Donna Summer – The Hostage
Sometimes, when you hit upon a version of yourself that you’re really pleased with, it’s tempting to pretend that your earlier incarnations didn’t exist. For most of us that involves trawling through Facebook untagging slightly dodgy photographs, but for pop stars it’s not quite as easy to erase the past: as soon as Alanis Morissette hit big with Jagged Little Pill, up popped the snide articles pointing out that she had in fact been a teenage pop star in the Tiffany mould back in her native Canada – the implication being that because she had at some point been ‘manufactured’, she must somehow lack credibility when singing about fellatio in the cinema. Which is course a load of tosh – anyone can give a blow job – but let’s not start down that path today. My point is that the past nearly always come back to haunt us, and that’s doubly true for pop stars.
Having said all that, one who managed it rather well was Donna Summer. Right up until 1994-ish I had absolutely no idea that Love to Love You Baby wasn’t in fact the starting point of her glittering career, and that before she, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte changed the course of pop forever, there was an album that I was completely unaware of. It shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, as no pop star really arrives fully-formed – but what was surprising was just how different 1974 Donna was to 1975 Donna. Let’s pay a visit to the Von Doofus Disco Corner and have a listen to – nay, experience – The Hostage.
Leaving aside the fact that Donna pulls off quite the performance under what I imagine were very trying circumstances, let’s focus on how INSANE that record is. I don’t know about you, but if I were to try and launch my music career I might think twice about doing it with a tale of a kidnapping that goes horribly, horribly wrong. How many jolly pop songs do you know that end with “yes…the funeral’s tomorrow”?
Bad taste? Certainly. But dear me it’s catchy, and one of the most frantic things I’ve ever heard – which leads me to speculate that the music came first and the words followed. You could quite happily sing “because I love you!” instead of “he was a hostage!”, but it wouldn’t really go with the galloping urgency of the arrangement, would it? It would also be a darn sight less memorable, but then again probably more likely to get played on the radio. Not that the subject matter proved to be a problem in some European countries – The Hostage went to no.1 in Belgium and no.2 in the Netherlands. But given that Patty Hearst was the world’s most famous hostage at the time, it’s perhaps not surprising that it didn’t get an American release.
You might think that The Hostage was as dark as things would get for Donna, but Virgin Mary (a later single from the Lady of the Night album), was even more sinister – its title character, assumed to be a lady of ill virtue, is discovered to be – how can I put this delicately – virgo intacta – when she is attacked by an angry mob. Quite astonishing really – but even more astonishing is that in the Netherlands there was a non-album single in between The Hostage and Virgin Mary and it was called Love to Love You – the very same song that (with “Baby” added to the title) would go on to worldwide success in 1975.
Imagine for a second that The Hostage had been a global smash. It’s just possible that it might have rendered Donna a novelty act, destined to churn out further story songs with diminishing results. We might never have got to hear I Feel Love and the whole course of pop might have been changed forever, and not in a good way. So while I do love The Hostage – with all its anguish, death and police incompetence – perhaps it’s just as well that it stayed largely unknown and entirely absent from her many Best Of compilations, eh?
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Let’s be real, no-one is touching this with a bargepole, are they?