Songwriting UK — Winter 2017

(Axel Boer) #1



o sum up the career of Allee Willis is a
daunting task. Her life in songwriting
is impressive enough, having sold over
50 million records with tracks for Earth, Wind
& Fire, Patti LaBelle, The Pet Shop Boys and
more, as well as co-writing I'll Be There For You,
the theme to the television behemoth Friends.
But Willis'achievements don't end there. She
has also co-authored a Broadway adaptation
of The Color Purple and worked as an artist and
designer (often under her alter ego 'Bubbles').
Her most recent project was to create a new
theme song for Detroit, the city of her birth.
Called The D it was recorded over the course of
five years and features contributions from over
5000 of the city's natives.
To focus on just one of those achievements
seems slightly wasteful, but that's exactly what
we're doing in order to learn the story behind
the disco classic Boogie Wonderland. Though
the song is now synonymous with Earth, Wind
and Fire things could have been very different
had Willis and co-writer Jon Lind liked the
version originally cut by Curtis, The Brothers.
Thankfully though, it was left to Maurice White
and his band to create the version of the song
that we all know and love.
So it's over to Allee to take us through the
creation of her disco anthem and the struggles
she had with a hi-hat-happy drummer!

"I co-wrote the song with John Lind. I'm a
fanatical archivist and I save everything, so I
know it was actually written on March 27th
and 28th of 1978 and we demoed it the next
week. We wrote it at my place in LA. I've
always collected a lot of pop culture stuff from
the 50s, 60s and 70s, so the atmosphere in
my place is always a very fun environment to
write in. I always wrote both music and lyrics
and like working with people who would
also write both music and lyrics and you just
sit there and pound it out. I don't play an
instrument though, so I hear everything in my
head, but it was definitely written on John's
acoustic guitar.
"The word 'boogie' was everywhere in pop
and dance music and we wanted to write a
song for Earth, Wind and Fire which used
that word but not in the way that everyone
else was using it - which meant to shake your
booty. I had just seen the movie Looking For

The disco classic from Earth, Wind & Fire might have sounded very
different if it wasn't for the insistence of co-writer Allee Willis

by Allee Willis

Originally Released: 1979
Artist: Earth, Wind & Fire
Label: ARC / Columbia
Writers: Allee Willis and Jon Lind
UK Chart Position: 4
US Chart Position: 6

"In our

heads it

wasn't really

a club but

a state of



Mr Goodbar with Diane Keaton. She's a lost
soul who doesn't really have a great sense of
herself. She goes out to the disco and picks up
a different guy every night. At one point in the
movie she's so reckless that she brings home
a guy who the audience is led to believe could
be a serial killer. We decided to make the song
about someone who does not have it together
during the day but at night they walk into the
disco and their life miraculously changes. They
can lose themselves in dance for as long as
they're at the club. I felt like that was a fairly
typical situation for a lot of people who were

going out to dance every night.
"In our heads it wasn't really a club
but a state of mind, but we got out the
phonebook and started looking up names
of clubs and bars to try and get a cool name.
The original one that we used was 'Johnny's
Casino Lounge' and that actually was the
first line of the chorus. We thought that
the song sounded so incredible but didn't
have an incredible title. Neither one of
us remembers who stumbled on Boogie
Wonderland first, but it was one of those
things where the second someone said it, it
was like 'oh my god!'
"We decided to make the verse very dark,
like there was something haunting about
it, and then when it gets to the chorus it
should sound happy, bright and uplifting.
It's almost like a very profound mood shift.
People tell me that it's a song which makes
them very happy. I always say to them 'well
have you listened to the lyrics because it's
actually a very deep and depressing song?'
I always loved to take very poppy dance
music and put really heavy lyrics into it.
It never really mattered to me whether
people got that or not. I'm proud because
it really is a song that appears to be one
thing but is actually something else. And I
think the mood that we wanted to convey is
definitely there.
"When we went into the studio to make
the demo I was adamant that I did not want
that typical hi-hat anywhere in the song as
I didn't want it to sound like a typical disco
record. The drummer we had was pretty
famous and he would not keep his stick off
the hi-hat. He would not listen to me even
though I said it 15 times, 'do not go to the
hi-hat!' Finally John got up and walked
into the studio and physically removed the
entire hi-hat so the guy could not play it. So
the whole rest of the session he was giving
me the evil eye. When that song became
a hit without that stupid hi-hat on it I
thought 'I showed him.' I only realised years
later that he wasn't listening to the women,
that the women couldn't be the producer, it
had to be the guy!'

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