Words: Simon Button
For Donna Summer fans, the new career-spanning Encore boxset is a wonderful antidote to lockdown boredom. Comprised of 33 CDs and a vinyl-sized hardback book, all housed in a sturdy casing, it’s the ultimate tribute to the Queen of Disco and proof that she possessed one of the all-time great voices.
Yes, at £170 it’s far from cheap but you really do get what you pay for. Every one of Summer’s studio albums, from 1974’s little-known Lady of the Night to 2008’s underrated Crayons (the singer’s last long-player before her death from cancer four years later), is included - housed in cardboard sleeves just like mini LPs, with such double albums as Once Upon A Time (my personal favourite) and Hot Stuff in gatefold sleeves and spaced across two discs as they would have been in the vinyl-only days.
Live And More comes complete with the same triple sleeve it had in 1978 and the 1999 follow-up Live And More Encore is included too, along with the Christmas Spirit curio and I’m A Rainbow - the 1981 album that was shelved by the record company, only seeing the light of day in 1996.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there are eight - yes, eight! - CDs of single edits, 12-inch versions, B-sides, remixes and rarities. Summer’s gorgeous, never officially released take on ‘La Vie en Rose’ is one of many treasures, along with her ‘Does He Love You?’ duet with Liza Minnelli and the much-coveted Junior Vasquez mix of ‘My Life’ from the autobiographical musical Donna was working on but never got to finish.
With a thorough essay about her life and career, this boxset is the next best thing: A biography in music, spanning classic albums like Love To Love You Baby and I Remember Yesterday (featuring the almighty dance music game-changer that was ‘I Feel Love’) to the Stock Aitken Waterman collaboration Another Place And Time via a few oddities like the New Wave influenced The Wanderer and the somewhat ill-fitting R&B stylings of Mistaken Identity.
Donna’s run of dance hits saw her rightly claim that Queen of Disco crown: the aforementioned ‘Love To Love You Baby’ and ‘I Feel Love’, plus ‘Last Dance’, ‘On The Radio’, ‘MacArthur Park’, ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Bad Girls’. And let’s not forget the camp classic that is ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’, which saw her paired with Barbra Streisand for what has to be the greatest duelling divas anthem ever.
When disco became a dirty word in the '80s, Donna diversified with mixed results. The pop-rock of ‘She Works Hard For The Money’ added another anthem to her canon and ‘Dinner With Gershwin’ earned her a respectable number 13 chart placing over here, but the likes of ‘There Goes My Baby’ floundered.
When SAW came to the rescue in 1989, they put that extraordinary voice to great use on ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ and ‘Love’s About To Change My Heart’, but a follow-up album never came to fruition and there were no more big hits on either side of the Atlantic - although she topped the US dance charts with three of the four cuts from ‘Crayons’, including the brilliant ‘I’m A Fire’.
The hardback book is a bit low on imagery but high on praise from producer Giorgio Moroder (the genius behind those early hits), Gloria Gaynor, Nile Rodgers and Jake Shears, who states: “Not only will Donna Summer’s otherworldly voice grace our dance floors forever, so will the legacy of her music.”
Ain’t that the truth, Scissor Sister!
Donna Summer Encore is out now on Driven By The Music