Donna's Still Working Hard For The Money
by Charles E. Rogers
New York Amsterdam News
June 24, 1999
Boasting an impressive resume of No. 1 and/or top-10 platinum hits including the disco-era classics "She Works Hard for the Money," "Love to Love You, Baby" and "Last Dance," dance music diva Donna Summer remains a timeless, internationally lauded superstar. She's also a gifted songwriter whose distinctive voice is one of passion, range, style and personality.
Now, after a long chart absence, the multi-Grammy-winning singer returns with her debut Sony/Epic album "Donna Summer: Live & More -Encore." A greatest hits collector's item, featuring two new songs, including the sizzling lead single "I Will Go With You," "Live & More -- Encore" is the quintessential companion set to Summer's VH-1 concert special "Donna Summer: Live & More," taped at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.
"I can't tell you how wonderful and exciting this entire experience has been," noted Summer, who was initially approached to perform on VH1's second "Divas Live" show starring Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Chef, LeAnn Rimes, Brandy and other top artists. Ironically, Summer reveals that after further negotiation VH-1 wisely decided that she should do her own concert special has drawn advance critical raves.
Opening with a rousing live version of "MacArthur Park" that brings the clearly audible audience to a fever pitch, the "Live & More -- Encore" album is much more than a nostalgic greatest hits trip down disco's memory lane. Illustrating the point, "I Will Go With You," a pulsating, fully orchestrated, semi-operatic dance track, is positive proof of Donna's ability to transcend musical eras, styles, genres and even language. It was originally a European hit entitled "Con Te Partiro," recorded by Andrew Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. Summer wrote new, English lyrics and recruited producer Hex Hector (Deborah Cox, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton) to help give it new life. "It's a beautiful song that I'm very proud of and love to sing," said Summer, adding, "In essence it musically reflects where I've been, where I am and where I'm going."
"Love is the Healer," produced by Nathan DiGesare, who co-wrote it with Donna, is another new song, hauntingly powered by sexy, floor-filling beats and Summer's soaring vocals.
"My Life" is an equally shinning VH-1 concert and CD moment, composed by Summer, Peter Waterman, Paul Berry and Gary Miller. It's gleaned from the forthcoming musical "Ordinary Life" -- created by Summer and based on her incredible life story. "The 'My Life' project is a 'contheato,'" advised Donna, further explaining, "That's a name I coined describing a combination of a concert and theatrical music piece."
Sung live, Donna's stellar lineup of past hits take on amplified life and excitement. Among the best are live versions of "Bad Girls," "Hot Stuff," "On the Radio," "Dim All the Lights" and "Last Dance," the Oscar-winning theme song from the hit '70s film "Thank God It's Friday," in which Summer starred.
Born Donna Adrian Gaines in Dorchester, Boston, Summer has been performing professionally since she was 18. That year she moved to New York, landing a featured role in the Broadway musical "Hair." Subsequently she was featured in the German and, later, Viennese productions. While in Europe, she soon became an in-demand session singer and, in the process, met famed producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. They produced her first European hit "Hostage." By 1975, Bellotte, Moroder and Summer created the epic, super erotic, star-making classic "Love To Love You Baby," which initially hit big in France, attracting record executive Neil Bogart. He licensed it to his fledgling Casablanca label, and upon its United States release, it shot up to No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Donna Summer was now a Star.
Donna's albums, which brilliantly blended the primal-groove urgency of disco and funk with symphonic strings and soaring, dramatic vocals, spanned almost all boundaries. Hardcore club DJs took delight in expansive epics like "Spring Affair," "Try Me (I Know We Can Make It)," and "Could It Be Magic," while pop radio programmers indulged in less lengthy but equally compelling odes like "I Love You," "MacArthur Park," and "Hot Stuff."
Fast-forwarding to 1999, in essence "Donna Summer: Live & More --Encore" is an historic album from a legendary artist who clearly opened the door for many determined to follow in her footsteps, and thus is making an impact. Of her impressive latest achievement, Summer, who is also the subject of an outstanding VH-1 "Behind the Music" special, said, "We worked hard to make this album and TV special event that my old and new fans would totally enjoy and appreciate." So once again it's Summer time and the listening is easy, exciting and entertaining. Indeed, Donna Summer is one "Bad Girl" who no doubt will always be "Hot Stuff."
© 1999 New York Amsterdam News