Larry Mantle

Remembering Donna Summer and the age of disco

As I've noted several times on "AirTalk," I think disco has been unfairly maligned.  Yes, there are terrible examples of the sound, particularly in its later years.  Nevertheless, the infectiousness of the beat and the inclusiveness of the music's transracial and pansexual messages had a big cultural impact.  I think some of that public backlash was over that cultural wave as much as the music.

My first memory of Donna Summer was in the summer of 1975, when I was 16.  "Love to Love You Baby," Summer's first hit, came on the radio and I was mesmerized.  Sure, there were a lot of sexually-themed songs on pop radio, but nothing this charged.  Hearing it today, the song is clearly of its time and doesn't connect in the same way as it did nearly 40 years ago.  However, then, it was a graphic symbol of unabashed sexual pleasure, right out on public airwaves.

Summer went on to record hit after hit in the disco genre, strongly interpreting songs about outsiders and the dancing lifestyle.  Even in recent years, she had been performing around the country.  I had the pleasure of seeing her about ten years ago in Las Vegas.  She was in great voice and presided over a party-hearty packed house of Vegas locals, from showroom dancers to sex workers.  These were her people, and it was clear they thought she sang their stories. 

Donna Summer, the preeminent woman of disco, made a great mark.

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