R.I.P. Donna Summer

Posted: May 21, 2012 in 1970s, 1978, 2012, Donna Summer, Hatboro, WIFI-92
Tags: , , , ,

Many of the Donna Summer obituaries that I read last week dubbed her the “queen of disco,” but that’s far too narrow in scope. In truth, during the second half of the 1970s – as this Billboard article shows – she was the queen of the Top 40. Yet, odd as this may sound, the first thoughts that flashed through my mind when I learned that she had passed weren’t of her music, but of WIFI-92, playing ball in the street and the Hatboro Theater.

In the late 1970s, my friend Don and I played on the street in front of his house or in his driveway, where he had a basketball net above the garage. I’m not sure now how we met or why we parted, just that our life paths diverged not long after we started high school. For those few years, though, we’d meet after school or on a summer’s day, break out the baseball mitts, Nerf football or basketball and have a blast with his brother and other friends from the neighborhood – and often, like thousands of other kids in the Delaware Valley, with a radio tuned to WIFI-92 blaring in the background.

For those too young or old to remember, at the time WIFI-92 was the region’s lone Top 40 station – a sonic melting pot that didn’t care if a song was rock, pop, country, soul or disco, just that it was a Top 40 hit. And while I can’t say for sure, it’s likely where I first heard Donna Summer. In the space of a year (11/78 to 11/79) she scored four No. 1 hits – “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and, with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” but I’m actually waxing nostalgic for the lead-up to that stretch, when she hit the Top 10 with “Last Dance” from the Thank God Its Friday soundtrack.

That was the summer of 1978, of course, when Grease was the word, the place and the motion; Thank God It’s Friday, on the other hand, was just plain bad. I say that from firsthand experience: I saw it that year with Don, his mother and possibly his brother at the Hatboro Theater. Yet I still walked home with a smile on my face. When Donna Summer commandeered the stage and let loose with “Last Dance,” hey, what wasn’t to like?

In time, along with many teens of that era, I embraced the notion that “disco sucks,” and tuned away from WIFI to WMMR and WYSP. In retrospect, while the anti-disco backlash was understandable, the palpable anger that underscored much of it was, at best, misdirected. Like all musical genres and fads, there was the good, bad and mediocre; that record companies and radio stations pushed too much of it was simply par for the course. When have they not hijacked a bandwagon and crashed it in a ditch?

In any event, a few years back I picked up a disco box set and a Donna Summer best-of. Now, I’ll never be mistaken for the greatest dancer (though my cat might disagree), never before bought a pure disco record and only heard what was played on WIFI-92, in the movies or on TV, and large chunks of that was while doing other things. So I was surprised by how many songs from the box set I knew by heart. Music has a way of etching itself into the brain like little else, of course, and imprinting along with it the faces and places that surround us, but… “ Knock on Wood”?! The first half of the Donna Summer best-of was more of the same, but at a higher octane: memories of friends and days (and nights) spent having fun in the summertime, of concerns no larger than what time to wake up the next day.

No, the songs weren’t deep, but how much of pop music is? At the end of the day, some days, it’s enough to say – as the kids on American Bandstand said – “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” (Or, in my case, tap my foot.)

  1. […] years. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Soon I was enjoying Grease, Olivia Newton-John, WIFI-92 and such 45s as Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and […]


  2. […] time was “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover”; and only from hearing them on Happy Days and Michael St. Johns’ Saturday night oldies show in the mid-to-late 1970s. Darin made his mark, of course, when he graduated from pop ’n’ roll […]


  3. […] research purposes, plus enjoyment, I flipped between WIFI-92, which featured a Top 40 format, and WMMR and WYSP, both rock-oriented; all three rested near one […]


  4. […] simply because WIFI – like every Top 40 station known to man – had a tight playlist. Donna Summer, for instance, was hot stuff, an omnipresent force. Here she is on The Dinah Shore Show […]


  5. […] I likely spent part of the day up the street from my house, playing ball in the street with friends, or at the park doing the same. A radio may or may not have been blaring in the background, likely turned to WIFI-92, the Top 40 station I wrote about in this remembrance of Donna Summer. […]


  6. […] Donna Summer – “Bad Girls.” As I noted after her untimely death, Donna Summer wasn’t just the “queen of disco” in the late ‘70s, but the queen of the Top […]


  7. […] the late 1970s and early ‘80s, as I wrote in this remembrance of Donna Summer, I often found myself with friends playing variations of football or baseball in the street up from […]


  8. […] in the theaters this weekend: FM; I Wanna Hold Your Hand; The End; The Buddy Holly Story; and Thank God It’s Friday. And among the songs on the […]


  9. […] Tears (Enough Is Enough).” In her never-ending quest to stay hip, Babs pairs with the era’s Queen of the Top 40 for this kitschy curio, which drops to No. 2 after its own two-week stay atop the […]


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