In the mid-’60s, a young American singer named LaDonna Adrian Gaines landed a role in a touring production of the iconic musical Hair. The production traveled to Munich, Germany, and she decided to move there. She married Austrian actor Helmut Sommer in 1973 and changed her name to Donna Sommer – which was later Anglicized to Donna Summer. In Munich, she also met music producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte while working as a part-time model and backup singer. The three would form a partnership that would birth many influential disco and dance songs. The first of their hits, “Love to Love You Baby,” was released in 1975.
Despite the fact that some radio stations deemed its sexual nature raucous and controversial, and refused to play it, “Love to Love You Baby” became a worldwide hit and turned Summer into an instant star. A journalist famously defined it as “16 minutes and 48 second of arousal and refill … Hunger without recourse; essential disco.” However, the extent of the success of “Love to Love You Baby” was difficult to follow; the rest of the album of the same name on which it had appeared had been largely ignored while her subsequent albums, A Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love, both released in 1976, failed to live up to expectations and generate the same level of interest.
More determined than ever, Moroder, Summer and Bellotte returned to the studio to record another concept disco album, titled I Remember Yesterday. Released in 1977, this album was a reflection on time itself; each of its tracks was inspired by the sounds of a different decade of the 20th century, past, present and future – from the ’40s jazz of its opening title track to the closing track, “I Feel Love,” which predicted the dance music of the ’90s.
Bob Brewster defined “I Remember Yesterday” as belonging to a style he called “flapper disco,” which had been created by Stony Browder, the leader of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah’s band, by fusing ’40s jazz into a disco context. The song would eventually be released as a single in Europe, where it became a hit, reaching number 14 in the UK Singles Chart. However, despite its unquestionable popularity, “I Remember Yesterday” was overshadowed by the success of “I Feel Love.”
Indeed, “I Feel Love” was that second major hit that Summer had been looking for as an ideal follow-up to “Love to Love You Baby.” It was released as a single and peaked at number six on the US Billboard Hot 100. Upon hearing it, Brian Eno commented: “This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years.” He was right, and the influence of this song is still felt to this day.
Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be right to overlook “I Remember Yesterday,” particularly from a historical perspective. At this time, Summer was trying to shake off her sexually-oriented image and longed to gain a reputation as a credible and serious artist. The romanticism, sensibility and nostalgia of “I Remember Yesterday” worked in tandem with the more sexually-themed, forward-looking “I Feel Love.” As such, the two songs showcased two sides of Summer’s artistic personalities and contributed to establishing her reputation as one of the most versatile recording artists of her time.
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