It’s been well over 30 years but I still find myself bewildered and annoyed in equal measure that Geffen Records (presumably label-head David Geffen, specifically) rejected Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, and Pete Bellotte’s 1981 double album I’m a Rainbow, the artist’s ninth studio album. This stunning lapse of judgment is all the more bizarre considering the artist had just been lured away from Casablanca Records as one of Geffen’s first three signees (along with Joni Mitchell and John Lennon.) Geffen proceeded to force Summer to step away from her longtime collaborators and make a record with Quincy Jones (1982’s Donna Summer, which I also like very much). Coming on the heels of a long series of hit albums that not only sold millions of units but changed the face of popular music, Geffen Record’s rejection of I’m a Rainbow says far more about the intensity of the homophobic backlash against disco at pop radio at the time then the quality of Summer’s record (especially ironic given Geffen’s sexuality).
Over the next few years a few of the albums tracks were released on two hugely successful soundtracks: the guitar-driven “Highway Runner” was included on 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the bouncy “Romeo” was one of the highlights of the Flashdance soundtrack (1983). I’m a Rainbow was finally released in its unfinished state—some tracks sound more like demos than masters— rather quietly in 1996, but its moment had long passed. Many of the released tracks sound more like sketches: one can only imagine what the album would have sounded like with finished production. Naturally, Donna’s vocals are stunning; but that was Donna Summer. The album included several collaborations with songwriter Sylvester Levay (“Fly Robin Fly”) as well as Summer’s version of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita. Though it was finally released in the mid-1990s, it is essentially a lost album, except among Donna’s most ardent fans.
Listening to I’m a Rainbow today, I can’t help but be impressed. Track for track, I’m a Rainbow holds up remarkably well and several even stand up impressively with the very best work Summer did with Giorgio Moroder and co-producer Pete Bellotte. The threesome were the architects of Summer’s mid- to late-1970s juggarnaut and, if nothing else, the album should have been released out of respect for what they had already accomplished (but that would be a parallel universe, not the record business as it was or is).
Perhaps the biggest irony is that the “Moroder sound” epitomized on I’m a Rainbow was far from over when the album was rejected; some of his greatest successes came just after, including Irene Cara’s “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” in 1983 and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun a year later.
Here are my nine favorite songs from I’m A Rainbow, the best album ever rejected by a major label. As you will hear, the album’s tracks were in various stages of completion. “A Runner With the Pack” is surely a demo, while others, like “True Love Survives” and “I Believe (In You)” feel finished. Enjoy the wonderful artistry of Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, and Pete Bellotte.
“I’m a Rainbow” (Bruce Sudano)
“A Runner With The Pack” (Pete Bellotte)
“To Turn To Stone”: (Pete Bellotte/Giorgio Moroder)
“True Love Survives” (Pete Bellotte/Donna Summer)
“Brooklyn” (Pete Bellotte/Sylvester LeVay/Donna Summer)
“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita (Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice)
“You to Me” (Pete Bellotte/Sylvester LeVay)
“I Believe (in You)”, duet with Joe “Bean” Esposito (Harold Faltermeyer/Keith Forsey)
“I Need Time” (Bellotte/Moroder/Summer)