On Nov. 1, 1975, Donna Summer, then 26, quietly entered the Billboard 200 at No. 190 with her album Love to Love You Baby. Less than four months later, the LP peaked at No. 11, largely on the strength of the breathy, sensual, nearly 17-minute-long title track, which the singer punctuated with 23 erotic moans, according to the BBC.
The album version of the song – which Summer co-wrote with disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder and producer Pete Bellotte – was too long and too racy for many radio stations, but the edited 7-inch record became Summer’s first hit on the Billboard Hot 100, rising to No. 2.
In 2008, the singer told Billboard that the suggestive vocals were her idea: “I was imagining [that] if Marilyn Monroe sang the song, that’s what she would do.”
Born LaDonna Gaines, the Boston native moved to Munich in the late 1960s to star in a production of the musical Hair. There, she met Moroder and Bellotte, and “Love to Love You Baby” ignited a run of hits that amassed a dozen top 10 hits for her over the next decade.
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/7ul_eiDQy68″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
Summer’s star burned brightest at the end of the 1970s, when she claimed four No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 in just over a 12-month period from November 1978 – November 1979: “MacArthur Park” (three weeks at No. 1 in 1978), “Hot Stuff” (three weeks in 1979), “Bad Girls” (five weeks in 1979) and a duet with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” (two weeks in 1979). Furthermore, with “Stuff” and “Girls,” Summer made history as the first solo act to post two songs in the Hot 100’s top five for six consecutive weeks.
Though her pop stardom began with “Love To Love You Baby,” Summer distanced herself from the song after becoming a born-again Christian in 1979 and subsequently refrained from performing it live until the mid-2000s. Although she scored her last top 10 Hot 100 single in 1989 with “This Time I Know It’s for Real”, Summer continued to find success on the Dance Club Songs chart. Her final studio album, 2008’s Crayons, yielded three No. 1 club hits.
Summer died of lung cancer at age 63 on May 17, 2012. She is survived by her second husband, producer Bruce Sudano, and daughters Mimi, Brooklyn and Amanda.
A version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 7, 2015 issue of Billboard magazine.