Summer wrote this with the help of the European producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. It was the first big hit for Moroder, who went on to great success as a songwriter and producer. Among his accomplishments: Summer's "Hot Stuff
" and "On The Radio"; scores for many movies, including Scarface
, Midnight Express
and American Gigolo
; and many songs used in movies, among them "Take My Breath Away
" (used in Top Gun
) and "Call Me
" (used in American Gigolo
This was Summer's first hit, and one of the first disco hits. Disco gained popularity in gay dance clubs where they used DJs instead of bands. Eventually, the music spread to mainstream clubs and made its way onto radio stations and movies like Saturday Night Fever. Summer had many hits and became known as the "Queen of Disco," but before "Love To Love You Baby," she was more of a folk-pop artist, and before that, she performed in musicals and recorded show tunes. This was the song that set her on the path to disco divadom.
It was rumored that Summer sang her very convincing orgasmic-sounding vocals on the studio floor while simulating a sex act. The rumor was partly true - after trying to record her vocal the traditional way, her producer Giorgio Moroder had her sing on the studio floor while lying on her back with the lights out, since she didn't want the guys working on the album looking at her when she sang it. She explained that she was indeed touching herself during the vocal: she had her hand on her knee. Her boyfriend Peter served as her fantasy inspiration.
Donna Summer had had a Christian upbringing and was an unlikely writer of such a sexual song. She told Time magazine December 1975 that to write the lyrics, "I let go long enough to show all the things I've been told since childhood to keep secret." She added in an interview with the Telegraph Magazine: "I took on this character and eventually it just fitted me."
Summer had a hard time listening back to the song after she recorded it, and was concerned about what the song did to her image, but she learned to embrace it and made it a centerpiece of her subsequent tour, putting on a stage show Madonna would later crib, complete with dancers simulating sexual positions and Summer squatting over an array of guys.
According to a tally by Time
magazine, Summer could be heard enjoying 22 orgasms in this number.
The magazine declared the song "Sex Rock,"
stating, "Donna's message is best conveyed in grunts and groans and languishing moans. Her goal is to make an album 'for people to take home and fantasize in their minds.'"
After this article was published, there was more organized opposition to sexually suggestive songs. In Britain, the BBC banned "Love To Love You Baby." In the US, the Reverend Jesse Jackson used his group Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) to rail against songs of this nature, claiming they led to an increase in teen pregnancy.
Summer told the Telegraph Magazine
: "They were afraid of what it would perpetrate among the youth. And I don't disagree with them on this end of it as a mother. I would not have chosen that specific song to open my career with. But I accept that's what happened. And I tried my best to parlay the success of that record into something else and get away from that imagery as soon as I could."
Summer explained to the Telegraph Magazine why she stopped performing this song at her concerts. "If I were to do that song like I did it in the old days, the fire department would have to be at the show," she said. "Seriously. Riots broke out in, like, Argentina and Italy. I was in a tent in Italy, 5,000 men, almost no women, and I was doing 'Love to Love You, Baby' and I was fairly scantily clad - I was fairly young, and the guys got so wrapped up that they began to push the stage back. And I had to run off the stage, to my trailer out the back. And they came to the trailer and started to rock it. Five thousand guys in a little village in Italy! I just thought, 'I'm going to die today, I'm not going to get out of here.' It's not the kind of song you just want to throw out there."
Summer's record label, Casablanca Records, made a huge push to promote their new artist, and in a classic example of record company excess, had a life-sized cake sculpted in her image that was flown from Los Angeles to New York on two first class airline seats. The cake made its way to a disco on December 31, 1975, where Summer performed in celebration of the release of this single and her birthday (this story is recounted in the book Love Saves the Day by Tim Lawrence). Summer did a variety of press press parties to promote the song and her upcoming tour. The reception wasn't always good, but it did get her lots of attention. When this song was played at the parties, Summer said, "The audience was groaning worse than I was."
The full version of this song (found on the album) runs 16:50. The single version is cut down to 4:57. It was extended after Summer's label boss, Neil Bogart, called Giorgio Moroder up after he'd sent him a three-minute version. The Italian producer recalled to Redbull Music Academy: "He called me at 3 a.m., and asked me to extend the song. He said that he had a party at his house and he was playing the single version and that people wanted to hear it over and over again. He thought that was a great idea – and so did I. That was the key element for the song to become a hit."
A forebear to "Love To Love You Baby" is "Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus
," a 1969 duet between Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin where Birkin imitates the sounds of love. The song was a #1 hit in the UK in 1969, and in 1974 was re-released there, going to #31. When Summer and Moroder were discussing strategy in 1975, he noted how that song was once again garnering attention, and thought they should do something similar. "I reckoned it was worth a try so we went ahead," Summer told Black Music
magazine in 1977. "We had to create the atmosphere we wanted by turning the studio lights down and keeping people out."
In 1978, Summer recorded her own version of "Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus" for the film Thank God It's Friday
, which also featured "Love To Love You Baby."
According to Giorgio Moroder, the bass guitarist didn't do a good job on the original short version of the song. He told Red Bull Music Academy: "When it came if you hear the first part of it, the bass sounds good. But if you hear it soloed, it's terrible. Absolutely terrible. Two weeks later we did the longer version and, in the meantime, the bass player learned the song better. So the bass in the second part is much better. If you hear it with all the other instruments, though, you don't notice. It's quite good."
Scarlett Johansson based her monologue on this song when she hosted Saturday Night Live on May 2, 2015. Johansson had her first child, a daughter named Rose, the previous year and was demonstrating how she sings "Love To Love You Baby" as a lullaby, apparently clueless as to the song's sexual connotation.
In a 2003 interview with NPR's Fresh Air, Summer remembered coming up with the hook that inspired this song: "I had this idea at home one day, and I ran into the studio, and I said Giorgio, I have this idea. Would you - do you think you could write something to it? And I sort of sang it to him, and he kept saying it over, he says love to love you, I love to love you. He kept rubbing his chin and thinking like a little mad scientist, and then he went into the studio, and Giorgio had written this track."
This was used in these movies:
Zoolander 2 (2016)
Roll Bounce (2005)
It also shows up in the 1999 Friends episode "The One in Vegas: Part 1."