Sunday, March 15, 2009

All Systems Go: Donna Summer's Pop Peak

The 1980's were about change and Donna Summer exemplified that reinvention. Closing the 1970's, she left disco behind to adventure broader pop peaks and valleys. Signing with Geffen Records, Summer began a creative, tumultuous, and exciting period in her musical evolution. All Systems Go (1987), Summer's 13th long player and final outing with Geffen Records, is one of Summer's finest records.

The History
Summer's Cats Without Claws (1984) was her first chart stumble in sometime. While it spun off a respectable single in her cover of The Drifters classic "There Goes My Baby," it didn't resonate with an album buying populace. That, coupled with her rumored (though adamantly denied) remarks against the gay community during the height of the AIDS epidemic didn't help matters. The same audience who put Summer in her trajectory to wider successes possibly felt betrayed. It can be stated that her resistance to not cater to post-disco dance music, despite several uptempo hits from 1980 through 1984, also alienated casual fans.  Three years separated Cats from All Systems Go. In that time, Summer regained focus and circled herself with a talented crew to put together All Systems Go.

The Record
Harold Faltermeyer, a principal from Bad Girls (1979), returned to the fold with newcomers Peter Bunetta, Rick Chudacoff, Richard Perry, and Brenda Russell. Summer wrote seven of the nine songs, an assertion that she'd only relinquish her artistic reign to a degree. Summer shaped an engaging piece in All Systems Go that carried her personality as heard on the energetic glow of the title track. One of Summer's most underrated singles and tracks overall, the spacious song had enough room for Summer's voice to blossom and shine throughout.

The percussion tempered "Bad Reputation" played a cooler cousin to "Bad Girls," whereas the jittery wit of "Love Shock" used Summer's character singing style to sell the electric lyrics: "Supersonic, catatonic male, I think you're coming around but you're still looking pretty pale!"  "Dinner With Gershwin," written by Brenda Russell, was the lead single. A pulsating, organic beat politely pounded with piano topping and several eccentric programming shifts where Summer used her lower register for the verses. The song detailed the impossible analogy of meeting great (but deceased) thinkers/inventors/artists across time to getting next to that perfect guy.

Two adult-pop numbers "Jeremy" and the duet "Only the Fool Survives" (with Mickey Thomas of Starship), were pleasant if flat when compared to the triumvirate of balladry perfection that closed Systems. The Quiet Storm of "Fascination," the inspirational "Voices' Cryin' Out," and Sade jazz of "Thinkin' 'Bout My Baby" without question acted as a cornerstone to Summer's vision for All Systems Go and its diversity.

The Impact
Commercially, All Systems Go was another disappointment. Three singles were lifted from the project: "Dinner With Gershwin," "Only the Fool Survives," and the title track. Of the three, "Dinner With Gershwin" was the most sizable and legitimate success, on both sides of the pond. In England, the song landed at the lofty perch of #13, while Summer came in at #10 on the U.S. R&B side. The title track charted at #54 in Britain, and "Only the Fool Survives" released to America and Japan but did not chart. The record itself did not place in any territories.

"Dinner With Gershwin" Music Video

Departing Geffen Records, two years later Summer resurfaced on Atlantic Records with her official "comeback" single and album in "This Time I Know It's For Real" and Another Place & Time (1989). All Systems Go remains Summer's last album to stretch itself style wise, a proud proclamation of her indomitable strength. Four stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: All Systems Go is out of print. It is the more accessible and inexpensive of her Geffen/'80's albums to find, with prices ranging from $16-45, depending on the seller, its condition, etc. Look for used copies of it on eBay or Amazon. For more recent information on Donna Summer, visit: or]

1 comment:

Marc said...

I enjoyed reading your insight into 'All Systems Go". I remember buying it back in 1986 and my first impression has lingered. I was disappointed. I wanted more uptempos and dance beats and less pop/rock -- but I agree that the ballads are among her best.