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!
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