Summer's first ever single, "Wassermann", a German version of the song "Aquarius" from the musical Hair, was released in Europe in 1968 under her maiden name, Donna Gaines. She would become known as Donna Summer from 1974 onwards.
"Love to Love You Baby" was her first single in the US; it was recorded on Oasis Records, which would join with Casablanca Records to release it in the US. Casablanca would assume responsibility for recording and distributing Summer's albums during the 1970s and also become one of the premier labels of that decade. Later, in 1977, PolyGram Records acquired a 50% ownership of Casablanca from owner Neil Bogart. Bogart was considered a good music executive in the industry, and had a "whatever it takes" approach to selling product. However, Casablanca routinely spent enormous sums of money, unbeknownst at the time to half-owner PolyGram, which was headquartered in Europe. In 1980, Summer informed Casablanca that she wanted to release other genres of music; but she and Casablanca could not find common ground on this issue. That same year Summer signed with the newly-formed Geffen Records.
Also in 1980, PolyGram began noticing the huge amount of revenue that was being spent at Casablanca, money spent as fast as it came in. In addition, Casablanca had allowed Summer to depart; she being one of the label's few acts that, if handled properly, could evolve into a successful post-disco artist in the new decade. Aside from Summer's releases, Casablanca had not been scoring as many hits as it had in the past and was now in debt. PolyGram purchased the remaining 50% of Casablanca and then it promptly fired Bogart. Casablanca continued to struggle for hits in the early 1980s, but only found sporadic success. Meanwhile, Summer had released her first two albums on Geffen Records, The Wanderer (1980) and Donna Summer (1982), scoring one top ten hit on each. She was subsequently notified by PolyGram Records that she owed them another album, per her agreement with Casablanca. She delivered the album "She Works Hard for the Money" (1983) which PolyGram chose to release on its Mercury Records imprint as opposed to Casablanca, Summer's former label. The Mercury album became Summer's most successful album of the entire 1980s, and the title song was her most successful single of the decade. After this release Summer went back to recording for Geffen Records up until her final Geffen release in 1987 (she subsequently signed with Atlantic Records). PolyGram, which had been pouring money into Casablanca for years in an effort to save it, had decided to shut down the fading label in 1984.
In 1990, Geffen Records was sold to MCA Records, which was owned by alcoholic beverage-maker Seagram; although Summer was no longer an artist on Geffen Records.
In 1998, PolyGram and its imprints were purchased by Seagram, which merged the company with its MCA Records label and imprints to create the gigantic Universal Music Group. This had the result of Summer's MCA, Oasis, Casablanca, Geffen, and Mercury releases now being owned by one conglomerate, Universal Music. This catalgoue of Summer's material stretches from 1971 to 1987 for Universal Music Group.
Post 1987, Warner Music Group owns her Atlantic Records material, and Sony BMG owns her Epic Records material.
- All albums were released internationally unless otherwise stated. The record labels given are those used to release the records in the US (unless of course they were not released in that country). As explained in the previous paragraph other labels were sometimes used to distribute Summer's work in other countries (most notably for the Casablanca/Geffen/Atlantic albums). From Once Upon a Time through to the end of the Casablanca albums, this label was used to distribute Summer's work in most nations.
- 1974: Lady of the Night
- 1975: Love to Love You Baby
- 1976: A Love Trilogy
- 1976: Four Seasons of Love
- 1977: I Remember Yesterday
- 1977: Once Upon a Time
- 1979: Bad Girls
- 1980: The Wanderer
- 1981: I'm a Rainbow
- 1982: Donna Summer
- 1983: She Works Hard for the Money
- 1984: Cats Without Claws
- 1987: All Systems Go
- 1989: Another Place and Time
- 1991: Mistaken Identity
- 1994: Christmas Spirit
- 2008: Crayons