One for Friday: Donna Summer, “Protection”

When I started the “Top 40 Smash Taps” series of posts, it was largely to push myself to write about music that was unfamiliar to me. Without the prompts delivered by decades of Billboard data, I can’t imagine myself having cause to write about Donna Summer. And now here I am, writing about her a second time in the space of three days.

Part of the pleasure of writing the “Smash Taps” posts comes in discovering odd little details about the modern history of music that were previously outside my ken. For example, I was pretty fervently devoted to all things Springsteen in the nineteen-eighties, but I don’t believe I knew that he wrote a song specifically for Summer (had I been paying equally close attention to The Boss throughout the following decade, it probably would have registered when the track was included on a a two-disc compilation that looks to be part tribute album and part collection of previously recorded songs). Adding to my interest, the song was recorded as part of Summer’s label-mandated reinvention on her self-titled 1982 album, when Geffen Records insisted she split with the production team of Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder (who had presided over her biggest hits, but admittedly had a sound that become instantly dated when the disco movement cratered) and work with Quincy Jones instead. As I read about all this, I immediately wanted to hear the music in question. Luckily, I live in an age that makes such near-instant gratification possible.

The song Springsteen wrote for Summer, reportedly at the specific request of label head David Geffen, indeed sounds just like a Springsteen song done up for the dance floor, right down to the kinda cheesy sax solo that seems built specifically to make Clarence Clemons happy (while Springsteen and E Street Band member Roy Bittan play on the track, it’s Ernie Watts handling sax duties). There are even a couple points in “Protection” when Summer almost picks up a bit of a Springsteen rasp, as if his songwriting necessitates such vocal affectations. It’s undoubtedly a product of its era–many music fans would be able to carbon date this track to 1982 without the added background information–but it still sounds good to my ears. And I have no idea if I’d ever have heard it if Summer hadn’t seen one of her singles peak at #40 on the Billboard chart.

Listen or download –> Donna Summer, “Protection”

(Disclaimer: My initial research indicated that the album Donna Summer is out of print, and various further checking backed that up. It can be purchased digitally it seems, but for such a pittance that it’s almost inconceivable that any of that money makes it back to Summer’s estate or Springsteen, for that matter. Also, as I allude to above, I myself swiped this track of the interweb, so I’m just spreading the copyright malfeasance. Not-paying it forward, I guess. Regardless, I will gladly and promptly remove this track from this little corner of the digital world if I’m asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. As to where I got it in the first place, I can’t do anything about that.)

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