18 May 2012

Summer moved on

My favourite Donna Summer story concerns the recording of No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) with Barbra Streisand.

Unlike a lot of big celeb duets, these two worked on the song in the same studio at the same time. It was 1979, so we had a major Broadway and Hollywood star singing alongside the media-styled 'queen of disco' and, while it's understood the two got on, there was certainly a clash of egos and styles that made for interesting recording time.

At the beginning, there is that long, percussionless, slow scene-setter as the two swap segments of singing, ending with Streisand singing a very long last syllable on the word 'tears', prior to the disco beat kicking in for the remainder.

Streisand, the older professional, had prepared for the session in her own sensible way. Summer, not yet 30 and arguably the most famous solo female singer in the world at the time, had prepared by being out on the sauce the night before. As Streisand hit that final note, Summer next to her collapsed with the after-effects of a heavy night of drinking and partying.

But Streisand was not to be distracted. She held her note, raised it a semitone (as we hear on the record), and only when given the thumbs-up by those in the production studio did she stop singing and attend to her companion behind the microphone. Summer had only momentarily passed out, and a few glasses of water and (possibly) a slap around the chops later, they continued.

I love that story. I love the ruthlessness of Streisand's professionalism and the contrast in lifestyles that it shows. I also love Donna Summer's work, from the pure filth of Love To Love You Baby (all subsequent versions have succeeded in removing the sex from the song, and therefore the point of it too), to the daft calypso of Unconditional Love (from Streisand to Musical Youth) and the impossibly catchy This Time I Know It's For Real, arguably the best pop song that Hit Factory combo wrote. I played Dinner With Gershwin, with that menacing vocal, on last week's Q The 80s.

She was known as an outstanding singer, a great partygoer and a workaholic. That's a pretty good trio of qualities for a pop star.

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