Once Upon a Time (Donna Summer album)

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Once Upon a Time
Studio album by Donna Summer
Released October 25, 1977
Recorded Musicland Studio, Munich 1976–1977
Genre R&B, disco, soul
Length 69:15
Label Casablanca
Producer Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte
Donna Summer chronology
I Remember Yesterday
Once Upon A Time
Live and More
Singles from Once Upon a Time
  1. "I Love You"
    Released: December 1977
  2. "Fairy Tale High"
    Released: December 1977 (Germany only)
  3. "Once Upon a Time"
    Released: 1978 (Japan only)
  4. "Rumour Has It"
    Released: March 1978

Once Upon a Time is the sixth studio album by American singer Donna Summer. It was released on October 25, 1977 and peaked at number twenty-six on the US Billboard 200,[1] number thirteen on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart[1] and number twenty-four on the UK Albums Chart.[2] The entire album charted as one entry at number one on the Hot Dance/Disco chart. Once Upon a Time includes the singles "I Love You", "Fairy Tale High", "Once Upon a Time" and "Rumour Has It". The album was not as successful as Summer's previous album I Remember Yesterday, due mostly to its inability to spawn a hit-single as popular as "I Feel Love" and the enduring popularity of I Remember Yesterday and its singles.

The album was Summer's first double double album telling a modern-day Cinderella-themed story through means of disco music. The album's story concept was conceived by Joyce Bogart, Susan Munao and Donna Summer based on an idea by Al Bogatz. The songs were written in collaboration by Summer, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. The album was recorded at Musicland Studios, Munich with Summer's long-term collaborators and production team headed by producers Moroder and Bellotte. Arrangements were handled by Bob Esty while electronic arrangements were the work of Moroder. The artwork was designed by Stephen Lumel and Gribbitt! with photography by Francesco Scavullo.

Concept and image[edit]

Summer's previous two records were musical concept albums, 1976's Four Seasons of Love told the story of a love affair by relating it to the four seasons, while 1977's I Remember Yesterday presented a musical catalogue of musical styles and lyrical themes from the past, present and an imagined future in a fusion with disco and R&B genres. Once Upon A Time was developed by Joyce Bogart, Susan Munao and Donna Summer as a modern-day Cinderella narrative. Owing to the album's double-LP length, the story was more detailed than Four Seasons of Love.

Throughout the album, the songs tell the story of a young woman who lives in a fantasy world of make-believe in which she is seemingly trapped, but thanks to her belief in her dreams she embarks on an adventure that ends with the man she loves entering her life. The "rags to riches" story is brought into the modern day via the use of the electronic disco sound which is found constantly throughout the album. Although positive themes permeate "Once Upon A Time", darker thought-provoking ones create an emotion filled artistic journey. This would confirm Summer's status as the leading female song writer and vocalist within the disco genre.

Summer's previous albums had portrayed her as a fantasy/sexual figure both in their artwork and material. The cover of Once Upon A Time showed Summer in a white wedding-style dress against a plain light blue background, giving more of an image of a fairytale fantasy character rather than just a sexual one. The album's gatefold sleeve opened to reveal a full-length picture of Summer in the white dress against a romanticised night sky filled with stars. The theatrical-allusions of the album are emphasised in the album's sequencing where-in the four sides of the double album are dubbed "Act One," "Act Two" etc., and the inner sleeve was printed in the style of a libretto.


Building on the success of "I Feel Love" from earlier the same year, one side of this double album was devoted to pure electronica. Many fans of Summer's uber-producer, Giorgio Moroder, cite two of these tracks in particular - "Now I Need You" and "Working The Midnight Shift" - as amongst his (and Summer's) greatest work. "Queen For A Day" is notable for abruptly switching from all-electronic backing to acoustic instruments halfway through the song, and such switching would become a recurring background feature in some of Moroder's later compositions.

Donna Summer stated in a radio interview that the Once Upon a Time album went from no idea what they were going to record to a completed album in a space of 3 days. No one from her team had any sleep during those 3 days including Donna. When the album finally completed after 3 days, Donna was hospitalized for exhaustion.

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[3]
Robert Christgau B− [4]

The album sold reasonably well as it made the US Top 30 and was certified gold in America by the RIAA that same year. It is also widely acknowledged by fans and music critics as one of her best albums, due to its variety of musical styles. It spawned the European hit single "I Love You", which became her fifth Top 10 in the UK in less than two years, and it also hit the US Top 40. "Rumour Has It" was also a UK Top 20 hit.

The album marked the first occasion where Casablanca would be responsible for distributing her work in most countries (though other labels would still be used for distribution in some nations, namely Philips in The Netherlands), as would remain the case until she would break off her contract with them in 1980. Summer's previous material had been distributed in different countries by different record labels, including Casablanca in the U.S.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte

Act one
No. Title Length
1. "Once Upon a Time"   4:02
2. "Faster And Faster To Nowhere"   3:34
3. "Fairy Tale High"   4:25
4. "Say Something Nice"   4:44
Act two
No. Title Length
5. "Now I Need You"   6:09
6. "Working the Midnight Shift"   5:07
7. "Queen for a Day"   5:59
Act three
No. Title Length
8. "If You Got It Flaunt It"   4:43
9. "A Man Like You"   3:34
10. "Sweet Romance"   4:31
11. "(Theme) Once Upon a Time"   0:48
12. "Dance Into My Life"   4:10
Act four
No. Title Length
13. "Rumour Has It"   4:57
14. "I Love You"   4:43
15. "Happily Ever After"   3:51
16. "(Theme) Once Upon a Time"   3:58


Chart (1977/78) Peak
Australia Kent Music Report Chart[5] 44
Canada RPM Album Chart[6] 27
Japan Oricon Chart[7] 31
Norway VG-lista Chart[8] 24
UK Albums Chart[2] 24
US Billboard Pop Albums[1] 26
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[1] 13
US Billboard Hot Dance/Disco[9] 1
Year Single Chart Position
1977 "I Love You" UK single chart 10
US Billboard Hot 100 37
1978 Norway 10
"Rumour Has It" UK single chart 19
US Billboard Hot 100 53


Country Provider Certifications
US RIAA Gold[10]
UK BPI Silver[11]

Cover versions, appearances in other media etc.[edit]

"Sweet Romance" has been sampled by Ilacoin for his underground hit "By a Stranger", which had guest appearances from Labba and Black Rob and featured on Grand Theft Auto III. In 2001, Awaken covered "(Theme) Once Upon A Time" in their album "Party In Lyceum's Toilets".

Preceded by
"Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" / "Everybody Dance" / "You Can Get By" by Chic
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single (all cuts)
December 17, 1977 - January 14, 1978
Succeeded by
"Supernature" / "Give Me Love" / "Love Is Here" by Cerrone


  1. ^ a b c d "Donna Summer > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  2. ^ a b "UK Charts > Donna Summer". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  3. ^ Freedberg, Michael. "Once Upon a Time > Review" at AllMusic. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  4. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Once Upon a Time > Review". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2011-09-24. 
  5. ^ David Kent (1993). Australian Charts Book 1970—1992. Australian Chart Book Pty Ltd, Turramurra, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  6. ^ "CAN Charts > Donna Summer". RPM. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  7. ^ "JPN Charts > Donna Summer". Oricon. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  8. ^ "NOR Charts > Donna Summer". VG-lista. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  9. ^ "Donna Summer > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  10. ^ Gold & Platinum: Searchable Database. Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved on 2010-07-22.
  11. ^ Gold & Platinum: Searchable Database. British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved on 2010-07-22.