409. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer

The Jacksons and Hot Chocolate were merely our disco’s warm-up acts, setting the tone and getting the audience limbered up. The headline act is ready now. Ms. Summer will take the stage…

I Feel Love, by Donna Summer (her 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 17th July – 14th August 1977

This is a shift forwards. They come along every few years, number ones that announce a new phase, a new sound, a real moment in popular music. ‘Rock Around the Clock’, ‘How Do You Do It’, Rock Your Baby’… Rarely, though, do the records in question sound as if they are from another galaxy altogether.

The first thing that hits you, after a short fade in, are the Moog synthesisers. They are harsh, drilling into your brain. We’ve had synths before, plenty of times, but not used like this. This feels like a slap in the face. Meanwhile, Donna Summer’s voice floats high above: ethereal, echoey… so unhuman that it could be as computerised as the music. It’s like her vocals were recorded years before, like this is already the remix.

It’s so good… There’s not much to the lyrics, really. Donna Summer is not the star of the show here – although her vocals are a huge part of the song’s appeal, and its legacy. I feel love, I feel love, I feel lo-o-ove… The stars are Giorgio Moroder’s synths: clanking, chirping, burping away. He layered them, he overdubbed them, he played them slightly out of sync with one another… They’re a world away from ‘Son of My Father’… You start to get a little dizzy if you play this for long enough at a high volume. I can’t imagine what it would have done to you in a sweaty disco in 1977. But you can picture it – the lights, the vibrating speakers, the amyl nitrate in the air…

It’s not a particularly nice song. It’s not one for any old time of day. But it is spectacular. And it’s not disco, at least not the kind of sparkly, flirty disco that’s been the dominant sound of the past few years. It’s dance music. EDM ground zero. (Though I’m not saying this invented dance music in one fell swoop. That’s the problem with only reviewing the chart-topping singles – it’s not an exact overview of popular music as a whole.) But what’s for sure is that it sounds not unlike something a big-name DJ could produce in 2021.

The best bit – sorry Donna – is when everything falls away but the metallic beat. We’re left with a thumping heartbeat, and what sounds like a mouse rattling around in your skirting boards. On ‘I Remember Yesterday’, the album this single is taken from, each track was designed to sound as if it were from a different era. ‘I Feel Love’ was the final track. The future.

For your pleasure, you can choose from the four minute single edit, the six minute album version, or the eight minute extended 12” mix. (We could stretch a case for this being the longest #1 single yet, but we’d be chancing it.) The #1 that this most reminds me of – not in terms of sound, but in terms of impact and weirdness – is another futuristic hit: ‘Telstar’. That, though, was an isolated one-off. Not many subsequent records have sounded like ‘Telstar’. Large swathes of the 1980s will sound like ‘I Feel Love’.

It is a shame that Donna Summer’s only UK #1 is this. Not that it’s not great, but she isn’t the main thing about it. If this was a more recent release, it’d be Giorgio Moroder ft. Donna Summer. The producer would be the star. In the US, this wasn’t a #1, but her other classics were. ‘Bad Girls’, ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’… I may have to do a Donna Top 10 very soon, as I’m not happy with her just having one appearance on this blog. She passed away in 2012, recognised as an influence on every disco act, every dance act, and every black woman who had hit the charts ever since.

23 thoughts on “409. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer

  1. Oh so true, every word! I was utterly gobsmacked back in 1977 when this came on the radio, it was an instant realisation that this was the exciting future of dance music. I heard it once and it was an instant new entry chart topper on my charts. That’s not usual on one play for me. But it was a game-changer, and was quickly followed-up by other game-changers like Space’s Magic Fly and Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene Part 4 signalling things were never going to be the same in dance music (and pop as it turned out) as those inspired by these, and Kraftwerk, started joining Bowie in the charts with synth-based tracks, with Gary Numan, Ultravox, Human League, OMD and so on.

    As you say, though, this was ground zero. The great thing about Moroder and Donna Summer together is the variety: each single was different, there was no formula, no I Feel Love Part 2. That no-one else nicked the sound for a few years (and that was a remix of this in 1983) underlined just how far ahead of the game Moroder was as the Music Biz was all Punk & New Wave, the real sound of the 80s was already here and waiting. Re: Donna’s best tracks, it’s this one by a country mile, and then Down Deep Inside, Macarthur’s Park, her cover of Jon & Vangelis’ synth goodie State Of Independence, a later comeback with SAW, This Time I Know It’s For Real, Love’s Unkind (see current Texas single Mr Haze), Winter Melody, No More Tears, Hot Stuff for the riff & an obscure album track remixed recently Grand Illusion (Le Flex Poolside Remix).

    As Elton John remarked after her death, it’s yet another disgrace that the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame hadn’t inducted her (since rectified), among many others that the snooty musos just failed to realise the importance of (either as producer – Moroder – or artist – Summer) due probably to the US record-burning disco-sucks movement as the largely successful purge of a whole genre of predominantly black music acts (plus a few like the Bee Gees & KC & The Sunshine Band) from pop/rock radio just smacked of racism. In the UK disco just morphed into Hi-NRG & jazz-funk, upped the bpm’s and carried happily onwards as New Romantics took the headlines. In the US Afrika Bambaata, Jam & Lewis, Arthur Baker and others were all paying close attention and biding their time….

    Sorry for the novel-length add-on, but as you rightly state it’s a bit of an important track and I’m opinionated, hah! 🙂

    1. Don’t apologise – you always add a lot to the posts!

      Interesting you mention the Disco Sucks movement, as I think at this moment in time – July 1977 – disco still seems pretty respectable. All the disco #1s so far have been pretty cool – Kung Fu Fighting aside, maybe – and I wonder when the tide started to turn. I suspect it’s not far away, with Boney M, the Bee Gees and the Village People coming up (not that I’m agreeing with anyone who says these are bad records…!)

      I hadn’t listened to much Donna Summer until recently, but I’m diving in. I’d agree that this is her best, but not my favourite. I love the SAW singles, and the Bad Girls album. But my favourite so far is the ‘I Remember Yesterday’ title track: 20s jazz mixed with 70s disco? Yes please!

      1. Thanks! 🙂 Disco sucks was 1980, though it had been building up with Rod & The Rolling Stones to name but 2 of many who’d dabbled with it by then. The Bee Gees spearheaded it before it became a thing, with Jive Talking, so are excused, and KC was a total pioneer with George McRae and his own stuff but they both got lumped in with the backlash and couldn’t sell a record after 1980 to save their life (until the UK brought them back to life with chart-toppers) 🙂

      2. I just heard about this yesterday… On the surface it sounds kind of funny. But actually, what a bunch of idiots. An excuse for targeting music made largely by black people, and popular with gay men?

      3. In the summer of ’79, I was out of 7th grade, headed to 8th. I remember a few t-shirts showing up with the “Disco Sucks” written on it. At 12, going on 13, the backlash was lost on me. I was a tween/teen and I loved dance music. When I did the post, I just vaguely remembered the vinyl-burning thing and the ball field. Re-visiting was an eye-opener.

        I do not recall the backlash having anything to do with race or sexuality or even religion. This “racism is everywhere” nonsense is a recent affliction. Race relations in the late 70s/early 80s were…at least in my state…not that bad. In digging around, reading for my post, my take on it was…the backlash was about the suppression of rock & roll on the radio. Disco had overrun rock & AM radio pop. Good old-fashioned rock & roll had faded into the background until the hair bands showed up.

        Honestly, when Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” came out, disco’s legitimacy tanked. The disco bandwagon had gone off the rails. When the punk movement broke thru, the flow of music finally changed.

      4. I dunno… I mean, I get that disco had gone downhill by 1979 (in some people’s eyes – I for one can’t wait to write my post on ‘YMCA’) but to feel strongly enough about it to gather in a baseball stadium and blow up a truck full of records? Seems like there was more to it than just a dislike of the music. But you’re right, I’m coming at with forty year’s of hindsight and my 2021 sensibilities. Plus, get enough drunk people in a group and something dumb will happen…

        I bloody hate Ed Sheeran. Maybe a Sheeran record demolition night would be quite therapeutic after a long day’s work!

      5. Well…when you have two Chicago DJs that are upset because “the disco disease” pushed out their rock music and one pursues an opportunity for a stunt in front of a readymade audience of baseball fans (with cheap tickets), there’s bound to be “mischief.”

        The rock DJs were really pissed off. Once everything settled, I distinctly remember being shocked that Led Zeppelin finally made it to Top 40 radio.

        Ed Sheeran…hmmm…I vaguely recognize the name. What manner of tunes does he provide? I don’t listen to Top 40 radio and haven’t for many, many years (or watched an award show). I occasionally stumble across articles about the “in crowd music scene” but, understand or recognize very little. I can say that the Nicki Minaj (sp?) person is a freak and I had the misfortune of hearing some of, what’s her name…Billie Eilish (sp?)…some of her “music” (very loosely used term). I was totally creeped out. She either has too many drugs or too few.

      6. You will have heard an Ed Sheeran song before, I am sure. The blandest of the bland yet topping the charts for 10 weeks at a time. Nicki Minaj is not to everyone’s tastes, but at least she has a bit of life to her music. I will defend Billie Eilish though! I think her stuff is pretty cool, and she’s got a sound far removed from the generic dance-pop clogging up the radio and the charts.

      7. I’ll take your word for it on the Sheeran dude. Apparently he is so bland, I missed him.

        After clips of whatever disgusting dance (“dance” would be an extreme stretch for a thinking mind) I saw between Minaj & some other female on stage during an award show…that display made Miley’s twerking and Madonna’s virgin roll seem tame. Can we leave the sex stuff in the bedroom…or, at least in the backseat? GEEZUS. Bring back B&W Elvis film from the old Ed Sullivan shows, please.

        Eilish has a sound far removed, alright. I will agree on that. The comparison to the present generic dance-pop on the radio & charts is lost on me.

        I do manage to get some intros to new music via some bloggers. Well…new to me…not necessarily “new.” Damn, I miss Adele.

      8. Adele’s coming back soon, I think. Though she’s been teasing her new album for years now… I doubt she ever needs to sell another record again, to be fair.

        And I think you’re thinking of Cardi B, going by your description of that dance, and her big hit from last year, ‘WAP’. Minaj is off the hook!

      9. Eh. Cardi. Nicki. Just looked at pictures. I can’t tell them apart. Whatever.

        We like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like. To each his own. I have found that some of Taylor Swift’s music is good…strangely…

        Adele had trouble with fame, didn’t she (I probably would, too…)?

      10. Oh, my… That would be scary. Vocal chord problems can kill a career. Lou Gramm and Huey Lewis can’t sing, anymore. Well…in Lewis’s case, he has ear problems. He is, essentially, tone deaf, now.

        Yikes.

  2. You’re certainly right about how modern-sounding “I Feel Love” still feels. There’s a famous reaction from producer Brian Eno who told David Bowie, “I have heard the sound of the future. This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years” Eno certainly knew where the future was going. It certainly fits with the disco music of the ’70s but it also feels like the thing beyond it like with a lot of Summer’s music essentially previewing a lot of the ’80s trends of synth-based productions. It’s also not hard to imagine a lot of the big DJ EDM acts from the past 10 years making something like this. With all that, it’s remarkable “I Feel Love” got as big as it did reaching #6 in the US during the fall of ’77 especially with the whitebread Debby Boone “You Light Up My Life” song in the middle of its insane and then-record breaking 10 week run at #1. And for Summer, it was a sign that she wasn’t a flash in the pan after hitting #2 the year before with “Love To Love You Baby” which many noticed for Summer’s moaning being quick to write it off as a gimmicky record. It helped to set the stage for her insane imperial phase of the late ’70s with her, Moroder, and Bellotte constantly releasing ambitious albums and making big classic hits like “Last Dance,” “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” “Dim All The Light,” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” with Barbra Streisand. Remarkable for a disco artist, Summer gained the respect of the mainstream critical press who were more favorable of rock music with Rolling Stone calling the Bad Girls album the only good disco album next to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack which seems pretty ignorant today but you’ll take what you can get. Even when Americans turned on disco after 1979, Summer still held on adapting to the synth-driven new wave style she helped pioneer with “The Wanderer” and “She Works Hard For The Money.” And Moroder also managed to make hits after the disco era making big hits largely for ’80s soundtracks like Blondie’s “Call Me,” Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What A Feeling,” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” And he even made an appearance on Daft Punk’s 2013 disco heavy tribute album Random Access Memories on a song titled “Giorgio by Moroder” where he spends a lot of the song talking about himself and it’s great. Can’t go wrong with Moroder and Summer.

    1. I’ve just been looking into the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement, as I had only known it as a term. But the more I read the shittier, and the more racist/homophobic, it sounds… Apparently they destroyed the playing field at a MLB by burning disco records? I mean, that’s so dumb it’s actually quite funny.

      Anyway, Donna Summer is great, and I’ve been listening to her a lot recently. Have you heard any of her SAW stuff from the late eighties…? There were a couple of great singles, and it might help cast the trio in a better light…?

      1. Haven’t listened much beyond the early ’80s but listened to “This Time I Know It’s For Real” her last major hit and it’s fine for both Donna Summer and SAW. If anything, they proved to be a good pairing since SAW was essentially making disco removed from its soul and R&B roots (Hi-NRG) which is what Summer and team were already doing with “I Feel Love.” Yeah, Disco Sucks gets uglier and uglier the more you look into it. There’s always been the narrative in the US that disco died after the Disco Demolition Night in Chicago making the genre seen as an embarrassing cultural artifact of the ’70s instead of as another development in the history of dance music. In the recent Bee Gees documentary, they go into good detail about the Disco Demolition Night and how ugly it was. But even if some drunken idiots hadn’t blown up disco records, disco was bound for a major backlash by 1979 considering after Saturday Night Fever the music and lifestyle became so prevalent that every major artist was releasing disco records including acts that probably shouldn’t have as well as complete media oversaturation.

        There’s a good episode of the Hit Parade podcast that I recommend that talks about Donna Summer and helped me understand her greater influence beyond disco

  3. Pingback: 410. ‘Angelo’, by Brotherhood of Man – The UK Number Ones Blog

  4. Pingback: 418. ‘Figaro’, by Brotherhood of Man – The UK Number Ones Blog

  5. Pingback: Recap: #391 – #420 – The UK Number Ones Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s