live & More

"MacArthur Park" is one of Donna's complex vocals. She reaches the high notes to perfection with a powerful big voice and perfect pitch. While maintaining a warmth and resonance on the lower notes. Donna is the ultimate professional who never sounds like a product but instead infuses her own personality and brand of soul into every word she sings.

"MacArthur Park" was Donna's first #1 hit in the US and was the beginning of seven consecutive Top 5 hits. The song was also #1 in Canada and made it into the Top 10 throughout all of Europe.

One of the most interesting aspects of the song is that producer Giorgio Moroder did a multi-track recording of his own voice to form the choir heard behind Donna's voice in the chorus.

4. Love Is in Control (Finger on The Trigger) (1982)

Parent Album: Donna Summer

Quincy Jones produced and co-wrote the energy packed "Love Is In Control" which became one of Donna's biggest hits of the 1980s. The song also garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

One of the song's highlights is James Ingram's expertly performed rapid fire rhythm vocal which works right into Howard Hewitt's (Shalamar) super-hot synthesized line, "You're Superbullet number one."

Rod Temperton is one of the co-writers of the song. In the mid to late 1970s he worked with producer Phil Ramone but by 1979 he became part of Quincy Jones' team and appeared on albums by The Brother's Johnson, Michael Jackson and others. I am a big Rod Temperton fan beginning with his music with the 70s disco-funk band Heatwave (Boogie Nights, Always and Forever, The Groove Line) up to his vocal arrangements and songwriting ("Rock with You," "Off the Wall," "Thriller") for Michael Jackson to his works with others including Donna Summer.

3. Last Dance (1978)

Parent Album: Thank God It's Friday (Soundtrack)

As with any musician of Donna's stature, there are several songs that could be considered her signature song - "Hot Stuff, "I Feel Love," "Bad Girls," "Love to Love You Baby." But, if we had to narrow it down to one song, it would have to be "Last Dance."

The song is from the disco comedy musical film "Thank God It's Friday," in which Donna plays the role of Nicole Sims, an aspiring disco singer.

"Last Dance" is Donna's most awarded song. It won two Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and an American Music Award. "Last Dance" also made it to #1 on the US Hot Disco chart for six weeks and was Billboard's #1 Hot Disco song of the year. But the biggest prize the song has won was being the last song played at every disco/dance club across the US from 1978 throughout the 1980s and even into this current day. Last call in a bar always meant you'd be hearing the sweet crooning voice of Donna Summer with the opening lines "Last dance, last dance for love. Yes, it's my last chance for romance tonight." After about a minute the songs blasts into the disco classic that still lives fresh in the minds of those that were there to experience these glory days of the last call.

2. Hot Stuff (1979)

Parent Album: Bad Girls

Wow! is what I thought when I first heard this song. If I wasn't already a diehard Donna Summer fan, this one did it for me. Other than Donna's scorching lead vocals it was the blistering guitar solo by Jeff Baxter that got me going - that was some hot stuff. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter was a founding member of Steely Dan and played the guitar solo on "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." Baxter also played guitar with The Doobie Brothers and played the guitar solo on the hit single "Take Me in Your Arms." I bow to Jeff Baxter's guitar work!!!

"Hot Stuff" spent three non-consecutive weeks atop Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart in the US as well as topping the charts in Australia, Canada, Japan, and Switzerland.

As well as being a chart topper the song won the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal, which was the first year the award was given out.

1. I Feel Love (1977)

Parent Album: I Remember Yesterday

"I Feel Love" came to life on May 1, 1977, as the B-side of the R&B ballad "Can't We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over). But within less than a two-month span "I Feel Love" caught on and radio disc jockeys began spinning the track. Casablanca execs moved quick and reissued the single with "I Feel Love" as the A-Side.

"Love to Love You Baby" is the song that made Donna Summer a worldwide star, but it is "I Feel Love" that caught the attention of innovators in art and music. The Financial Times called it "one of the most influential records ever made," laying the foundations for Electronic Dance Music. Giorgio Moroder, who with Pete Bellotte produced the motorik electronic pulse of this classic commented, that the recording process was complex using different synthesizers and recording techniques. David Bowie, who was recording his Berlin Trilogy ("Heroes," "Low," "Lodger") at the time, said his collaborator Brian Eno "came running in and said, 'I have heard the sound of the future.'... he puts on "I Feel Love," by Donna Summer ... He said, 'This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.'

In my opinion I would beg to say that while Brian Eno was correct regarding "the sound of the future." I would have to say he was wrong in saying "I Feel Love," would change the sound of club music for the next 15 years. It is 46 years later and the influence, "I Feel Love," has on club music is still felt to this current day.

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About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing is a distraction for me. It takes me to places unknown that fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and a soothing of the breaks and bruises of the day.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/vocalplusassist

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Comments (15)

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  • Andy Pullano15 days ago

    Great collection of music. It brings me back to younger days.

  • Tiffany Gordon about a month ago

    What a talented Beauty! She & my mother look like they could be sisters! Thank you 4 the trip down memory lane & 4 introducing me to some new tracks! I especially enjoyed Love is a Healer (I think I'll make that my 2023 anthem & Enough is Enough ( It is so classy!). I always love hearing more about the artist's personal life! Very Well Done!👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

  • Bri Bazail2 months ago

    Thank you for embedding all of these videos so I didn't have to look them up myself! Obsessed with Donna Summer (:

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    Excellent depth into her career! Hearted and congratulations on your top story!

  • Kendall Defoe2 months ago

    I'm still that little kid who fell in love with her the moment I heard "Bad Girls". Thanks for this one!

  • Kim2 months ago

    Happy to see I'm not the only one that is obsessed with Donna Summer

  • Congratulations on your Top Story

  • C. H. Richard2 months ago

    Finally had a chance to read this article. Donna Summer was one of my favorite singers growing up. Especially love Mc Arthur's Park and Heaven Sent. Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    Once again...WOW! I love my music and love Donna Summer even more now! I'm glad you included an explanation for "Bad Girls" Also. McArthur Park was one of my favorites! The lyrics are so trippy and cryptic. She was expressing genius in my book. Thanks again.

  • Laura James2 months ago

    Great job on this tribute to Donna Summer. I had memories of where I was and what I was doing, each time one of her hits came out on the radio or when I heard them for the first time somewhere else. Thanks for this!

  • I didn't realize her career was so prolific after the 70s. The image for Number 5 is iconic and is close to the look Keri Hilson captures in "Pretty Girl Rock."

  • Gina C.2 months ago

    Super well-written and informative article! I definitely learned something new! I can’t say I am too familiar with many of her songs but this has definitely inspired me to listen to some :)

  • Antoinette L Brey2 months ago

    I remember listening to her in college, but there were a lot of songs I wasn't familiar with

  • Heather Hubler2 months ago

    Wow, I thought I was familiar with a lot of her work, but you included so many songs I hadn't heard. She had a very distinct and phenomenal voice. Great article, once again :)

  • Donna Summer was the singer on some excellent songs and I Feel Love is one of Giorgio Moroders greats and together they brought Disco to a lot of people's attention who would have previously ignored it. Another great music piece from you

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