Another Place And Time – Donna Summer (WEA 1989)
UK Chart Position – 17
It had been nearly twelve years since Donna Summer’s previous essential album “Once Upon A Time”. In the meantime her career had reached stratospheric levels with US number 1 pop albums (“Live And More” and “Bad Girls”) and had also hit the doldrums. Disco had been and gone and in the US there had been a backlash against Disco artists so Donna found herself needing to diversify, not always with great results. Her career was also further complicated by her becoming a born-again Christian causing her to play down some of the raunchier hits in her back catalogue and then there was a comment she was reported to have made about AIDS which seriously affected her standing with the gay record buying market, who had been amongst her strongest supporters since day one. Donna Summer always denied making such statements but it did have a significantly detrimental effect on her career.
Throughout the 80’s Donna continued to record with some success but the career lacked consistency and the quality of albums was patchy. She did come very close to being essential with her 1982 release “Donna Summer” produced by Quincy Jones. Donna was pregnant at the time of recording and claimed not to have responded well to Jones’ methods of working. There were some great tracks on this album and a lot of musical styles which showed the versatility of the artist on big gospelesque numbers like the Vangelis penned hit single “State Of Independence”, on Bruce Springsteen rock and with a jazz standard “Lush Life”, in which, whatever Donna herself thought, she turned out one of her greatest vocal performances. This album also marked her move away from Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte for the first time.
Later 80’s albums (here I’m including “She Works Hard For The Money” and “Cats Without Claws” )just didn’t do it for me. Her “All Systems Go” album from 1987 was the first in her hit career not to make any impression on the US and UK album charts. It wasn’t even a bad album, her star had just waned. Around this time I saw her perform live for the first of two times at the Royal Albert Hall, London, where there were protests outside against her reported comments. She was excellent that night, as she was when I saw her again some years later but it did seem like the hits might have dried up.
Like both other veteran female performers Tina Turner and Liza Minelli it was the British who saved the day. Turner had become a global star again following her association with Heaven 17 and Minelli found herself making pop charts for the first time ever when she worked with the Pet Shop Boys a bit later on in the same year that Donna made her comeback. And it was a comeback, scoring in the UK her highest charting album for 11 years and three Top 20 singles. In the US it gave her a first Top 10 single for 6 years. In 1989 Donna was back and it was thanks to Stock, Aitken and Waterman.
This song-writing and production team, known as the Hit Factory by the time they began working with Donna had scored number 1 singles for Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Rick Astley, Dead Or Alive, Sonia and Mel and Kim amongst others with a high-energy sound which was spawned in the gay discos and taken into the pop charts in the UK and Europe with alarming frequency. Working with one of the original disco legends seemed a sensible move for all concerned.
“Another Place And Time” has ten tracks written and produced by the team with two tracks penned alongside the artist. Why it works so well as an album is that for the first time since her peak of her work with Moroder and Bellotte it gave her a clear identity as a performer, the songs feel cohesive. True, they fitted perfectly into the pop-dance pocket which Stock, Aitken and Waterman had found for themselves and the songs could have worked easily as well for Kylie or even Hazell Dean but the Summer Legend gave the whole thing a little extra sparkle and the end result was something really very special. Stock, Aitken and Waterman were reputed to say that this was their favourite of the albums they worked on, and it is easy to see why.
The album’s star turn comes in at track three and is certainly indicative of both the best of Summer and SAW’s work. “This Time I Know It’s For Real” is an absolute gem of a single. Released a month or so before the album it soared up to number 3 in the UK, a position she had last attained ten years before with her vocal battle-to-the-death duet with Barbra Streisand “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”. It got to number 7 in the US, where there had been a certain amount of record label scurrying around before it appeared on Atlantic Records. It saw her back at the top of the Billboard US Dance charts and was a big hit, in amongst other markets, Norway (#3). Ireland (#4), France (#6), Netherlands (#5) and Canada (#7). It’s a joyous song which celebrates love and wants to proclaim it anyway possible.
The CD opener “I Don’t Want To Get Hurt” followed its predecessor up the charts reaching number 7 in the UK. It was a smaller hit in Europe (although got to number 3 in Ireland) and was not released as a single in the US. It might have been tempting to put out a whole album of tracks aimed at the dance floor but there is variety here, with slower tracks such as the title track and “Breakaway” which was the track on the album which refused to die as it was released as a single not far off two years after the release of the album and made the UK Top 50.
Donna also made the UK Top 20 with the closer “Love’s About To Change My Heart”. On the album this has a great instrumental coda which rounds things off perfectly which was not present on the single mix. The album version was much better. The slow start kicking into an uptempo track brought to mind what felt like a bit of a trademark from Donna’s golden era, present on some of her biggest hits from her golden era (“Last Dance”, “No More Tears”, “On The Radio”, “Dim All The Lights” and, especially, “Macarthur Park”). This felt like a touch of genius from the production team who were showing their ability to update the sound and still please the fans of long-standing.
They certainly got mileage from the denim jacket photoshoot!
Donna Summer and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. It all seemed to fit together so perfectly as I had expected it to do right when I heard about the collaboration. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it was the front cover art which saw Summer in Japanese Geisha make-up. One gets the feeling that this was Summer’s idea and this is confirmed by credits which state she came up with the concept with photographer Lawrence Lawry. Donna Summer was also a painter and the image has the feel of some of her artwork.
Driven By The Music by Donna Summer
In the US label issues meant that sales were damaged by high levels of import purchases and by the time the album appeared on the Atlantic label a high chart placing seemed out of the question. Having said that it still performed better than its predecessor. Back in 1989 this seemed just like a taster for more good stuff to come. Donna fitted into the Hit Factory set-up so well that I was ready for a long association with the producers. A second album was proposed but due to difficulties with record label contracts never happened. What felt like a return to previous chart glories was too short-lived. This would also be the last essential Donna Summer release. Her 1991 Atlantic album “Mistaken Identity” was sadly without much identity. Returning to Mercury she put out a first class Christmas album (there’s only one essential Christmas album) in 1994 and her 2008 swansong “Crayons” was a big success in her homeland and certainly had its moments and could have paved the way for an even bigger career renaissance in her sixties. Donna Summer sadly died aged 62 in 2012.
Another Place And Time is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £7.82 and used from £0.09. It can be downloaded for £7.99. In the US it is available for $16.99 and used for $15.93. In the UK it is available to stream on Spotify.