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Love to Love you Baby

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August 21, 1976 — Donna Summer performs on American Bandstand. For some reason, I’m at my friend Jim’s house. I’m eleven years old.

Jim had stuff at his place that we didn’t have at ours, like a pack of Marlboros wrapped in plastic, hidden in the woodpile. I tried it, didn’t want anything to do with it, so I’d go to watch him smoke. He wasn’t really into it either. Guilt by association, there was still a challenge — if his dad found out, he’d murder us both.

That’s something else Jim had that I didn’t: an alcoholic father who’d come home pissed at who knows what, yelling at everyone in the room, me included.

Made the (one-time) mistake of lingering too long after school one day and Jim’s dad stormed the door. First it’s mom’s fault, out of the gate he’s in her face. Reeking of booze, you could smell it from across the room.

Jim offers some calming words, now it’s on him, then Jim’s little brother happened to be standing there. The kid may have been seven years old, taking the full brunt.

Add to the dynamic, Jim’s friend — new kid — you’d think that would have meant something. Wait five minutes, let it stay within the family; maybe the appearance of a stranger was a sign to cool down, get your shit together. First I’d met the guy but even at that age I’d been acquainted with the value of a first impression.


He came towards me, throwing a finger in my face.

“Who the fuck are you?”

[internal dialogue #1] “Just a kid who’ll never again flip through the big stack of Playboy magazines under your bed, sir.” Another thing we didn’t have at home: huge stack of Playboys, each one an inch thick. Old school, felt like they weighed a few pounds each. It only added to the thrill that Jim always warned, “we’d get killed if my dad catches us looking at his magazines” and at this very moment, I believed him.

[internal dialogue #2] “I believe I just soiled myself. I would like to wait outside, if that would be permitted.”

I can’t remember what I said but I ran fast, the moment he gave me an out, said I could go. “Yes, please.” Road Runner cloud.

Jim talked about it, how it was something he needed to constantly be aware of. Not good. I always pictured one day there’d be a cold snap, the school bus would pull up to his house and Jim would come out slow and bruised. I’d look over and see a dip in the woodpile, roughly the area where he stashed the smokes. Or for no reason whatsoever, same outcome.

Now I better understand it. At the time, I thought his parents had an open enough relationship that the man could keep magazines like that under the bed … within reach, so to speak. The woman knew they were there and was okay with it, I figured. Time goes by and you wonder what other choices she may not have had.

So Jim’s house was a different world, offering hedonistic temptations I was otherwise unfamiliar with. It was there I first saw and heard Donna Summer.

Love to Love you Baby,” to be exact.

Those Playboy magazines had sprung to life, we couldn’t explain how or why. Not even slightly familiar with a song like that, the moan and groaning, I just knew what would happen if his dad walked in and saw us watching American Bandstand. He’d kill us each three times.

“The song that introduced her to the American market—“Love to Love You Baby”—changed pop music’s DNA. The verisimilitude of Summer’s gasps and moans might have fed the song’s notoriety, but it was its length—the extended set of variations that Summer and producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte fashioned at the behest of executive Neil Bogart—that proved its most disruptive contribution, a counterargument to the riff-oriented thrust of rock dominance. “Love to Love You Baby” played long enough for everything to change.”

Boston Globe

This particular Saturday, Jim’s older sister is “watching” us. She’s 16 and on the phone during the entire five hours I’m there. Gabbing with a friend, curling the phone cord in her index finger, sitting sideways on a recliner.

“You know what I heard? This song,” she said, “it was recorded … in a chair. You know what that means …”

It’s been 36 years and I still don’t know what the hell she was talking about. I assumed carnel, clearly. Proud to say I still do, but was this actual rumor or the sexual theory of a 16-year old? I’ve never been convinced that a chair is the definitive piece of furniture to allow a woman to moan like that. For all we know, Donna recorded that standing up, or in a bathtub.

The 17-minute extended version — an estimated 22 simulated orgasms on the track — in that case, sure, have a seat.

“According to Moroder, it was on a Friday that Bogart called him, at about three o’clock in the morning LA time, ecstatic over the number and insisting that it should be extended to cover the entire side of an album. Bellotte fills in the details…

“Bogart was having an orgy at his house, there was a lot of coke going on and, to use his own language, they were all ‘f*cking to this track’ and the crowd there had him replay the song over and over again. Suddenly, a ‘Eureka’ thought hit Bogart …”

Donna Summer ‘I Feel Love’ | Classic TracksSound on Sound

Donna Summer had emerged — between 1976 and the end of 1982, she had more top 10 hits (12) than any other act.

In those Puritan days, the extended version was as easy to find as uranium. “Love to Love You Baby, long time,” they’d call that record today. Like porn on the radio, except it was mostly banned for explicit content.

If one person would have had a copy, it would have been Jim’s dad and we would have found it. No telling what he’d do if he ever caught us listening to it.

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© 2012, Soapy Johnson. All rights reserved.

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