Are you feeling the latest from queer crooner Sam Smith? Hot off the success of “How Do You Sleep?” – which had us oozing gender fluids everywhere – Smith has just covered the 1977 Donna Summer synth/disco classic “I Feel Love.” For use in Target holiday commercials. Ugh.
Smith teamed up with Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence, who handled the production of the remake. Smith and Disclosure both broke out in a big way in 2012 with their smash collabo, “Latch.”
Smith calls the legendary Summer track a “queer anthem” and “an honour and most importantly so much fun to have a go at” and the “highest song” Smith has ever sung.
That’s cute and all, but was the cover necessary? Or is this another instance of self-indulgent pop karaoke? The track is a very faithful rendition of the original, from the sensual, breathy vocal to the pulsating bass line and synth/electro framework. Where’s the artistry in that? Why not change up the arrangement, the production, the vocals? Oftentimes, the best covers are the ones that surprise us with left-field interpretations of the original. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor and “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston immediately spring to mind. The Prince and Dolly Parton originals are gorgeous, but the alternate takes are what made these tracks timeless.
The Giorgio Moroder/Pete Belotte-produced dance floor burner “I Feel Love” was a stunning success immediately upon release. The song topped the charts all over Europe and was a Top 10 smash in the U.S.. Brian Eno reportedly told David Bowie during the “Berlin” sessions that “I Feel Love” was the sound of the future. The track has been credited with launching electronic dance music.
This isn’t the first time “I Feel Love” has been covered by a queer artist. Jimmy Somerville-led Bronski Beat teamed up with Marc Almond in 1985 and had a huge hit with their version. The track reached number 3 on the UK charts. Queer-adjacent acts like Madonna, Moby, Kylie Minogue, Moloko and Blondie have had their way with the tune over the years.
Many of Summer’s radio hits were covered by other artists, some more successfully than others. No Doubt covered “Love To Love You Baby” in 2001. The track was heard during an orgy scene in Zoolander. We don’t remember this, either. Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Summer during her posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, crooning “Last Dance.” Country/pop singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris did a respectable rendition of “On The Radio.” Selena covered not one, but two Summer tracks, as well as Van McCoy’s “The Hustle,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” AND “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc as part of a recorded-live medley.
Flagrant asked two Donna Summer mega-fans, L.A.-based producer/musician couple and promoters of super successful Summer tribute night party “Madonna Summer” Mark Nubar and ShyBoy what they thought of the Sam Smith cover.
ShyBoy, who has recorded versions of “She Works Hard For The Money” and “On The Radio” as lead singer of Hypnogaja, states, “Donna Summer was a phenomenal vocalist and prolific songwriter who wrote many of her hits. Her songs have endured because they have universal appeal and didn’t cater to trends – they set them. I hope more artists and fans will continue to discover and recognize her indelible influence on pop music.”
Nubar concurs, saying, “It’s amazing, but not surprising, to see Donna Summer’s lasting legacy in dance music. With “I Feel Love,” Donna, Giorgio Moroder, and Pete Bellotte created the blueprint for what we hear in the clubs to this day. Side by side with this new cover version, the original still sounds futuristic, 42 years after its release. That’s the mark of an eternal classic.”
A wee bit shady and not exactly ringing endorsements for the Smith version.
We’re cool with Smith schooling the children, but put some effort into it next time. As Summer and Barbra Streisand crooned on their 1979 dance/pop smash, “enough is enough.”