To those who might pigeonhole Donna Summer as a "disco queen," I would refer to the 1979 Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" Critics Poll. Donna's "Bad Girls" checked in at #10 on that year's poll, and it's instructive to take a look at the other albums in that year's Top Ten:
- Graham Parker's "Squeezing Out Sparks"
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "Rust Never Sleeps"
- "The Clash," US Edition
- Talking Heads' "Fear of Music"
- Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces"
- Van Morrison's "Into the Music"
- "The B-52s"
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: "Damn the Torpedoes"
- Pere Ubu's "Dub Housing"
With the exception of the last album on the list, I own all of these, and you'll just have to trust me that this is pretty heady company.
There's no question that Summer began her career as a disco queen - "Love to Love You Baby" is about as disco as you can get.
But listen to "Hot Stuff," and tell me that it isn't one of the greatest rock songs of its generation. Sure, you're not likely to hear it on the radio along songs like Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner" and Tom Petty's "Refugee" (both great songs, don't get me wrong). That doesn't mean that you shouldn't. Jeff Baxter's guitar solo on the song is one of the best you'll hear anywhere, and better than anything he contributed to Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. So don't tell me it isn't rock.
Her time as a valuable contributor to the rock pantheon may have been limited, but it was significant.