Why you should care
Because shuffle can be your friend. Or an enemy to be feared.
Twenty-three. Someone at the BBC actually sat down and counted. We’re talking about the number of “simulated” “orgasms” in late singer Donna Summer’s 1975 hit “Love to Love You Baby.” And when it hit the dance floor in the hothouse of mid-’70s disco fever, all 16-plus minutes of it, people lost their minds. Although with most dance floors a swirling bouillabaisse of chemicals, there probably wasn’t that much mind to lose.
The song was produced as an aside — and recorded with Summer laying on the floor in a dim room, mostly laughing her ass off because the idea was just so ridiculous. And the ridiculous escalated: The song rocketed up the charts to become Summer’s first Top 40 smash on the U.S. charts. It spent two weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pegged it as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ’n’ roll. Never mind the song being banned in the U.K. for a spell. And it still has the power to make you uncomfortable when it comes on at the church social. Or even on most videos, which edit out or mute the sex noises. Yeah, that uncomfortable. Even for Summer, who stopped doing the song for 25 years — she was a born-again Christian who’d started to feel like she was losing control of her life because of the song.
“When you’re standing so close to me / There’s no place I’d rather you be than with me”? Indeed.
Too bad Summer’s sense of the ridiculousness of her song’s general thrust had her later only sheepishly claiming it. Her direct antecedent, the one-named wonder Sylvia had no such qualms and was completely unrepentant and all-in with her song “Pillow Talk.” Passed over by Al Green no less for being too damned nasty, Sylvia, a record executive with a smattering of fairly significant hits under her belt stretching back to the ’50s and including, arguably, the creation of hip-hop through her involvement with “Rapper’s Delight,” just did the song herself. Complete with moans, heavy breathing and orgasms — no quote marks or mentions of “simulated” here — Sylvia tore it up, and for 4:20 she made just about everyone who heard it first laugh nervously, and eventually? Start to sweat.
In 1973, nothing else sounded like “Pillow Talk,” says Scott Sterling, former editor-in-chief at Urb magazine. “The song was sultry, unadulterated sex; promising everything her lover desired, over the objections of her friends, and more if he succumbed to her advances.” He calls her delivery real, saying it “elevated the song’s quietly stormy arrangement into one of R&B’s most effective seductions of all time.” Which is what good art can do.
That good art charted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Best-Selling Soul Singles charts, and was, predictably banned in the U.K. Even the edited version, seen here on Soul Train in 1974, brings a certain amount of heat. Let’s see another executive pull off what she does at 2:40. Jimmy Iovine, we’re looking at you.
We’re also looking at the granddaddy of all simulated sex songs, 1971’s “Jungle Fever” by the Latinos from Belgium named the Chakachas. Swathed in a certain amount of mystery, videos of the Chakachas are scant, and outside of the great Tito Puente’s wife on vocals, the band was formed with an international spread of players of mixed note. Which did not at all stop the song from being banned in the U.K. (again) for a period of time (that’s three for three, BBC) on its way to selling over 1 million copies in the U.S. and hitting No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Sampled by everyone everywhere, from Kendrick Lamar to Grand Theft Auto, the song didn’t play up a central female lead’s character as much as it did drop us into action in progress. Sly, funny, sexy, political correctness be damned. Good for a party. That doesn’t involve in-laws, bosses or kids. Yes, in that order.
Honorable mentions, though: The first goes to former porn star Andrea True’s pre-HIV 1976 disco runup “More More More,” which has no simulated sex though plenty of the sexually suggestive. And finally, dark horse style goes to Black Flag’s 1984 song “Slip It In” from an album of the same name, featuring one of rock’s least sexual former frontmen Henry Rollins breaking one of simulated sex songs’ basic credos: It’s much less sexy if a guy who hates sex is simulating the sex he hates.
But you wanted a party mix? You got a party mix!