The Donna Summer Tribute Site

Summer Fever Pick for March  2017

Cats Without Claws  (1984)

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The music is very picturesque, like a movie... 

Cats Without Claws. If you're a Donna Summer fan you either love it or hate it. It's one of those albums that seems to have no middle ground. Critics of the album accuse it of being over-produced and too overtly religious in content. However fans of the album appreciate the diversity of the music and the way Donna's vocals get to shine - especially on gems like Maybe It's Over.  

The songs run the gamut from the deliriously upbeat Supernatural Love, to the mysterious title track, to the pleasantly experimental Eyes, to the laid back light Calypso rhythms of I'm Free. There really is something here for everyone - well except maybe for the diehard Giorgio Moroder fans. Sorry, no Giorgio on this one. ;-)  Unfortunately, the public never really caught on to this album so it wasn't as successful as previous records. And because of that, I think it really set the stage for Donna's later departure from Geffen Records. Unfortunately, Cats Without Claws is now out of print - which is a shame because it deserves to be heard. It's a very personal statement from Donna with some real gems just waiting to be discovered. So this month I invite you to rediscover Cats Without Claws.

Other Art:

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Videos

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These are screen shots from Donna's videos. 
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Supernatural Love

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There Goes My Baby

 

And courtesy of the guys on YouTube, here is the actual video for There Goes My Baby.

 

A Few Quotes:

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Q. How did you go about selecting the material for this LP?

A. On the last album we began writing together and found that we really enjoyed the procedure… I have a 24-track studio at home and Donna and I would spend about 5 or 6 hours a day working there – you know,  she's really gifted with melodies. So we'd put together a tune with drum machines, then put it away. Two weeks later we'd take it all out, review it, and select what we wanted. And, well, word gets around, so we also received lots of material – about 100 cassettes of tunes – from friends and publishers.  I had someone listen to all of it for me, but in the end it worked out that our collaborations were going so well that Donna wanted to keep the writing between herself, her husband, Bruce, and me.

- Michael Omartian, Cats Without Claws press kit interview, 1984

Q. Did you use any special approaches or techniques in this recording?

A. We decided up front not to clog up the tracks, so we really didn't cut them with a lot of folks. We used the drummer's tracks and my keyboards as a basic guide, which really left everything wide open and uncluttered. So, from the beginning, you're not committed to a certain direction. This makes things much more flexible; you end up with much less in the way. We also decided not to involve other names in duets and backgrounds, so this album really is a personal statement, very straight-ahead. Besides, everybody's doing duets and stuff; where does it end?

- Michael Omartian, Cats Without Claws press kit interview, 1984

BUOYANTLY TUNEFUL, ADMIRABLY restrained and only occasionally silly, Cats Without Claws continues the resurgence of Donna Summer following her unfortunate teaming with Quincy Jones on Donna Summer. As on She Works Hard for the Money, producer Michael Omartian displays  Summer's considerable talents to their best advantage, mainly by getting the  hell out of the way. Producers tend to swathe divas like Summer in yards of backing tracks, but Omartian has wisely used spare settings, with a solid, uncomplicated rhythm section and just the right touch of high tech. His subtlety, and Donna's heart-hurt but hale vocal performance, turns the cover of the Drifters' There Goes My Baby into an outright winner.

- Christopher  Connelly Rolling Stone, October 11, 1984

DONNA SUMMER – Cats Without Claws, Geffen GHS 24040 Producer: Michael Omartian. Summer returns to Geffen after scoring a top 10 single and album on Mercury with "She Works Hard For The Money," also produced by Omartian.  The set's first single, an update of the Drifter's "There Goes My Baby," inches into the top 30 this week and there's no shortage of followup candidates here, mostly co-written by Summer herself.  Several songs are religiously themed, most notably Reba Rambo's "Forgive Me."

- Billboard, September 15, 1984

For an album which starts off with a song so upbeat that it's almost giddy (Supernatural Love), this album spends a lot of time prowling the same dark side Tina Turner explored in Private Dancer. Summer's Suzanna, Eyes, and the title cut for starters, all paint a guarded  wary picture – as does, in its own way, her reinterpretation of the Drifters' There Goes My Baby. She's still got one of the best voices around, whether she applies it to disco/funk (It's Not The Way) or a pure gospel ballad (Forgive Me). But when the cats without claws ("you bet your life and you sell your soul") turn out to be singers, it would seem Summer is telling us the ride in her lane isn't all that smooth.

- Daily News September 30, 1984

She should sell a lot of records with Cats – it's one of the most beautiful and seamless meldings of dance music and pop/rock to come along since those genres started keeping company. Producer Michael Omartian,  drummer Michael Baird and famed percussionist Paulino da Costa have conjured up real dance music, galvanized at the bottom by a huge Syndrum sound and finished off nearly at the top with crystal clear detailing from da Costa. On top of that, Omartian lays on two other major components: fat, inviting keyboard chords with harmonic voicings far more adventurous than those on the last LP; and Michael Landau's gristly, intense rock guitar.

- Laura Fissinger, Record November 1984

Ah, that voice – on Cats it's just beginning to unfurl an incredible wingspan. Summer shows its dusky lower register and melodic agility on It's Not The Way; its gospel intensity on There Goes My Baby and Forgive Me; its newly found texture on Eyes, Suzanna, and the title track; and its soprano high-note superpower on the emotional abandon of Oh Billy Please. She also avoids the pitfalls of contemporary pop singers in any genre, managing expression of full volume passion without full volume singing. All this skill doubles the gut level force of the melodies, some of the best Summer ever worked with.

- Laura Fissinger, Record November 1984

Q. Do you consider this  a concept album?

A. We definitely kept a clear perspective as to what we wanted to achieve… the album does have a bit of a conceptual tone to it, which resulted really from the way the material developed. In the last few weeks of recording, we had some company meetings, during which we realized that 5 or 6 of the tunes were really working together. And Donna has always liked the thread of a theme running through an album. The music is very picturesque, like a movie: you can visualize things very easily, very naturally. It might develop into a multi-part video, one part which is There Goes My Baby, which is like a period piece, a mini-feature movie from the '40's. Bruce [Sudano] is featured in the video. He plays My Baby.

- Michael Omartian, Cats Without Claws press kit interview, 1984

... Oh Billy Please is far better than its  melodramatic moniker would suggest. It's an ideal blend of Summer's straightforward power and passion – a combination that the world's Irene  Caras (not to mention today's Diana Ross) can't touch.

- Christopher  Connelly Rolling Stone, October 11, 1984

On the fourth day of working on the album, Donna said, "There's a song by The Drifters that I've always loved…" and that was basically it! We started with a real simple synth track, and the positive responses we got from many, many people made us put it on the LP. One of the last things we had to do was to cut out five songs because we had so much good material. But there was never any doubt about There Goes My Baby.

- Michael Omartian, Cats Without Claws press kit interview, 1984

I didn't originally plan to do [There Goes My Baby]. I was in the studio and it literally popped into my mind. My producer, Michael Omartian, started playing it on the piano, but I didn't really know the whole song, so I started ad-libbing. Then I started getting the character of the woman singing the song. She was somebody who really loved her family and would do anything to keep it together, and I knew the reason they were breaking up wasn't a lack of love. Once I knew the character, I had a direction for the song.

- Donna Summer, New York Times, September 26, 1984

Donna brings her ever-evolving musical skills to the album's first single, a modern rendering of the Drifters' hit of twenty years ago, There Goes My Baby. It's a plaintive love song with an Eighties beat that is sure to touch the central nervous system of lovers everywhere.

- Cats Without Claws press kit, 1984

The Drifters' original [version of There Goes My Baby] was a magnificent statement of loss. Now Summer turns the melody and concept inside out, conveying real terror at the uncertainty of what her man might be up to now.

- Dave Marsh, The First Rock & Roll Confidential Report (Pantheon, 1985)

AUDIO CLIP:  Donna talking about the There Goes My Baby video on a 1984 appearance on Friday Night Videos.

Q. What is the title track, Cats Without Claws, about?

A. It's a very visual song, like a movie-type theme, using sound effects like you would behind pictures. It's taken from scenes of New York City life – gangs, drugs, street people – who are trying to be tough but are really like anybody else; they've got barks worse than their bites, and they've really been deceived, tricked into living this negative life. They're like cats without claws. The verses of the song itself are talked, and the chorus is sung. I'd say it’s very unique! The song doesn't critique anyone; the entire LP is void of criticism; it takes a very positive attitude.

- Michael Omartian, Cats Without Claws press kit interview, 1984

The title song is based on the lives of the tragic characters of big city streets who are handicapped by their self-image – people who play at  being "powerful" but who, in reality, are denied any possibility of wielding "power" by the limitations of their environment, background and education – who, in the end, and no more threatening than "cats without claws."

- Cats Without Claws press kit, 1984

AUDIO CLIP: Donna talking about Cats Without Claws on a 1984 episode of Soul Train.
The upbeat Supernatural Love tells a story of hope – a departed lover has come back and there is a stronger, more positive future to share based on a love that could not die.

- Cats Without Claws press kit, 1984

AUDIO CLIP: Donna talking about Suzanna on Thicke Of The Night, 1983.

The Tracks:

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Click the audio icon to hear a clip in streaming MP3 format

1. Supernatural Love (D. Summer/ M. Omartian/ B. Sudano)
2. It's Not The Way (D. Summer/ M. Omartian)
3. There Goes My Baby (B. Nelson/ L. Patterson/ G. Treadwell)
4. Suzanna (D. Summer/ M. Omartian)
5. Cats Without Claws (D. Summer/ M. Omartian)
6. Oh Billy Please (D. Summer/ M. Omartian)
7. Eyes (D. Summer/ M. Omartian)
8. Maybe It's Over (D. Summer)
9. I'm Free (D. Summer/ M. Omartian/ B. Sudano)
10. Forgive Me (R. Rambo/ D. McGuire)
FULL SONG BONUS: Face The Music (D.Summer/M.Omartian/B.Sudano) *This was the B-side to Supernatural Love

 

Other Stuff:

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The original title for Cats Without Claws was Framed - presumably after a song that didn't make the final cut.
Most of you know there were videos made for There Goes My Baby and Supernatural Love, and many of you know that Donna's husband, Bruce, was in both of them. What some of you may not know is that Donna's parent's (and possibly other family members) were in the Supernatural Love video. Watch closely in the instrumental break a little while before Donna's stunt double jumps off the balcony. As the camera pans the room, you can see Donna's parents sitting at one of the tables. But don't blink, because it goes by very fast! Both videos are on the Endless Summer video collection, or you can look at the screen shots above.
There Goes My Baby peaked at #21 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and Cats Without Claws peaked at #40 on Billboard's Top 200 Album chart.
Maybe It's Over was originally recorded under the title It's Over by Sunshine in 1979 for their unreleased album, Watching Daddy Dance.
Eyes has additional lyrics that appear on the liner notes, but not in the actual recording itself. After the last chorus, the liner notes list 3 extra lines: 

TV's on somebody's watching
They're getting in through your eyes
Don't let them poison your mind

Forgive Me earned Donna a Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance. It was her third nomination, and her second win in that category.
Before Forgive Me appeared on the Cats album, Donna performed it for her 1983 HBO special (and video release), A Hot Summer Night With Donna (now out of print).
In 2014 the album was remastered and rereleased as a deluxe edition with the following extra tracks: Face The Music,  Supernatural Love (Extended Dance Mix), Eyes (extended mix),and I'm Free (extended mix).

Purchase Info:

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The original Cats Without Claws is unfortunately out of print, but you can sometimes find used copies on eBay or gemm.com. The deluxe edition is available at places like Amazon as a separate album and as part of a box set. The Endless Summer video can be found at Amazon.com and other on and offline vendors.

     

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