Having a bit more time on my hands, I’m now reading a fair bit about my twin loves of football and music, either in book form or digital format. Through a series of strange but slightly inter-connected things, I found myself landing on a piece in The Guardian newspaper back in May 2012, written by Jon Savage, whose recent book on Joy Division was reviewed on the blog a few months back.
I was fascinated that a writer whose best work is associated with punk/new wave/post-punk (or whatever phrase you want to come up for music in that vein) had penned a piece about one of the most exciting records I can ever recall hearing in my lifetime. He doesn’t waste a single word in the introduction…..
A cinematic drone comes in fast from silence, quickly overtaken by two synthesised rhythm tracks that will go in and out of phase for the next lifetime. On top, Donna Summer soars and swoops as she tackles the minimal lyric: “It’s so good [x five], “Heaven knows” [x five], “I feel love” [x five]. The words are so functional that her voice becomes another instrument, almost another machine, but then there is the real heart of the song: “Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free …”
I Feel Love was and remains an astonishing achievement: a futuristic record that still sounds fantastic 35 years on. Within its modulations and pulses, it achieves the perfect state of grace that is the ambition of every dance record: it obliterates the tyranny of the clock – the everyday world of work, responsibility, money – and creates its own time, a moment of pleasure, ecstasy and motion that seems infinitely expandable, if not eternal.
Savage’s article goes on to explain how the song came about, with producer Giorgio Moroder looking to create an album called I Remember Yesterday that would focus on the history of dance/R&B music but felt that he needed something not of the past or even of the now to complete the project, and how he contacted the owner of one of the largest Moog synths on the market to talk about programming it in a way to create a new vibrant sound.
The result was I Feel Love. It wasn’t the first-ever synth song aimed at the dance or disco market, but it was the one, to my ears, that didn’t feel like a bit of a gimmick or synthetic. It was as much in your face as any tune that was being made by the trad line-up of vocal, guitar, bass and drums.
The album that Moroder, along with his production partner Pete Bellotte, was trying to create was a vehicle for Donna Summer, an American singer who had relocated to Munich in the late 60s and with whom they had been working with since 1974. There had been an initial worldwide success with the single Love To Love You Baby but things had been a bit quieter with subsequent singles and albums.
One interesting thing to note is that nobody was really quite sure if the world was ready for the sort of music that could be heard on I Feel Love. It was relegated to the b-side of Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over), the first single released in May 1977 primarily to the American market to promote the forthcoming album. The a-side was about as far removed as can be imagined from what was on the reverse, a slow-paced ballad that veers between R&B and easy listening.
The single was also given a low-key release in some parts of mainland Europe where the singer had a fanbase. Word began to seep out that the almost six-minute long b-side was something a bit different and before long, some radio DJs began to play it while it was picked up by a number of those working in discos and nightclub:-
The decision was then taken to re-issue the single in May 1977, with a fresh pressing that would now put I Feel Love on the a-side but also trim a couple of minutes from it to make it more likely to be aired on daytime radio:-
This is the version that took the world by storm. As Savage recalled in the article:-
I Feel Love went to No 1 in the UK during the high summer of 1977, and stayed there for four weeks – filling dance floors everywhere, because it’s so good so good to dance to. Like David Bowie’s Low and Heroes, and Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, it was also the secret vice of those punks who were already tiring of sped-up pub rock, and it sowed the seeds for the next generation of UK electronica.
As was the practice back in the days of the disco singles, a 12″ piece of vinyl with an extended version was soon available in the shops…..this one took the song all the way beyond 8 minutes and was the version most played in the clubs:-
I’ll leave the last word to Savage. As ever, he nails it.
I’m guessing many of you will have heard I Feel Love pumped out loud, will have felt moved to dance, and will have felt time stop, the instant prolonged. Something of that feeling attaches itself to the record wherever it’s heard, and it never gets dulled by repetition – or endless imitation. I must have heard I Feel Love a thousand times and it still takes my breath away: it’s one of the great records of the 20th century, and the name on the label is Donna Summer.