Inarguable Pop Classic #36: Donna Summer – I Feel Love
Released in 1977, ‘I Feel Love’ turned forty-one years old this month. It is not only a stone cold classic single but a song that changed the face of popular music. Given the reams of excellent prose devoted to the song and its history, notably Jon Savage’s excellent in-depth article here, its hard to say anything new about this totemic record, but I will give you my impression and reflections upon what makes this such a great piece of music.
Italian Giorgio Moroder was arguably the most successful of electronic producers of the 1970s and ’80s, his techniques along with his crack team of studio musicians crafting a reverberating network of analogue Moog synth sounds. Hoving into view with a woosh, like a spaceship taking off, this glorious song just takes simplicity and gives it lift off. Like a telephone bank with hundreds of blinking bulbs lighting up and flashing, it’s a electro tapestry of flickering pulses, throbbing arpeggiated basslines, that simmer like the sound of countless steel marbles bouncing across guitar strings.
Possessed of a harsher yet more intricate and intense sound than Disco, it is underpinned by that insistent beat. Influenced by the work of Kraftwerk on their seminal ‘Trans-Europe Express’, the songtakes the motorik tradition and burrows deep into a programmed loop. Propulsive yet with the ability to stop you dead in your tracks every time you hear it, and balancing humanity against mechanical precision, ‘I Feel Love’ exists in its very own orbit. It is a sound that would fill dancefloors and influence music for decades to come.
“I had already had experience with the original Moog synthesisers,” Moroder told NME in December 1978, “so I contacted this guy who owned one of the large early models. It was all quite natural and normal for me. I simply instructed him about what programmings I needed. I didn’t even think to notice that for the large audience this was perhaps a very new sound.”
Donna Summer‘s incredible vocal performance is given the platform, investing each note with an iridescent soul. Her awesome ability to scale and shiver through her register, she lights up her repeated refrains, which are mantra-like and laid across this continuous background loop, with a warmth, shiver and exultant celebration of the feelings of being utterly infatuated.
With each refrain Summer embodying a sensuality and sexuality that was her trademark. “It’s so good” she sings over and over, in an echo of the bristling orgasmic sighs of her solo single ‘Love to Love You, Baby’ but here Summer sounds absolutely imperious. “Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free …” This is a mantra for escape and freedom lifted aloft skywards, intangible and universal capturing and distilling fleeting moments of joy and releasing them all in one moment.
The beauty of the lyrics are in their simplicity and repetition, while the title and chorus spreads across this throbbing backdrop releasing a surge from the methodical programming enveloping to a crescendo as Donna Summer’s tone makes her soaring declaration, through the bricolage of synths and mechanical beat. It’s on this stark contrast and transformative peak that ‘I Feel Love’ becomes unforgettable and timeless.
An influence on artists from Blondie, Bowie and David Byrne, to the synth wave, with artists such as New Order citing its composition and sound as a major influence. While the Eurythmics, Yazoo and Soft Cell amongst others were inspired by its juxtaposition of the harsh scientific sound of nascent electronic instrumentation with a naked humanity.He would work with The Human League‘s Phil Oakey on the hit ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, the title track to the 1984 film Electric Dreams.
Legend has it Brian Eno rushed into the Hansa studios in Berlin where he was working with David Bowie, with a copy of the record. “This is it, look no further,” Eno declared excitedly. “This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years.” (Moroder would later work with Bowie on the track ‘Cat People'(Putting out Fire) in 1981). This formula would form the basis for many of the electronic pop hits that would define the decade and beyond, influencing the sound of various strands of dance music and even hip-hop.
First appearing on Donna Summer’s 1977 album I Remember Yesterday, the single ‘I Feel Love’ went to No. 1 in the UK during the high summer of 1977, and remained there for four weeks, whilst in the US it only reached No. 6, it’s impression had been made. ‘I Feel Love’ is a marriage of two incredible talents at the top of their profession meeting for an imperious record. It was this mixture of ‘beauty and the beast’ , ‘technology’ and ‘soul’ that was the genesis for what is still one of the greatest pop singles of all time.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.