REVIEW: Donna Summer with Marc Eliot – Ordinary Girl

Image Courtesy of Villard / Random House
by Jason Shawhan
There is no getting around the fact that Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco. From 1975 until 1981, she defined (along with Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, and Harold Faltermeyer) the sound that the world moved to, winning awards, financial and critical success, and the kind of fame that insured that no matter what path her life might take, Donna Summer was disco and disco was Donna Summer. That analogy is a little reductive, as Donna Summer was also funk, pop, rock, Hi-NRG, electro, and power balladry. Disco, however, was the epithet associated with Donna. But even the most casual of Summer fans knows that this was not an association she was always happy with.

Well, it’s all here. The ongoing conflict between the secular thump-hi-hat-and-clap of dance music and the spiritual calling that had been driving young LaDonna Adrian Gaines from an early age. The highs and lows, though the lows deal not so much with Donna’s late-80s commercial slide but more with aspects of her childhood and early adult years which facilitated her sojourn in Germany and Europe and abusive relationships and first marriage. Sounds juicy, doesn’t it? Well, it is, kind of.

The whole story of Donna’s career is written from the perspective of someone confident in God’s plan for humanity. As such, even the really horrifying parts (like when she basically had to flee the country because of possible reprisals and an attempted kidnapping due to her testifying in a criminal case) are seen as necessary lessons.There’s not very much in-the-studio anecdotes, nor is there a lot of in-depth specifics of the 70s and 80s pop scenes. There is, however, a lot of hard-learned lessons from a dynamic and enduring performer, a great songwriter, and a businesswoman who has survived the whims of the music industry and the turbulent shifts in musical forms that have happened over the past thirty years. Inspirational? Certainly. But I couldn’t help but want to know more about what went into the creation of her classic records, and suspense is not a by-product of absolute certainty in the divine plan. Donna fans know they need this, and it’s a great gift idea for mothers and aunts of dance fans, or for the fundamentalist Christian in your life.

But Donna is still a vital part of contemporary dance music (experience “Dream-a-Lot’s Theme/I Will Live For Love” right now- do not pass go), and it’s good to see (and read) that she’s doing well.