What else could we end Moroder Week with but the truly seminal single “I Feel Love,” by Donna Summer? I can only typify the effect of this song’s appearance in 1977 as cataclysmic? I was still listening to Top 40 radio but would be moving on in a year from then; ironically, due to the over saturation of disco in our culture. But not before I heard this astounding paradigm shift of a record first. A record so unique and singular, that it seemed to appear out of thin air to dazzle one and all with its transformation of the disco beat into an utterly new form.
It bears repeating that prior to this record, disco was crafted by producers with anonymous armies of session men making a quick buck with smooth, string synth laden music that was easy to dance to and was built around the common template of bass/guitar/drums/keys. When this song appeared in May of 1977, only Kraftwerk sounded remotely like this. That year “Trans Europe Express” proffered a metallic, more industrial funk to blindside dancers worldwide. I can’t find the date of release, but it’s safe to assume that both Mororder and Kraftwerk were operating at the same time to make both “I Feel Love” and “Trans Europe Express” and have them released in 1977.
The Donna Summer album it ultimately came from was a concept album called “I Remember Yesterday” with song themes/vibes running the gamut from the 40s to the 70s and the thought was to make a leap into what the songs of the future might sound like. Moroder was no stranger to Moogs, so he reasoned that something highly synthetic would fit the bill. To that end, “I Feel Love” was written and recorded to finish off the time spanning concept.
MORODER WEEK Day 7 – Donna Summer: I Feel Love US 12″
I remember hearing this song and immediately falling hard for its relentless machine energy. It began with a modest synth drone rising in volume that was nothing particularly groundbreaking. The soft sheen of that soon gave away to the crux of the song; a relentlessly percolating but simple bass synth loop that was taken into whole new realms of complexity by running its signal through a delay unit that fattened and doubled the notes played in an almost binaural fashion, with the original sequencer in the left channel and the affected playback in the right. Making the energy oscillate between the two channels constantly.
It’s important to note that I only ever heard this song in mono back in 1977 and heard in that way, it seemed like the sequencing was truly groundbreaking as I knew nothing about delay units. And the sequencers of the time must have been terribly limited. I don’t even know if one could program this sound in so many notes. Listening today in stereo one can pan the song hard left or right in playback and be rewarded with what seemed like two slightly different tracks; neither of which had the crazy, berserker magic of the final mix! Listening to the left channel revealed a polite four-note bass sequence, sounding not terribly different from the one in Thompson Twins “Doctor Doctor,” in all candor. It was in perfect synch with every rhythmic element in the mix for that channel. A listen with the song panned hard right revealed the effected bass synth rhythm completely at odds with the “drum” track. To hear just that channel is actually an anxiety-provoking process as it sounded completely asynchronous.
But…they made beautiful music together. A shimmering, coiled, relentless, autobahn cruiser of a song that urged one to speed in the slick night streets in the sports car of their choice. Waiting for that perfect moment when the strobing of the white lines in the road were at the same frequency as the sequenced bass line. Nirvana. Dance music would never be the same again. The synthetic genie had escaped the bottle. David Bowie [him, again] has told the tale of he and Eno recording “Low” in Europe in early 1977 when Eno ran in proclaiming “I have heard the sound of the future! ‘This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years!” Which, 43 years later, sounds a bit disingenuous.
The only acoustic element that they could not coax from the Moog [on loan from Eberhard Schoener] for love or money was the bass drum sound. So that fell at Keith Forsey’s feet, but with his timing, was not a big issue. Elsewhere the hi-hats were crafted from white noise patches given the right ADSR envelope. The slipstreaming feel of the track was further enhanced by phased waves of synth percussion interjected at various points to gently stimulate the song’s vibe without ever once derailing that monolithic bass rhythm. Suggestions of dubbed out synth interjections were also paced throughout the song in the absence of any melodic development.
The melody of the song came down to the singer alone and Donna Summer was content to float above the relentless machine energy of the song by singing in multitracked Arabic scales in the most haunting way possible. That was a bold creative decision that can’t be underestimated in making the song sound even more singular. A more straightforward vocal performance might have hobbled the revolutionary aspects of the song. In any case, it certainly had an influence on Deborah Harry the next year when Blondie cut “Heart of Glass.” One can certainly hear the influence of Donna Summer on Harry’s performance there.
The album and 7″ version of the song were identical at 5:53. That was pretty long for a 7″ single. There might have been a promo edit that I heard on the radio since I do not recall many songs [save for “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “American Pie”] stretching to that length. For this 12″ version of the song clocking in at 8:15, the song was arranged into three movements, with each one breaking down about two to three minutes in and having all of the other elements of the mix drop out save for the all-important bass sequencer.
In the last week, I’ve heard this song countless times and am still in thrall to its revolutionary sound. After dozens of listens back to back, the 8:15 length has gotten to the point where it feels half that length to me. I normally listen to this song at least once a month. It is one of the songs I keep on my iPod Touch at all times because it is always there for a quick pick-me-up. Even during my disco-numbed years of 1978-1980 I always set this tune apart from the rest of disco music as being far ahead of the pack.
But the truth was that I only had happy memories of the song until 2013, when watching David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” film and being blindsided by a Studio 54 sequence where the two principals met on the dance floor to this song. That served as a potent reminder of its unearthly power. It finally came down to seeing seeing The Maestro play back a few minutes of the song in a Moogfest 2014 panel resulted in too many tears to ever take it for granted again, so I went to iTunes the next day and discovered the 8:15 extended version that is with me at almost all times.
I’ve lost track of how many songs over the ensuing 43 years I have in the Record Cell that have liberally grafted some of this song’s still potent DNA into their shoots, but suffice to say that any time that I hear that potent bass synthesizer sequenced sound in service to another song I think to myself “thank goodness!” Because there can’t be too many songs in the world that traffic in this sort of machine/drone energy. It’s motorik and also seems to stop time simultaneously. It takes my breath away. If I could only have one song to take into the sunset, I daresay this could be the one.Forget about Desert Island Albums, or Top 10 lists. If “I Feel Love” were the only song I had to listen to, I believe that I would be in good hands.
Ultimately, this song was the reason why we had Moroder Week at PPM right now. There are many fine songs in his repertoire. Some of which sound similar to this, but many more that absolutely do not. Then there are some Moroder productions that I would not even deign to listen to. But this was The One. The classic Moroder sound that will be chipped into his tombstone, and for good reason. If all he had ever done was to facilitate “I Feel Love” then his place in music history would still be assured.
I’m done gushing, but I would be remiss if I did not recommend Simon Reynolds amazing dive into the song’s history here at Pitchfork. It’s practically “I Feel Love: The Motion Picture” until the actual thing comes along.
Now that we have contemplated the perfection of some fine Giorgio Moroder achievements during Moroder Week here at PPM, it’s time for a little fun. I think it was maybe my wife [?] that alerted me to the wonder of the Adult Swim short film below. It is a brilliant, multi-leveled spoof of not only Moroder, but his synthetic competition in the marketplace; riddled with hyper-obscure references that I dare you to completely spot. Courtesy of co-director Charles Ingram, we now present…
Live At The Necropolis: The Lords Of Synth!
– 30 –
Indeed-a swoonsome tune.
I played the full 12″ version when DJing two weeks ago and the floor was filled.I prefer the Patrick Cowley mixes(my first copy was the 7″ remix by PC,but I also have the almost 16 min version with gratuitous synth-shredding).
You are right about the track’s importance, in the wider field of dance music, not just electronic.I suppose it has that primitive appeal mixed with a delicious sound,which makes for a great cocktail.
BTW-that video is hilarious!
Gavin – I can’t go there with you on the Cowley …thing! I only have the Razormaid edit of it but as I recall the effect was not unlike adding huge silicone breasts to a woman with a lithe dancer’s body. Just so wrong on every level to me. I can’t imagine hearing that mix twice as long. The minimal purity of the original felt like perfection…then and now.
On the other hand, I was spellbound by Mark Stewart’s “Fatal Attraction [Contagious],” which sampled “I Feel Love” to devastating, nihilistic effect! So different strokes for different folks, I guess.
At least you watched the LOS video! An analog synth guy like yourself you would be the ideal audience for it, I think. I was happy to find that from the co-director on Vimeo. It’s an all time synth-humor classic. Are there any others?
I’m a Synth Guy (my studio is full of vintage and modern gear, so much that a sizable chunk of it is now in the storage closet down the hall because there’s no longer room for all of it in the main room at one time) and this song is like Ground Zero for me. Sure, Tangerine Dream did Moog sequences before this, but nobody had really fused it to a song. The fact there’s almost no conventional song structure either is particularly amazing. How does a futuristic non-song like this become a hit? Who the hell knows. In today’s over-homogenized corporate music world it seems inconceivable that something so otherwordly would ever do so again. But thank god that the Moroder & company did it.
I’ve watched that Lords Of Synth video more times than I can count. It’s a good one. I’m pretty sure I get all the references too but honestly even if you don’t it’s just fucking hilarious. Guess I’m going to go watch it again now. Thanks, Monk!!
jsd – I only recently found out that Zorro III was an expansion bus for the Commodore Amiga! That one sailed right past me until then. T-Dream did Moog sequences as you point out, but they didn’t luck into their engineer patching it through a delay and making something wondrous. And Moroder was secure enough not to hog credit for it. Here’s in interesting interview at the Library of Congress in America where he cites his engineer for transforming the song.
As to how a left-field track with little in the way of conventional song structure became a hit, I think it was down to not sounding like anything else we’d ever heard by that time. No one involved with it saw any special potential there but the audience reaction made all the difference in the world. Originally, it was the B-side to a single and it was one of those instances where the flip side not being plugged took the ears by storm.
You probably already know but there was an official release of some of the Lords of Synth music – it’s here: https://archive.org/details/LiveAtTheNecropolisTheLordsOfSynthSoundtrack
Kudos for the American Hustle nod, love that film. I think it’s his best since “Flirting With Disaster.”
The 8:15 mix is untouchable. I Feel Love created a new ground zero for dance music. Eno was correct about it’s importance, but his vision was VERY limited. Then again, he was talking about someone else’s work, so that might be as far as he could actually see.
I am a great admirer of Patrick Crowley, but I think the King of Patches threw a few to many kitchen sinks at I Feel Love. He should be remembered for his contribution to Disco by defining and refining Hi-NRG. Menergy, Megatron Man and Sylvester’s Do Ya Wanna Funk are seminal. His participation as a member of Indoor Life is a West Coast PiL meets Adrian Sherwood territory.
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Oh dear….I seem to be some sort of pariah here-not only do I like Patrick Cowley’s remix of I Feel Love,but I also prefer the Lets Dance version of Cat People!
I see a lot of ‘Lets Dance-bashing’ all over the place,but I have always liked that album,except for maybe Ricochet and Shake It.
Pariah? Never! We prefer to call it “contrary.” Don’t ever hesitate to air your opinion here. That’s what comments are for – our sandbox to play in without ridicule, redress, or envy. Having just revisited “Let’s Dance” last week I’m thrilled that you can see eye to eye with me on the horror of “Shake It!!” Clearly the worst thing Bowie ever recorded (that year, at least). “Ricochet” may be clumsy Bowie-by-numbers, but it was pure genius next to “Shake It!”
Gavin – admittedly, it is very (very) easy to find fault with Let’s Dance. But differing opinions are what keeps this and every blog I love fresh and invigorating!
For me the best thing about it was the time I got to actually talk to The Dame while he was remixing the single with Nile and Stevie Ray at The Power Station on a very cold and snowy Manhattan night. My biggest issue with the album is the money grab that it so blatantly was.
I will add one more perverse observation on the album. Shake It works for me because it feels like Let’s Dance done in a Young Americans style. The repetition really works for me. For me the biggest let down on Let’s Dance is China Girl. It is and emotional song that is just devoid of emotion in his interpretation.
Echoroch – Yep. “China Girl” was nothing more than Bowie showing off his vocal chops in the most bloodless way possible. Another vocal fascism exercise like the title track was. The royalties for Iggy were the only upside to that exercise. And yet, you quixotically hold a torch for “Shake It” in spite of the most strident BVs possible that make me leave the room it’s playing in.
“Shake It” merely rehashes “Let’s Dance,” but I’ll always love “Ricochet.” “Sound of thunder, sound of gold / Sound of the devil breaking parole” are two of the best lines Bowie ever wrote.
“I Feel Love,” especially in the 12-inch version, is truly a masterpiece. After all these years, it still sounds as if it was recorded only yesterday–or tomorrow!
Maybe I am blind, but is the 8:15 version of I Feel Love available on cd?
schwenko – At the very least, it’s on CD here.
Which you can buy as an ala carte mp3 download from Amazon for $1.29
schwenko – I bought the single as a DL for that price at iTunes. Though I have added the 1977 single sided (?) 12” to my want list recently. Just because.
Hi Mr. Monk,
As a indirect fan of Giogio Moroder (varioius artists, like Philip Oakey, Blondie etc).
I can’t stand Donna Summer, or i feel love, which was to me too cliche,
and overplayed when it first came out. i avoid it whenever possible.
yes, i know its impact, and legacy, but still, i can live happily without
it. i’m much more interested when moroder works with other artists
and especially electronic related ones.
case in point, heaven 17. i love what he did with them on
‘bigger than america’, and the singles. i’m still getting a lot
of the designing heaven remixes, and others.
in fact, last week, picked up the german cd-single for
‘designing heaven’, which has an exclusive ‘pei mix’ on it.
Heaven 17 – Designing Heaven
Label: Eye Of The Storm – 0630 16333-2, Eye Of The Storm – WEA078CD
Format: CD, Maxi-Single
Style: House, Synth-pop
1 Designing Heaven (Radio Mix) 4:12
2 Designing Heaven (Pei Mix)
Remix – Chris Cox, Giorgio Moroder 4:54
3 Designing Heaven (Stark Mix – Gregorio’s 12″)
Remix – Gregorio 8:33
4 Designing Heaven (Le Corbusier Mix – Motiv 8’s Dub 12″)
Remix – Motiv 8 4:43
5 Designing Heaven (Mies Van Der Rohe Mix – Giorgio Moroder’s Subteranean 12″)
Remix – Giorgio Moroder 5:43
Total Time: 28:05
i’m not sure why Germany gets exclusive mixes, and
singles like Japan, but it makes it another hard thing to collect.
anyways, good series, and thanks for all the
interesting details and stories as always.
Interesting that you find it cliche. I thought it was so different and unique. I’m with PPM on this one, I never tire of this track. I’m not a Donna Summer fan in general; I find “I Feel Love” to be an anomaly of sorts of hers.
We do agree on “Bigger in America.” Can’t say enough good things about that album.
P.S. What do you have against capitalizing the first words of sentences?
Mathmandan – So we ALL aggree on the wonder of “Bigger Than America?” On this we find commmon ground. How tragic that their label imploded with such a stellar album to sell, then.
sheer laziness on my part, most of my typing
is done when i’m prone, and its faster to
type without having to reach over to the ‘shift’
key. more stream of consciousness typing.
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It’s just a Krautrock sequence, programmed by Robert Wedel (Popol Vuh). “I Feel Love” was never representative of Disco music. I consumed a lot of Disco from ’74, ’75 and ’76 and nothing sounded like “I Feel Love” and its ostinato bass line. The basics of this song are strongly connected to Eberhard Schoener (who owned the Moog Modular that contains a sequencer – Moroder didn’t have one) and his assistant Robert Wedel. Both Schoener and Wedel invented the wambling sequencer sound.
Moroder didn’t create anything related in his entire career. Even “Utopia (Me Giorgio)” was programmed by Robert Wedel.
Farting Fish – Welcome to the comments! Had read about Moroder borrowing Schoener’s synth in the Reynolds piece, which was fairly epic. Also, Wedel was cited in the piece by Reynolds. As for Moroder himself, he’s taken care to cite Wedel’s role as well. Since I linked to the Reynolds Pitchfork story, I was writing instead about the record’s impact on me personally, more than anything. I agree with you that it was a far outlier to Disco, with Krautrock blood coursing in the song’s veins. That’s perhaps what made it so amazing and packed with hybrid vigor.