Our Top 10 Donna Summer songs list looks back at a singer and musical artist that was hailed as the Queen of Disco in the 1970s. She was also one of the biggest hit makers of the decade of the 1970s. A single female artist who most certainly gave the Bee Gees a run for their disco money as the reigning leaders of the disco movement. It was a genre of music and pop culture that so many loved, and yes, so many hated. Although as many of us have grown older we look back on that period with more sentiment than we do disdain. Its just the process of getting older.
The history of Classic Rock is not just about rock music, but the linkage to and from rock music. Disco was most definitely the enemy of rock music fans back in the 1970s. But that is a part of history and that’s why we cover all music on this rock music site, even disco. Donna Summer was such a cultural icon and her songs have stood the test of time. In the end, despite the anti-disco sentiment that occurred during the decade, these were great songs fueled by a voice from the heavens above…..
Donna Summer was born LaDonna Adrienne Gaines on December 31, 1948. She died on May 17, 2012. She started singing in church when she was little. She performed in musicals while she was in school. Just before she graduated high school, she joined a blues and rock band. The band didn’t get a record deal because the producers only wanted Summer. They decided to break up.
She performed in musicals in different countries until she met music producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. They worked together to create her sound. She recorded her first international CD in 1974. It was a hit overseas based on two songs. The songs were “The Hostage” and “Lady of the Night.” In 1975, she had an idea for a song. She co-wrote the song with Moroder. The hit single would be “Love to Love You.” When the song was sent to American producers, the title was changed to “Love to Love You Baby.” When this single came out, she was signed to Casablanca Records.
She released her second album Love to Love You Baby in 1975. The album sold over one million copies. The label wanted her to get back in the studio to release her next album A Love Trilogy in 1976. It features the singles “Try Me I Know We Can Make It” and “Could It Be Magic.” By October of 1976, she released her fourth album Four Seasons of Love. This features the singles “Spring Affair” and “Winter Melody.” This CD became her third consecutive album to go gold.
She was back in the studio again to release her fifth album I Remember Yesterday in 1977. It features the hit single “I Feel Love.” This single went gold. The album went platinum. She released her sixth album in 1977 called Once Upon a Time. This is a double album. The album went gold. She released a single for the movie The Deep in 1977. The single is called “Down Deep Inside.” It was a hit in Europe.
In 1978, she had a role in the movie Thank God It’s Friday. She sang the song “Last Dance” for the movie’s soundtrack. The song was a hit for her. She won her first Grammy with this song. She released her first live album in 1978 called Live and More. It features the hit singles “MacArthur’s Park” and “Heaven Knows.” “MacArthur’s Park” was her first single to go number one. This album was also her first number one album. The album sold over two million copies.
In 1979, she released Bad Girls. This album spawned the number one hits “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls” and “Dim All the Lights.” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” battled it out for the number one spot on the charts. The album also went number one. In 1979, she released On The Radio: Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2. This album included two original songs called “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” and “On the Radio.” She was the first artist to release a greatest hits album with original material. Once the 80s hit, she was ready to change her music style. Her record label wanted her to keep doing disco music. She ended up having issues with the label. She sued her record label. She ended up signing with Geffen Records.
Summer released The Wanderer at Geffen Records. This album wasn’t as successful as her previous albums, but it reached gold status. This album features the singles “Cold Love” and “Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’.” She recorded her ninth album I’m a Rainbow in 1981, but the project was shelved. It was released in 1996. She began working on her tenth album. It was an eponymous album. It was released in 1982. It took six months to finish the album because she was pregnant and her former record producer died of cancer. The CD contained the singles “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger),” “Protection,” “State of Independence” and “The Woman in Me.”
Even though she was signed to a new label, she owed Casablanca one more album. She released She Works Hard For the Money in 1983. This is her biggest-selling album of the 80s. The single “She Works Hard For the Money” became a huge hit. She was nominated for a Grammy for the song. This album also features the singles “Unconditional Love,” “Love Has a Mind of Its Own” and “He’s a Rebel.” “He’s a Rebel” earned Summer her third Grammy Award. She released her twelfth album in 1983. It was called Cats Without Claws. This is her worse selling album. It didn’t even reach gold status. It is her first album not to go gold or better. It also didn’t have any top 10 hits. She did manage to win a Grammy for it.
Summer released her thirteenth album All Systems Go, which didn’t do any better than her previous album. She released her fourteenth album Another Place And Time in 1989. David Geffen didn’t want to release any more of her material so the album was released in Europe. The single “This Time I Know It’s For Real” was the only single released in the United States. This is her last hit single. Summer released other albums, but none of them matched the success of her earlier work.
Summer was a disco singer, but she had very strong pipes. She had the voice of a balladeer even though she was singing disco songs. The disco genre could have made it hard to take her voice seriously because people were more focused on the music than her singing, but she proved she could be a great singer as well. She has so many hit songs that could have made the Top 10 Donna Summer Songs list so this was a challenge to come up with only 10 songs. Is your favorite on the list? Which one made it to number one?
# 10 – Love to Love You Baby
The first song on our Top 10 Donna Summer Songs list is the sexy and sensual “Love to Love You Baby.” This is the lead single off the hit album Love to Love You Baby. This song has a European sound. The song contains a lot of moaning throughout the song. It gives the song a sexual feel to it. This song doesn’t showcase her powerful vocals the way her other songs do because she doesn’t sing much in the song. She does sing in a higher octave.
She uses her musical background for it. The song contains a lot of music that is perfect for romancing and dancing. The beat is exotic and has been sampled several times. It’s understandable why it has been sampled so much because it is a hypnotic beat. The only issue with the song is the length. It goes on for over 17 minutes. It could have ended much sooner.
# 9 – Heaven Knows ft. Joe Bean Esposito
The next song on our Top 10 Donna Summer Songs list is the catchy “Heaven Knows.” This upbeat song appears on the album Live And More. This has a disco, pop and r&b sound. This song is about her wanting her lover to stay. The horns and percussion are the star instruments of the music. They compliment her voice very well. Summer’s power vocals are on display in this song as opposed to the previous entry.
She sings the verses softly while she takes off like an airplane in the chorus. Esposito handles himself very well in the second lead role. He doesn’t do anything vocally to take away from Summer’s amazing vocals, but he does a good job. He does disappear after the bridge allowing Summer to shine like the sun on a summer day.
# 8 – She Works Hard For the Money
This fantastic hit anthem is the lead single off of She Works Hard For the Money. This has a new wave post disco sound. This anthem is about a woman who works hard and should be treated with respect. This is the perfect anthem for working women no matter what their job is. She wrote the song based on seeing a worker working too hard.
This has an 80s sound to it but manages not to sound dated. This song is another departure from her famous disco sound. She took a chance with the departure because she was known as the Queen of Disco and this song has more of a rock edge. The music compliments her voice. The music is just as captivating as her vocals. The music is loud but doesn’t drown out her voice. She sings in time with all of the beat changes.
The only minor complaint is some of the lyrics are hard to understand. This doesn’t take away from how much of a gem this song is. This song could have easily been number one, which is an indicator of how hard it was to put this list in order.
# 7 – MacArthur’s Park
This wonderful hit song is from the album Live And More. This song has an orchestral pop sound. This is a ballad with tempo. The song is a metaphor for the end of a relationship. This is a remake of singer Richard Harris’ song. Singer Waylon Jennings also covered this song. This is a great song for her voice because she is capable of hitting high notes.
She hit the high notes out of the park. She held notes that she didn’t do in too many of her songs at the time. She has a lot of control to be able to sing softly during the quieter moments and belt in the louder moments. It is not a surprise this was a number one hit for her because her vocals are phenomenal.
# 6 – Hot Stuff
The next song on our Top 10 Donna Summer Songs list is the outstanding “Hot Stuff.” This is the lead single off the mega-successful Bad Girls album. This song has a disco and rock sound. Summer was only known for disco at the time and branched out into rock with this track. This song is about her calling everyone she knows to look for some action. The mix of disco and rock made the music explode. Even though rock dominates the music, we dare you to sit still while listening to this song.
Despite the disco sound, the music is still relevant. Summer has fiery vocals to match the bouncing music. She projects her powerful vocals in the chorus and towards the end of the song. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter provides a fantastic guitar riff after the bridge. It is on the same level as Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Everything about this song is impeccable.
# 5 – Dim All the Lights
This absolutely perfect song is the third single off of the excellent Bad Girls album. This song has a disco, r&b and soul sound. This song is about a woman who goes out to clubs looking for love until she finds it. She decides she can dance at home with her lover. Here is some trivia about the song. The song was supposed to be a ballad. She wanted to raise the tempo on the track.
The song was also supposed to go to Rod Stewart, but she decided to keep it. She wanted to sing the song with her boyfriend, but he didn’t want to do it so she did it herself. She made the right decision because no one else could have performed this song the way she did. She holds notes throughout the song.
She holds one note in particular with ease for almost 20 seconds. You would have to have the same ability to hold notes in order to hold it with her. She also uses an echo in the bridge, which gives it a unique sound. Her vocals and the music are a perfect vocal marriage because they go very well together.
# 4 – Could It Be Magic
This superb song is the lead single off of A Love Trilogy. This song has a slow disco beat. This is a love song. Barry Manilow originally performed this song. His version is a soft pop version while hers is a disco version. She doesn’t stray from the lyrics of the original song. Her vocals are sexy and sultry to go along with the sultry music.
She showcases her powerful vocals towards the end of the song. She saved the best for last by coming alive towards the end of the song. She managed to sing this song as if it were her own. You would never know that this is a cover song. This is one more song that proves Summer was a powerhouse vocalist. She wasn’t just a disco singer. She had the potential of being a balladeer.
# 3 – No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) ft. Barbra Streisand
Our number three song on the Top 10 Donna Summer Songs list is the stunning “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). This song is the lead single off of On the Radio: Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2. This incredible track was number one for weeks and it is easy to see why. This song features two powerhouse divas who had a vocal battle with each other. This anthemic song starts off as a slow soulful ballad and turns into a disco powerhouse after the first verse.
Summer and Streisand had issues with each other when they recorded the song. They didn’t record the song together live. You would never know they didn’t do this song together. They are both outstanding in this song. They both hold flawless notes and use power vocals throughout the track. Streisand wasn’t known for this type of music, but she was able to hold her own against the Queen of Disco, which is not an easy feat. This song is pure gold.
# 2 – Last Dance
While it would have been cool to place this one in the last spot based on the song’s title, we just could not put it past our number one. Nonetheless, this was one of the most memorable Donna Summer songs ever released and perhaps the longest-lasting in terms of impact on culture. Can you count how many times you have been to a wedding or another festive event where the last song played of the night was Donna Summer’s Last Dance?
It has always been the perfect closing song to so many events. There is so much meaning to the song that it has become very much ingrained in not just pop culture but all of western culture. The song’s slow melancholy starts that quickly elevates to a spectacular uplifting dance groove is so symbolic of that one last chance for fun, that one last chance for ………….
# 1 – Bad Girls
Could there be any doubt that this one would be number one! This is the song that turned Donna Summer into the Queen of Disco and one of the most popular singers in the world in the 1970s. This song was huge! The title track of her brilliant 1979 album Bad Girls.
It’s not every day someone can turn a song about prostitution into such a great song that everyone loved. The famous “toot-toot” and “beep-beep” were ad libs. She made them up on the spot to fill in the empty parts in the song. These are car sounds to match the horns that are beeping at prostitutes. Her producer wanted the song to go to LaBelle or Cher.
Donna Summer was against the idea and wanted to do the song herself. She made the right decision by keeping the song since it’s one of her anthems. This song made her the Queen of Disco. This song doesn’t showcase her power vocals and that’s fine. Her power vocals weren’t needed for the song to be successful. The big notes might have taken away from the disco beat. Her vocals and the beat are a perfect vocal marriage.
Top 10 Donna Summer Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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