Music Literature Film Index About

Once Upon a Time, Donna Summer

Casablanca Records, November 1, 1977

Track Listing: 1. Once Upon a Time, 2. Faster and Faster to Nowhere, 3. Fairy Tale High, 4. Say Something Nice, 5. Now I Need You, 6.  Working the Midnight Shift, 7.  Queen for a Day, 8.  If You Got It Flaunt It, 9. A Man Like You, 10.  Sweet Romance, 11. (Theme) Once Upon a Time, 12. Dance Into My Life, 13.  Rumor Has It, 14.  I Love You, 15.  Happily Ever After, 16. (Theme) Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, there was a girl, who grew up in Boston and had a voice. She sang in a gospel choir. Chasing a dream, the girl with the voice moved to New York to work the boards and pursue her love. Ambition, a break, and that strong but pure voice transported her to Germany. None of this was supposed to be possible, but a fairy tale was set into motion.

Her name is now synonymous with “Queen of Disco,” but Donna Summer has roots as a princess, before taking the crown. Sure, preceding there were the international dance sensations “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love” and the instant mega hits “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff” later. Wedged between and more virginal, however, are a collection of songs in a ground-breaking concept dance album called Once Upon a Time.

This is also where we met. With the purchase of the LP, I brought Donna Summer home for the first time. She could not have been more alluring. Poised in front of a blue background, head titled slightly back, with a wavy mane of dark hair, eyes like chocolate drops and full lips, she peered into my own eyes. Photographed from the bosom up, shoulder forward in a semi-diaphanous white dress draped over her mocha skin, she conjured the style of another famous beauty of the time. That woman starred on a silly detective show with two other ladies and a guy named Charlie. The difference was my girl was midnight—not bleached afternoon sun.

The music is arguably not the best or lyrically poetic of Donna Summer’s career. That is contrary to the point, though. New frontiers are explored, and the promise of what lies ahead only invigorates the listener, the way a heart is set aflutter in the early stages of any love affair. Grammys, Billboard record titles and superstar duets came in subsequent years and patiently wait for when the moment is right.

For the average person, naming a recognizable track from the sixteen (two “themes” are almost spoken like a bedtime story) is unlikely, underscoring that the album is the essential place to start. Innocence ties the work together. Once Upon a Time, like the storybook phrase itself, is intended as the perfect introduction. Besides, to be proper, the naughty stuff should come, after more time spent alone.

Originally packaged as double album divided into four acts—one per side on the original LPs—the track order not only loosely retells the story of Cinderella through the eyes of a flowering artist with her prince, professional collaborator Giorgio Moroder, incorporating the innovative driving synthesized beats and bleeps of their creations, but also serves as an allegory for a music movement, fighting for legitimacy from the wicked stepchild, rock-’n’-roll.

Lemme tell you what I heard:

P. 1 – Act I

“Once upon a time, there was a girl
Who lived in a land of dreams unreal
Hiding from reality
Treated like a stranger”

-from “Once Upon a Time”

P. 2

“It’s a nightmare
It’s a badmare no matter which way mare”

-from “Faster and Faster to Nowhere”

P. 3

“Don’t you believe that your dreams all come true
The fairy tale world inside can bring it to you
You just have to wish and you take off and fly”

-from “Fairy Tale High”

P. 4

“I wanna hear that I’m beautiful
But you wouldn’t say it if I were
Wearing diamonds and a coat of fur”

-from “Say Something Nice”

P. 5 – Act II

“I’m calling you now
Calling you now
Please come to me now
I need you”

-from “Now I Need You”

P. 6

“Working the midnight shift
While my friends are all out
They’ve all gone out dancing, having fun”

-from “Working the Midnight Shift”

P. 7

“Queen for a day
Queen for a night
Dressed head to toe
So you’d never know
It’s me”

-from “Queen for a Day”

P. 8 – Act III

“Baby, if you got it
You have got to flaunt it now
Baby, if you flaunt it
You can make them want it now”

-from “If You Got It Flaunt It”

P. 9

“A man like you, a girl like me
The two of us together
Can ride the waves forever”

-from “A Man Like You”

P. 10

“Sweet romance
I may never see that man again help me find him”

-from “Sweet Romance”

P. 11

“And she fell in love”

-from “(Theme) Once Upon a Time”

P. 12

“Time’s not on my side
With no word or goodbye
I’ll go”

-from “Dance Into My Life”

P. 13 – Act IV

“I know he’s gonna find me, I know this was meant to be
You can change a lot of things in life but not your destiny”

-from “Rumor Has It”

P. 14

“Well, he searched and searched for nights and days
’Till he found the one he loved
And he wrapped her in his arms again
And he thanked the stars above”

-from “I Love You”

P. 15

“Look at me, right where I wanna be
My life took a turn, it’s a happy affair”

-from “Happily Ever After”

P. 16

“And one day she did awake
And found herself somewhere else
Beside a band new face
Of someone that she loved”

-from “(Theme) Once Upon a Time”

The end? Not a chance. But here is a hint: Everyone lives happily ever after.