The Donna Summer Tribute Site

Summer Fever Pick for May 2023:

Once Upon A Time  (1977)

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Fairy tales do come true...

For those who aren't familiar with the album, Once Upon A Time is Donna's first double album and on this one she takes the idea of a concept album one step further than she had before.  From the opening notes to the closing notes, Donna weaves a musical Cinderella story in four acts that works on many levels. This gives the listener the chance to take from it what they will.  On the surface, it's the story of a girl who dreamed of finding happiness - and in true fairy tale fashion, ends up living happily ever after with the man of her dreams. But you can also interpret it as being autobiographical. Poor girl from Boston grows up to be the Queen of Disco and along the way finds Mr. Right. And, it can be the story of everyone. I challenge anyone to listen to this album and not find songs that relate in some way to their own life experiences. 

Musically, the album picks right up where I Remember Yesterday left off, showcasing the many sides of Donna Summer. Here you will find classic dance tracks like Queen For A Day, Fairy Tale High, etc, soulful ballads such as A Man Like You, and futuristic electronic tracks like Now I Need You. And despite the variety of styles, the songs blend together seamlessly to support the story they tell. That's a big reason why the album is the classic that it is. So this month relive the fairy tale high of Once Upon A Time.

Other Art:


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A Few Quotes:


"We used the Munich Machine rhythm players (including the incredible drummer Keith Forsey) and the Munich Symphony. Giorgio stayed away from the studio for the entire project and left me to format the order of the record. He left me alone and let me do whatever I wanted. His partner Pete Bellote was in the studio for the guitar overdubs and later co-wrote lyrics with Donna. Giorgio had given me a tape of himself at an electric piano singing "la, la, la" the melody and giving some chord changes in his playing. I then did a demo of the entire album w/synthesizers in L.A. After that, I flew to Munich to stay at the Arabella Haus where Giorgio's studio Musicland was."

- Bob Esty, Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer Tribute, date unknown

"Everything you hear instrumentally was completed before Donna heard it. I had sung the melody for her on the tape and she took it from there. It took about 4 weeks to do all the music, then Donna flew in from her tour of Italy and wrote the words to the songs. I didn't know what the lyrics were until she sang them. Then we added background vocals and Giorgio mixed it."

- Bob Esty, Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer Tribute, date unknown

"Donna worked for ten years and suffered a very hard life with her daughter - and some of this has come out in Once Upon A Time."

- Giorgio Moroder, New Music Express December 1978

"[Once Upon A Time] is the first record I can really say is a part of me."

- Donna Summer, Rolling Stone March 23, 1978

"I Love Once Upon A Time. It was just meant to be a little fairy tale album. I really wrote it for my daughter."

- Donna Summer, DMA January 1995

"The The Once Upon A Time album was remarkable by any standards, particularly those  inherent in much current disco, as it set consistently high standards of composition and realisation throughout its four sides. Moroder's awareness of the need for vigorous variety and sheer surprise is self-evident therein. Test and try the sudden switch from electronic to electric instrumentation on Queen For A Day, for instance, or the swell and splendour of the string and brass phrasings elsewhere. Mood and mode are mixed and merge seamlessly throughout, chameleon but never caricature. You want disco, funk, soul, R&B and more? Sign on this line, then tell me this is automaton music - and I won't believe you, even if you point to the bleak mekanik of side two's inner city scarescaping."

- New Music Express (interview with Giorgio Moroder) December 1978

"In the course of its four sides, [Donna] and lyricist Pete Bellotte rework the Cinderella fairytale, transplanting her from the castle and silk landscape of yore to a Fritz Land-like urban nightmare where claustrophobia is both Cinderella's greatest infirmity and impetus."

- Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone March 23, 1978

"I'm reminded of that moment at the end of Once Upon A Time's second side, when, after fifteen minutes of brilliant electronic tension, Cinderella's dream - to be free of the machines - comes true, signaled by an acoustic piano flourish. The first time I heard that, I thought of Metropolis, Fritz Lang's archetypal science-fiction film about man's revolt against the machines, and its simple maxim: 'The mediator between the mind and the machine must be the heart.'"

- Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone March 23, 1978

"With Once Upon A Time, Moroder-Bellotte-Summer diversify even further. Three sides - acts one, two and four - feature several styles of propulsive dance music designed for disco play. But act three is mostly R&B pop and contains two of the strongest non-disco cuts of Summer's career. A Man Like You offers a clever pastiche of Gene Page's arrangement for Get Closer. Sweet Romance, a pop/soul tear-jerker with a catchy tune, has Summer hilariously praying to "father dear" with a quasi-baroque harpsichord behind her."

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone January 12, 1978

"What comes as a surprise is how the ominously surreal atmosphere of the album's best disco sections belies the light escapism of the Cinderella concept. The feverish momentum in act one's most powerful segue - Faster And Faster To Nowhere and Fairy Tale High - suggests frantic stimulation rather than gleeful excitement, with the nightmarish intensity enhanced by sped-up vocals and dissonant textures. In the first two cuts of act two - the album's most consistent side - a softer variant of the jittery synthesizer on I Feel Love punctuates an echoed chorus that responds to Summer's obsessive interior monologue and implies schizophrenia."

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone January 12, 1978

"'Strange' in a more positive way is Now I Need You. The tail end of this song--the long synthesizer break--is very cold, very weird---but crazily brilliant! In fact, ALL of the song is crazy-brilliant--from the weird echoing background vocals during the verses, to the vaguely sinister bass undercurrents in the choruses' vocals, to the startling contrast between Donna's itty bitty vocals and the booming opera choir. I've always felt this one is an overlooked work of genius (and I'm sure many on this forum would agree!)

- Scottpav, Endless Summer Forum May 4, 2002

Act 2 of Once Upon a Time... is devoted to this kind of sound--Eurodisco before it had a name, Hi-NRG and synth-pop several years ahead of their time. The triptych of Now I Need You, Working the Midnight Shift and Queen for a Day that comprises side two of Once Upon a Time... is almost curiously removed from time, sounding at once retro and futuristic. 

- Jason Shawhan,, 2003

The chorus to Rumour Has It has an amazing lead-in where the hi-hats go double-time, the staccato feel marvelously conveying the movement of a rumor through a community. A similar adventurousness pervades the paranoid delusion of Faster and Faster to Nowhere - the only appearance nightmare makes on an album of dreams and fantasies. Using analog vocoders, unearthly screeches swirl in the mix and Donna breaks down in fear; it's the epitome of catharsis on the dance floor. 

- Jason Shawhan,, 2003

On its 25th birthday, Once Upon a Time... sounds as fresh as ever, even as the soundtrack to mowing down tourists in cyberspace on Grand Theft Auto. That said, given the album's energy and conceptual adventurousness, it could just as easily become a Broadway musical. Those are pretty much the two extremes of modern popular culture, and it's rare to find something that can span that much social and emotional distance. 

- Jason Shawhan,, 2003

The Tracks:


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

1. Once Upon A Time (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
2. Faster and Faster To Nowhere (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
3. Fairy Tale High (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
4. Say Something Nice (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
5. Now I Need You (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
6. Working The Midnight Shift (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
7. Queen For A Day (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
8. If You Got It Flaunt It (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
9. A Man Like You (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
10. Sweet Romance (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
11. (Theme) Once Upon A Time (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
12. Dance Into My Life (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
13. Rumour Has It (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
14. I Love You (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
15. Happily Ever After (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)
16. (Theme) Once Upon A Time (D. Summer/ G. Moroder/ P. Bellotte)




Once Upon A Time

Fairy Tale High/Faster And Faster

I Love You


Other Stuff:


A promotional single LP called Selected Cuts From Once Upon A Time was issued containing 7 tracks from the original album. Side 1 contains slightly different versions of Queen For A Day, Fairy Tale High, Now I Need You, and Working The Midnight Shift. Side 2 contains the album versions of Rumour Has It, I Love You and Happily Ever After. I found out that Selected Cuts was ALSO issued as a 2 single-sided disk set with radio versions of the songs.
Once Upon A Time was used as the theme for Donna's 1980 TV special. She used it to open and close the show, and to introduce 2 segments of the special. She also used Faster And Faster To Nowhere to start the segment that featured Sunset People and Bad Girls, and she used Fairy Tale High in a fantasy segment with Mimi. (Note to fan mixers: the combination of Faster & Faster and Sunset People has interesting possibilities.  ;-)  )
The opening to the TV Special
The segment with Mimi
The introduction to the segment with Robert Guillaume
The introduction to Sunset People
The closing and end credits
Although Once Upon A Time came out before Last Dance, it was actually recorded later. Last Dance had to wait in the vault until the movie, Thank God It's Friday, was completed.
Once Upon A Time was certified gold in December 1977. The album peaked at # 26 on Billboard's Album chart.
The single, I Love You, peaked at # 37 on Billboard's Hot 100.
Once Upon A Time is the first album to feature the extensive list of thank yous in the liner notes that became the standard for most of Donna's albums.
If you search the copyright records, there is a listing for a treatment called Cindy - written by Donna, Joyce Bogart and Susan Munao. Presumably this is an extension or adaptation of the story developed in Once Upon A Time.
The computer game Grand Theft Auto III samples a little of Sweet Romance.

Purchase Info:


You can purchase Once Upon A Time at, Amazon UK, and other on and offline vendors. 




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