I'm not gonna lie about saying that Donna Summer is among my many favorite artists. Yes, her fanbase is mostly with the gay community, but so what? The music she makes is so darn infectious & beat-heavy, even your Grandma can feel the urge to get down. But unlike most artists who specialize in this kind of material, Donna has had more facets than met the eye.
When she recorded I'M A RAINBOW in 1981, she had already changed her image with the more rock-influenced THE WANDERER (1980). The fact that she had also become a born-again Christian proved that her music could only get more interesting. But when I'M A RAINBOW was delivered to Geffen, they hated it & shelved the proposed double album. It would be the last time Donna worked with Giorgio Moroder, who, with Donna, had created the biggest anthems of the disco era. The album became one of the most famous unreleased records in music history, but in 1996, Mercury (Donna's label at the time) was generous enough to finally give the album the release it deserved. It's safe to say that for a fan of Donna's more dance-oriented material, I'M A RAINBOW turned me from casual to avid fan.
Probably the reason why Geffen decided not to release the album was that, stylistically, it was all over the map. Disco had been declared dead (in name only, at least), but dance music was still in style. Aside from that, I'M A RAINBOW had experiments in rock, pop, R&B and Broadway that explored new depths into Donna's talents. For the traditional dance music fans, there was "Melanie", "Highway Runner" (reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder's 1980s work), "Back Where You Belong", "True Love Survives" (the lyrics are the most exotic Donna has ever sung) & "Leave Me Alone" (which could have fit in on THE WANDERER).
Because Donna is such a whiz with dance tunes, whenever she releases a ballad as a single, it flops. That proves to be unfair as songs like the dramatic opener "I Believe [In You]" (a duet with Brooklyn Dreams member Joe Esposito), "You To Me", "Sweet Emotion", the title track (my personal favorite out of all the songs) & the sweeping closer "I Need Time" (which again proves Donna could sing more demanding lyrics when given the chance).
However, the most eye-popping experiments on I'M A RAINBOW are the synth-heavy rocker "Highway Runner", "Runner With The Pack" (Donna just kills on these two songs), EVITA's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" (this is probably where Madonna got her vocal lessons on this song), the haunting "To Turn The Stone" (again a lyrical masterpiece & later recorded by Frida of ABBA) & the funk-driven tribute to her daughter "Brooklyn". These songs, had they been released as singles, I'm sure would have dazzled Donna's fans as to the true range of her talents.
Unfortunately, that was not to be (some songs like "Romeo" would get released in other forms, like on the FLASHDANCE soundtrack). When Geffen said no to I'M A RAINBOW, they paired Donna Summer with Quincy Jones for the self-titled 1982 album that was based on much more traditional R&B sounds. It kept her commercial stock high, no doubt about that, but the result was just a little too mechanical. Since then, Donna hasn't recorded with Giorgio Moroder in over 2 decades & it would be so great to have them pair up again. Donna's upcoming ANGEL album on Epic Records is due out early next year, so afterwards maybe the two can gave each other a call. Another masterpiece like I'M A RAINBOW could just come about. Until then, Donna's fans can rejoice in the lost masterpiece that is I'M A RAINBOW, enjoying the risk-taking music that's on it, as well as wrack their brains as to why such a great piece of work could be turned down as "uncommercial".