Donna Summer performed 'O holy night' on the 1982 Solid Gold Christmas Special, and to this day he hasn't figured out why it was a formative experience for him. As if Solid Gold weren't surreal enough: the scantily clad dancers had recently slinked off, having transformed 'O Christmas tree' into an erotic fantasy, and here comes special guest star Donna Summer to remind host Marilyn McCoo that Christmas day was, "the day my savior was born" before singing (actually lip sync-ing) 'O holy night'.
She was wearing some full-skirted, poof-shouldered, velvet and satin dress that would have made Jessica McClintock proud, her hair piled atop her head like a school marm. She put her strong, clear voice into great service of the song, even if the outstretched arms at the end weren't exactly the picture of humility. It was so gorgeously misplaced - surely it would have fit better in a Christmas special at the Kennedy Center, without exotic dancers, Marie Osmond in zebra print and that strange drag puppet Madame.
But it's the only part of the two hour Christmas special he remembers clearly, probably because it was by far the best performance, at least vocally. 'O holy night' is such a strange song, with its serpentine melody that resists easy memory the same way Schubert's 'Ave Maria' does, and which uses its unpredictability as much as any conventional beauty to move the listener. Donna Summer, of all people, gave it a clear, impassioned reading, the one to which he has compared all other versions.