Donna Summer (1982)

Geffen/Warner Bros. Records, released 19th July 1982


It’s understandable that Summer was reluctant to take on Billy Strayhorn’s song ‘Lush Life’.

A morning-after portrait of a failed romance, it’s a remarkable composition for a 16-year-old to write, with elliptical lyrics, few repeat sections and a challenging, endlessly-modulating melody line.

Nat ‘King’ Cole, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine all performed notable versions (Strayhorn himself apparently loved the latter).

But, coached through by producer Quincy Jones and keyboardists Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock and Dave Grusin, Summer’s vocals are a knockout. Though the track sounds a bit rushed (Phillinganes would surely like another pass at his synth bass part), her work certainly paid off.

‘Lush Life’ closes Donna Summer, released 35 years old today. Classic singles begin the album and end side one: Grammy-nominated ‘Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)’ and an inspired cover of Jon & Vangelis’s ‘State Of Independence’, the latter featuring an amazing array of guest vocalists.

The problem with Donna Summer is that it’s three classics and a lot of filler. Formula-wise, Quincy seems to be preparing for Thriller – there are many songwriters and a variety of styles.

Springsteen contributes the slightly underwhelming ‘Protection’ and elsewhere there’s a bit too much LM-1 drum machine and a few less-than-memorable choruses.

The album didn’t quite deliver the big hit to propel Summer into the ’80s but reached #20 in the US album charts and #13 in the UK.


2 thoughts on “Donna Summer (1982)

  1. Hi Matt,
    I’m a huge Donna Summer fan but I somehow missed out on this album in 1982, I think because I just didn’t like her transition from Giorgio Moroder to Geffen/Quincy Jones and the US rock direction they took her. I was inspired to revisit the album today and I realise how much it’s influenced by my idol Rod Temperton with the amazing choir featuring Michael McDonald, Michael Jackson, Christopher Cross, James Ingram, Kenny Loggins, Brenda Russell, Dionne Warwick(!!) et al and even Johnny Mandel string arrangements. Any record with Chris Cross or Michael McDonald on backup is worth listening to in my book and I was pleasantly surprised by the whole album.
    Maybe a little filler but I really enjoyed the lesser tracks like If It Hurts Just A Little, The Woman In Me and Love Is Just A Breath Away has a fantastic little guitar lick snaking though it. I don’t know who plays the guitar solos but they’re great too.
    Incidentally, I’ve always hated State Of Independence since I heard the original version and I don’t know why they picked it for Donna, it’s so out of character and symbolises for me the switch from Giorgio to Geffen, it’s just never worked for me. But all holy heck, there’s even a Springsteen song on this album and Roy Bittan too! And Lush Life is very well done.
    It’s been a well spent 40 minutes and I even reconnected with Love Is In Control, which I also didn’t warm to in my youth. Donna Summer is the queen but I put much of it down to Rod Temperton twiddling the knobs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, interesting stuff. I must revisit the ‘filler’ tracks again that you mention, I don’t remember ‘Woman In Me’ and ‘Just A Breath Away’ at all. I can imagine the album fell between two stools for Summer fans but it also feels a little rushed by Quincy at times. Maybe with a few better/lesser songs and a bit more Rod T, it could have been a dry run for ‘Thriller’…


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