Jun 08

DONNA SUMMER – “I Feel Love”

FT + Popular169 comments • 6,350 views

#409, 23rd July 1977

One of the remarkable things about “I Feel Love” is that it still sounds futuristic now. Not because the effects and techniques it uses remain way ahead of what pop’s capable of, but because it helped fix the idea of what “the future” would sound like: its specific mix of voice and electronics evoking gleaming hedonism, endless clockwork pleasure. “I Feel Love”, like robots and spaceships on sci-fi magazine covers, represents a fixed future we can’t ever quite get past.

But at the same time “I Feel Love” is a thing very much of 1977 - its sounds and beats somehow antique, with the way its internal rhythms often seem to shift out of phase giving the track its mechanical feel. It’s the pop equivalent of Voyager (which launched within weeks of “I Feel Love”‘s release) - the furthest out we’ve ever gone, but powered by primitive late-70s kit.

Back on Earth “I Feel Love” has been refitted and retooled countless times – if not a remix then another track borrowing its pulsing bassline chassis. That’s testament to its success as a pop song as well as a machine age wonder: for all that Moroder’s innovative arrangement suits the tune’s spacey bliss and transforms Summer’s coo into something entranced, “I Feel Love” is still catchy enough to have worked as a much more trad disco or glam-pop record.

The arrangement is what shifts it from good to legendary, though, from the first interlock of bassline and synthesised pulsebeat. It’s Ptolemaic pop, the play of cycles and epicycles: Moroder setting up minutely intersecting circling rhythms and watching as they interact in a music of the spheres that hasn’t stopped turning yet.



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  1. 151
    hectorthebat on 22 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 15
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1970s (2001) 4
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    PopMatters (USA) – The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared (2003) 38
    Rolling Stone (USA) – 40 Songs That Changed the World (2007)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 411
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 418
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1970s (2008)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mixmag (UK) – The 100 Best Dance Singles of All Time (1996) 12
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Records That Changed the World (2007) 96
    Muzik (UK) – The 50 Most Influental Records of All Time (2003)
    Paul Roland (UK) – CD Guide to Pop & Rock, 100 Essential Singles (2001)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 36
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 268
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The 50 Most Exciting Tunes Ever (2002) 44
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1970-1979 (2004) 3
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Uncut (UK) – 100 Rock and Movie Icons (2005) 68
    Uncut (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles from the Post-Punk Era (2001) 11
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 1
    Spex (Germany) – The Best Singles of the Century (1999)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  2. 152
    Larry on 15 Nov 2014 #

    I remember this as the disco record it was OK for punks to like. And can it (with its syndrums) be said to be the first record of the 80s?

  3. 153
    karlos fandango on 4 Jun 2015 #

    I was trying to work out if this came out as a 12″ at the time – I think it might have been DJ-only in the US and not released here at all. Which seems nuts. Eventually came out here in ’82. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

  4. 154
    Phil on 4 Jun 2015 #

    I think what you’ve got to remember is that 12″ was a very new format at the time – the first one I remember actually handling was the Ramones’ “Sheena is a punk rocker”, also in 1977. (On which, incidentally, the grooves were spaced exactly as they would have been for an LP, giving half an inch of music and four inches of run-out groove!) The non-DJ, non-novelty market for 12″s was minute.

    According to Discogs this single did get a 12″ release in the US – with an 8:15 remix of the song rather than the 5:53 original – but it was a single-sided 33 rpm 12″ (with two tracks on it – got to have a B side!). No 12″ in the UK until 1982, and then I think it was that awful ‘remix’ with loads of stuff added.

    I’d give it a 10, btw, but 9 isn’t totally ridiculous.

  5. 155

    As you probably know, 12″ singles already existed (a) in Jamaica, as part of its “pre-release platter” culture; (b) likewise in the US, as promo copies for DJs. “Love to Love You Baby” was released in 1975, first as the whole side of an LP then as an official 12″ (it’s 17 minutes long). So this was a 1975 “event-release” within disco that began shifting interest in 12″s from specialist arcana via novelty stunt to (potential) mass sales. By 1977, I think it was becoming more a of a bedded-in (semi-novelty) format, alongside coloured vinyl — I remember my friend Chris Freeman being cross he couldn’t find X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours” as a non-12″ in Shrewsbury in Sept 77 (Virgin were being canny dicks about it, knowing we young punks just HAD to have it and would buy it). My friend Phil Kelly caved first, so it was his copy we ended up pogoing ineptly to.

    So it seems likely that “I Feel Love” was also available on 12″ (again it was first heard as an LP track, again Casablanca was the label). Wikipedia says 7″ and 12″ tho i wouldn’t rest my foot too hard on that affirmation

  6. 156
    Mark M on 4 Jun 2015 #

    In Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, he claims that DJ Tom Moulton had been working on a remix in late ’74, and the engineer had run out of 7″ acetates, so they pressed the DJ copies on 12″ vinyl instead – and thought, ‘wow, that’s way better.’ Thus, enter the 12″ single.

    But I’m totally willing to believe it has happening in Jamaica first.

  7. 157

    In fact I think the dub plates supplied to reggae (and pre-reggae) DJs in Jamaica tended to be 10″s, at least in the 50s and 60s? The idea is much the same — a micro-market for a quite specific use with its own requirements (good sound and durability) — but the realisation slightly different.

  8. 158
    Mark M on 4 Jun 2015 #

    Re155/6 etc: I’ve now read the Wikipedia entry, which gives a different account of the Moulton story, and says it was a 10″ acetate, which is apparently what they used in Jamaica, as Lord S points out. The Wikipedia entry, though very detailed, reads like a collection of competing origin stories, with nobody actually knowing where it all started, which may well be the case.

    Hermes’ book is most rigorously footnoted, but his birth of the 12″ story has no reference, and I can’t find Moulton listed as one of his interviewees either.

  9. 159
    Mark M on 4 Jun 2015 #

    Ah ha, here’s an interview (by Michaelangelo Matos) with Moulton telling the story. Which doesn’t mean that nobody had done it first, of course.

  10. 160
    Phil on 4 Jun 2015 #

    #155 – I’d forgotten “Oh Bondage!” being on 12″ (I got it on 7″ but with a generic paper sleeve chiz chiz). I do think the format was associated with novelty at that stage; I remember a lot of coloured vinyl 12″s of perfectly credible releases. I very nearly bought Television’s “Prove It” (12″ green vinyl), despite having the album, but then read two separate articles from which I concluded that In The Future all singles would be 12″ and all vinyl would be green, thus (in my mind) destroying the novelty value of this release… which doesn’t even follow, now I think about it; maybe I was just looking for an excuse.

    As for “I feel love”, Discogs lists 20 different releases of this single in 1977; five of them were 12″ and two of those were promos, the other three being released in the US, Canada and Sweden. It feels like UK clubbers ought to have been able to hear it in its full 8:15 glory, but I don’t think they did – not on a UK copy, anyway. (And 5:53 was still pretty long for a chart single!)

  11. 161
    Mark G on 4 Jun 2015 #

    The first charting 12″ was The Who’s “Substitute” a three tracker which sounded lousy on seven inch (the b side did) but great on twelve.

  12. 162
    Phil on 4 Jun 2015 #

    Now that was a novelty issue – it came out in October 1976, on the back of The Story of the Who (a compilation with some odd holes in it, apparently due to being selected from the recordings the band actually owned at the time). The many voices of Google say variously that it was the first 12″ single in Britain and the first widely-marketed 12″.

  13. 163
    Mark G on 4 Jun 2015 #

    I remember a bunch of 12″ singles in Quicksilver, Reading, about two months previously: Salsoul, Lou Rawls maybe, Strawberry Letter 23 I’m fairly sure (red vinyl, I have a copy now).

    There was an rso records 10″ various artists thing, but because it had one unreleased Eric Clapton track as side one track one, they marketed it as “the worlds largest single” which was wrong even before 12″ singles were invented.

  14. 164
    wichitalineman on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Tom Moulton was interviewed by Bill Brewster for DJ History some years back, and I also read the 12″ origin story (not 10″ according to Tom) in Peter Shapiro’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.

    I think Sweden was the only European country to issue I Feel Love as a 12″ in 1977, at least according to Discogs. Would the single-sided US 12″ not have been a promo for DJs? I can’t imagine it being a commercial release.

    First UK 12″ I’ve come across is David Essex’s dystopian epic City Lights, released in March ’76, beating the Who by six months. Never seen this mentioned anywhere though, so might be others lurking undocumented.

  15. 165
    Phil on 5 Jun 2015 #

    According to Discogs City Lights had a full 12″ release in Japan – is that an untold chapter of the Birth of the Twelve? – and a promo release on 12″ in the UK, backing the release of Stardust. The 7″ was what was (officially) in the shops.

    It looks as if the official First Ever 12″ was “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure, also 1976 (on Salsoul, so that might be what Mark G remembered). Although from another angle Donna Summer had kicked the whole thing off the previous year with the 16:50 “LTLYB”, which did well in the clubs despite being not so much a 12″ single as half an LP.

    Just discovered that Donna Summer’s first single was “Wassermann” by Donna Gaines und Ensemble – i.e. “Aquarius” from Hair, in German. In 1971 she did a version of “Sally go round the roses”, a 1963 girl-band song which had also been covered by Pentangle. The pub quiz questions practically write themselves.

  16. 166
    lonepilgrim on 5 Jun 2015 #

    I have a 12″ single of “Haitian Divorce’ by Steely Dan from 1976 (which features two otherwise unavailable tracks on the b-side) and I don’t think that was the first 12″ single i owned

  17. 167
    Mark G on 5 Jun 2015 #

    #165 Yes, it was Ten Percent, Double Exposure. I got a copy of the seven inch from Radio London during my short-lived radio not-career. It wasn’t that long a song, so how they managed to stretch it out to eight minutes I can’t imagine. Or, I couldn’t at the time, I’m sure I could now.

    (Funnily enough, “Oh Bondage Up Yours” was in the same bundle with which I managed to convert the sixth form to..)

    I know we discussed the City Lights 12″ before, I couldn’t remember at all – I did remember it being a long single with groove cramming reducing the volume. (The live version of “Roadrunner” on the b-side of “Morning of our lives” was longer, but it was from his busky days so it didn’t matter as much. ) Anyway, if it was Japanese only, that would explain why.

    Re the haitian divorce one, there were a lot of “Greatest hits” 4 or 3 trackers issued in the wake of the “Substitute” hit, not many got into the charts but a lot of them were consistent sellers.

  18. 168
    Phil on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Discogs puts the four-track Steely Dan 12″ in 1977.

    I’ve got a vague memory of “Roadrunner (Thrice)” playing at 33, but can’t confirm it, irritatingly. I gave my then girlfriend that single at the time, and since we’ve been together ever since I would have expected to find it on the shelf with mine. Did she chuck it out at some point? Did I?

  19. 169
    wichitalineman on 5 Jun 2015 #

    Earliest UK Donna Summer, I think, is Sally Go Round The Roses which came out here on MCA. As Donna Gaines, of course. It’s great, in a sparse funky way. I picked it up a few years ago and was wondering why her voice seemed so familiar.

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