Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Dinner with Gershwin" by Donna Summer

Song#:  3237
Date:  08/22/1987
Debut:  85
Peak:  48
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The mid-80s were not a good time for Donna Summer. Her 1984 album Cats Without Claws failed to generate a significant hit and that left the LP becoming her lowest peaking effort to-date at #40. It was also her first regular studio album released in the US to not at least go gold. Summer was also having issues at Geffen, her label since 1980, and was experiencing some PR problems that alienated a large section of her fans (see below). The problems kept coming as she recorded her next album All Systems Go. Geffen agreed to Summer's choice of producer, Harold Faltermeyer, but after hearing the completed tracks, Geffen didn't think there were a lot of potential single candidates and wanted Summer to record one more with Faltermeyer. However, by that point Faltermeyer was on to other projects so Geffen brought in Richard Perry to help produce "Dinner with Gershwin," a song written by Brenda Russell, who also served as co-producer. Geffen chose the final track listing for the LP and pushed "Dinner" out as the first single. The tune would become Summer's final Top 10 at R&B (#10) while getting to #13 Dance and #38 AC. Over at Pop, the song was a big disappointment stopping before it could get into the Top 40. With little to generate interest in the album, it tanked at #122 to become a career low for Summer.

ReduxReview:  A couple of things here. First, why anyone thought this would be a hit song is beyond me. It was an interesting track, but it had nary a hook or real chorus making it nearly forgettable. Plus the little Gershwin-esqe touches in the arrangement were a bit kooky. It just didn't work. Second, Geffen was not the place for Summer. They quashed some of her better songs while having her record silly stuff like this that they thought were hits. In other words, they just didn't know what to do with her and they were trying anything to score a hit and recover the money they spent signing her. It was really a shame. Summer could have had a much better second act post-disco, but Geffen kind of ruined it. As for this song, it remains an oddity in her catalog and a real WTF moment that sent her charting career in a nosedive.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  It was never a secret that a big section of Summer's audience was gay. Her club hits and image were iconic in the community and she was adored. It was also no secret that Summer had become a born-again Christian early in the 80s. Then there was AIDS. All three things would fatefully collide for Summer sometime around 1983. The story goes that Summer was chatting with fans after a show, specifically about her born-again status, and that allegedly she said something to the effect of - that AIDS was punishment by God on gays and their immoral lifestyle. Now, it has never truly been clear if Summer said something like this or something that could be interpreted as such or didn't say it at all. However, rumors of the alleged comment spread like wildfire, especially among the gay community who then took to burning her records and picketing her concerts. Summer has always denied saying such things and has even pointed out that several of her co-writers over the years were gay. She also blamed people around her who tried to be protective and instead just added fuel to the fire. It didn't help that she would appear on Christian talk shows during the time as well. The rumor would dog her for decades, but the effects of it were certainly being felt when she released All Systems Go. Like the rumor, it can't be proven that the bad publicity and backlash from the gay community helped to doom the album, but the timing certainly wasn't good. Many in the gay community would later forgive Summer (even when not truly knowing if the rumor was true or not) and re-embrace her music, but damage to the diva's reputation and career was apparent at the time. Remember, this was way, way before social media. Today there is basically a record of what a celebrity says or does thanks to apps like Twitter. There is really no denying it when the facts present themselves. Back then, celebrities could get away with a lot more, but still a juicy rumor could wreak havoc on a career and whether it was true or false, Summer was certainly a victim of one.


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