Words: Simon Button
Here’s a real gem from the Donna Summer vaults: Her Hot Summer Night concert special, which first aired on HBO in 1983, finally available as a CD/DVD combo.
And it really is hot stuff as Donna thrills 18,000 fans at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California, on the year’s hottest day with the mercury soaring above 40 degrees centigrade.
The heat seems to have gone to Summer’s head during ‘Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)’ when she gets some of the words wrong but elsewhere (as pointed out in an essay in the very nice hardback book-style packaging) she hardly breaks a sweat - not while belting out opener ‘MacArthur Park’, nor while strutting her stuff alongside Musical Youth on ‘Unconditional Love’.
The British boyband were imported especially for the ‘Hard for the Money’ tour that Donna was in the middle of when the concert was filmed. She was also in the middle of her Born-Again-Christian phase so she wasn’t comfortable fake-orgasm-ing her way through ‘Love To Love You Baby’ and shortened ‘Bad Girls’ as part of a medley to make it less of a salute to sex workers.
The workers Summer chose to salute instead were the put-upon waitresses who inspired that year’s huge Stateside hit ‘She Works Hard For The Money’ in one of the show’s high-energy highlights.
Others include a brilliantly-sung ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, a terrifically camp rendition of ‘Romeo’ (from the ‘Flashdance’ soundtrack) in which the diva’s sudden rush up the aisle caught the camera crew off guard, and a‘State Of Independence’ encore that ends the concert on an transcendent high.
It’s not the slickest of productions and sadly we don’t get Donna’s duet with backing singers Dara and Mary Ellen Bernard on ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ which featured in the show but wasn’t included in the HBO special, nor the subsequent VHS and laserdisc releases.
But we do get disco classics ‘On The Radio’ and ‘Last Dance’ as testament to the diva’s incredible full-throttle vocal prowess.
Best of all, though, is a lesser-known song called ‘Forgive Me’ that shows just how incredible Summer’s voice was. As an inspirational ballad about faith, its sentiments might not chime with everyone (as indeed it doesn’t with me) but the way Donna delivers it is jaw-droppingly powerful.
Had there been a roof on that California venue, she’d surely have blown it off.
A Hot Summer Night is out now on CD/DVD from Driven By The Music