In 1979, Donna Summer could do no wrong — she was, in fact, riding high with three Top Ten hits in a row. So no one blinked when Summer and collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte decided her next album would be her third double-LP release in a row, an opus packed with 15 extended songs. Once Bad Girls was unleashed, Summer immediately notched two Number One hits in a row with the more-rock-than-disco “Hot Stuff” and the record’s title track. “Dim All the Lights” very nearly followed those singles to the top, stalling at number two for two weeks. After dominating radio all year with Bad Girls, Summer had yet another number one in ’79 with a one-off duet with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” Summer fever was high.
So high that even album tracks from Bad Girls were being pulled for radio and club play. “Sunset People” (download) was the last song on the album, a closing ode to Los Angeles nightlife (giving shout-outs to the Rainbow Bar & Grill, the Riot House and the Whisky) that was huge in the clubs and even crossed over to some Top 40 radio stations. Full of sequencers and drummer Keith Forsey’s metronome foot, the bubbly synth number recalls Moroder’s work with Sparks that same year, particularly “The Number One Song in Heaven.” I have vivid memories of “Sunset People” being a staple on Cleveland’s Disco 92, our local dance station that went all disco for about a year or two in the late ’70s. Of course, I was only four years old in 1979, so I’m mostly going by sense memory here. Honest. Ahem.
Summer was so hot that year, she even got her own TV special to promote Bad Girls, complete with Áƒ¼ber-campy dance numbers and “visualizations” of the songs. Check out this performance of “Sunset People” with Donna playing multiple roles, including a homeless woman. Make sure you stay tuned after that to see her do a live vocal for “Bad Girls” dressed as the flyest New Wave hooker ever! And waitaminnit! Is that Twiggy and Debralee Scott, aka “Hotsy Totsy” from Welcome Back, Kotter as two of the ladies of the night? Why, it is! And if that’s not enough star power for ya, how about Pat Ast?
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Unfortunately, Bad Girls would prove to be tough to match, much less top. Summer left Casablanca Records after this album for Geffen, where she co-opted New Wave to some success with The Wanderer. As a final “eff you” to her, Casablanca tried to mute her new release by working yet another single off Bad Girls at the same time as “The Wanderer.” That’s why “Walk Away” became a minor hit (peaking at #36) when it was featured on a quickie compilation of the same name a full year and a half after Bad Girls’ release. It didn’t work, since “The Wanderer” peaked at #3 that same month. Take that, coke-y Casablanca!
“Sunset People” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart and at #12 on the Hot R&B Tracks Chart in 1979.
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