*The summer of ’79 was a scorcher for Donna Summer.
The late Queen of Disco had released her seventh album earlier in the spring, and its lead single, “Hot Stuff,” had become the biggest U.S. seller of her career… until the release of the album’s second single.
Donna Summer – Bad Girls (1979)
“Bad Girls” dropped on June 23, 1979. On July 14, it became her third single to reach No. 1 in the U.S. Also on this day 41 years go, the “Bad Girls” album began its five week run at No.1. It turned out to be her best-selling and most critically acclaimed album, and her final one for Casablanca Records.
It’s no secret that the title refers to prostitutes, but there’s way more to the story. Summer was working out of Casablanca one day in 1977 when she sent her secretary on an errand, which took her down a seedy stretch of Sunset Boulevard. The secretary, who was Black, told Summer that the cops harassed her, assuming she was a prostitute. Summer got heated (no pun intended) and her anger became inspiration for the song.
At the time, Summer was collaborating with a vocal group called Brooklyn Dreams, comprised of Eddie Hokenson, Joe Esposito, and Summer’s future husband, Bruce Sudano. Here they are with Summer on “The Midnight Special” performing their hit single “Heaven Knows,” from the “MacArthur Park Suite” off the “Live and More” album. Esposito is singing.
Donna Summer & Brooklyn Dreams on “The Midnight Special”
Summer and Brooklyn Dreams made a demo of “Bad Girls” and took it to label head Neil Bogart. He thought it was too rock-sounding for the disco diva and suggested the track go to Patti LaBelle or Cher. Summer was reportedly offended and decided to shelve it instead.
Cut to 1979. An engineer named Steve Smith was rifling through tapes in the studio trying to find some blank space to record when he came across the demo. He reminded Summer of the song, which she had forgotten about, and he also played it for producer Giorgio Moroder, who along with Pete Bellotte had produced Summer’s global disco album and single “Love to Love You Baby” in 1975.
In 1979, the “Love to Love You Baby” production team of Moroder and Bellotte shook the two years of dust that had collected on the “Bad Girls” demo and produced a new version, including a new arrangement from Harold Faltermeyr. (He’d have a hit five years later with “Axel F” from the Eddie Murphy film “Beverly Hills Cop”).
Scott Edwards, who was Stevie Wonder’s bass player for three years before turning to session work in 1973, is the musician responsible for the bass heard on “Bad Girls.” He gave details about the recording session to Songfacts:
“I remember we cut it at the studio just north of Sunset on La Brea [Rusk Sound Studios]. We went in, and they just had chord charts. Georgio Moroder was the producer, but he wasn’t even there. The cat who did the music for Eddie Murphy’s movie – Harold Faltermeyer – he was the one that we saw. Faltermeyer was the guy who actually came up with the concept and everything. He didn’t have any parts, he just had the chords. But he told us to go for it. And sadly, the drummer who played on a lot of that stuff was Michael Baird, and somehow they forgot to put his name on the contract. And once they didn’t do that, he doesn’t get paid for new use. They basically said, ‘Musicians, do it.’ And we did it. That’s how all that stuff came about. But there were no written parts. We didn’t know until later that Harold Faltermeyer could do what he did electronically on computers, because he just let us do our thing, and it turned out pretty good.”
As for the song’s famous “toot-toot” and “beep-beep,” those were crafted by Summer in the studio after the track was completed. She reportedly felt the song had spots that sounded empty, so she interjected car sounds to simulate the horns calling for the attention of the prostitutes.
Donna Summer – Bad Girls (from VH1 Presents Live & More Encore!)
“Bad Girls” became a worldwide success, peaking within the top-ten in seven countries, including Spain and New Zealand. In the United States, it spent five weeks at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, from the weeks of July 14, 1979 to August 11, 1979; and sold over two million copies, simultaneously becoming her most successful single.
“Bad Girls” was the second-biggest song of 1979, and helped the “Bad Girls” album reach multi-platinum status in the U.S.