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Wow In Music – Wow In Music – Boogie Wonderland

Wow In Music – Wow In Music – Boogie Wonderland

| On 24, Oct 2018

Darrell Mann

Disco music is one of the most denigrated of all the popular genres. For the most part there is good reason for the criticism. The cream, however, always rises given time, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s massive hit, Boogie Wonderland, from 1979 has been an enduring classic ever since it first hit the charts.

The least obvious aspect of the song is the downbeat lyric – a (Principle 13) antidote to the usually happy-clappy-let’s-party sentiment of most disco records. As such, it is one of the more complex and misinterpreted songs of the disco era. Written by Jon Lind and Allee Willis, it was inspired by the movie Looking For Mr Goodbar, which stars Diane Keaton as a lost soul who goes to clubs every night to dance away her misery.

In an interview with Willis, she explained: “When I saw Mr Goodbar, I got kind of fascinated with people who did go to clubs every night, whose life was kind of falling apart, but they lived for the night life, though it didn’t seem to be advancing them as humans in the end. So if you really look at the lyrics of ‘Boogie Wonderland,’ unlike EW&F’s previous hit, ‘September,’ it’s not a happy song at all. It’s really about someone on the brink of self- destruction who goes to these clubs to try and find more, but is at least aware of the fact that if there’s something like true love, that is something that could kind of drag them out of the abyss.

So for instance, the first verse is:

Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get
Daylight deals a bad hand to a women who’s laid too many bets
The mirror looks you in the face and says, ‘uh-uh baby, it don’t work’
You say your prayers, though you don’t care, you dance to shake the hurt

And then on the first demo, it went right into the chorus, where with Earth, Wind & Fire it’s more of a feel thing, and they usually do all the verses before they get to the chorus (Principle 10, Prior Action). And then the chorus is:

All the love in the world can’t be gone
All the need to be loved can’t be wrong
All the records are playing
And my heart keeps saying ‘Boogie Wonderland’

So ‘Boogie Wonderland’ for us was this state of mind that you entered when you were around music and when you danced, but hopefully it was an aware enough state of mind that you would want to feel as good during the day as you did at night.”

All that said, most listeners will keep coming back to the song for the music. Again very atypical of the disco genre. Albeit in some quite subtle ways. Here’s Allee Willis again:

“In those days, every dance record had a disco hi-hat on it, so I figured the song would be even more different if we (Principle 2) took it out. But when we made a demo, the drummer couldn’t play the beat without one. There weren’t many women songwriters back then, and no matter how many times I told him to stop playing it, he was like: “Screw her.” I finally said to Jon: “If you don’t do something, I am going to physically go in there.” Jon is a big guy, and literally lifted the hi-hat off the drumkit and out of the studio. To this day, every time I hear the song, I think about that drummer and grin.

Beyond that, listen hard to the band’s rhythm section and you’ll hear that everyone – bass, drums, keys, rhythm-guitar, percussion, everyone –  is playing (Principle 37) off the beat. The net result being that if hearing the opening bars of the song doesn’t make you want to get up and boogie (wonderland), you’re probably dead. Musicians often talk about those rare nights when they’re playing ‘in the pocket’. Boogie Wonderland is the ‘in the pocket’ reference par excellence.

Damn, even penguins can dance to it ( – from the 4:09 mark)