Donna Summer’s Bad Girls at 40

Still “Hot Stuff” after all these years

Donna Summer Bad Girls, Casablanca 1979

Every producer/DJ has the dream of creating an album like Donna Summer’s Bad Girls—whether they admit it or not. This is partly due to the fact that the flawless, multi-genre songs on Bad Girls blend into each other without any gaps much like a most technically smooth DJ.

It’s also due in part to the album moving like a knowledgeable and crafted DJ set. Bad Girls is not all sparkly disco gems. Rather, it features varied moods, flowing from emotion to emotion, making it all the more like the dreaded “journey” all DJs claim they want to take their audiences on—except Bad Girls does this correctly.

The timeless double album hit the 40-year mark on April 25—and it is as fresh as the day it was released. The seventh studio album from Summer and her highest selling one, Bad Girls features three hit singles: “Hot Stuff,” “Dim All The Lights” and the title track. Two of these, “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls,” occupied the number two and number three positions, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the same time. And “Hot Stuff” snagged Summer the Grammy Award (not her first) for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

In an interview in 2015, Giorgio Moroder told me “If you produce a whole album with a singer, that’s your touch. That’s what the singer and you, especially with Donna, that was our sound. And it worked.


VIDEO: Donna Summer performing “Hot Stuff” on Dinah Shore.

“Now you have a different singer, on each song on an album, and they live all over the world. Producing a whole album with one singer or group, those possibilities are not as available. On the other hand, if somebody would give me a great singer and say, ‘Do the whole album,’ I would be more than happy to do it.”

Although it may not come across as such, Bad Girls is Summer’s album after separating herself from her prescription medication dependency and her return to her faith. It also signals her as much more than the Queen of Disco, a title she rightfully owns, even if she may not have wanted it, into rock territory. Her equally lauded producers/composers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte make the shift along with Summer, creating songs for her that weren’t strictly aimed at the illuminated disco dancefloor and tapped into a range of musical styles. In an unknowing foreshadowing of the current time, Moroder and Bellotte are joined by a host of talented hitmakers on Bad Girls. Among these are Harold Faltermeyer, Joe Esposito, Bruce Sudano (who later became Mr. Donna Summer), Keith Forsey and Bruce Roberts.

Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” remix

Bad Girls is also meant to distance Summer from the “the First Lady of Love” the press had dubbed her as after the release of “Love to Love You Baby.” This is a little confusing as the album title suggests. Particularly since Bad Girls is a concept album told, in part, from the point of view of a prostitute and Summer, for all her gorgeousness, is looking the part on the album cover. Even so, each side of the album’s original four-sided release features a slightly varying style that moves together as a cohesive whole.

It is on glorious ballads such as “There Will Always Be You” and “All Through the Night,” Summer’s exceptional rich voice is given the platform it deserves, showing more than a little of her musical theatre background. Says Moroder, “Donna’s voice is a great voice, but if I, or someone else would be recording her now, we would tune it a little and it would be perfect. At the time, you could do it as good as you could but when the session was over, you could not change a note or do anything, so it was much more natural.”


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Lily Moayeri

Lily Moayeri has been a freelance journalist since 1992. She has contributed to numerous publications including Billboard, NPR, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Variety, Spin, Los Angeles Magazine, A.V. Club, and more. Lily hosts the Pictures of Lily Podcast, a bi-weekly podcast about her interviewing experiences. She has participated as moderator and panelist at numerous music conferences. She has also served as a teacher librarian since 2004 focusing on guiding students in navigating the intersection of technology and education.

One thought on “Donna Summer’s Bad Girls at 40

  • July 12, 2020 at 4:46 am

    Yes, Donna Summer could rock. Donna wasn’t cranking out typical hardcore disco records, she and Giorgio were always doing something different with each album. With the song Last Dance, written by her dear friend Paul Jabara (Its Raining Men, The Main Event, Enough is Enough/No More Tears), people couldn’t believe they were going to start off as a ballad and then kick in the beat- that was unusual but then they would stop the song several times, slow the beat down to ballad speed and sing and kick it back into the beat – people thought that wouldn’t go over well at all, especially in the dance clubs but it became a monster hit and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in a Film. It was also the last song they would play at the end of the evening at nearly every dance club and high school dance for years. In the later part of Donna’s career, she said that Last Dance was her favorite song because when she sang it she could feel Paul Jabara’s spirit close to her- she loved him like a brother.
    On my death bed, my dying words are going to be “I’m going to a Donna Summer Concert” or “I’m going to hear Donna sing again…”


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