Friday Song: “September”
An Earth, Wind, and Fire classic seems simple, but oozes with subtle touches
It’s September, so everyone is talking about the classic Earth, Wind & Fire song of the same name. One of the most joyful songs ever recorded, “September” received a thorough and delightful dissection on Kirk Hamilton’s “Strong Songs” podcast this week, as well. The contribution of small percussion elements is surprisingly important, it turns out.
Written in A, the song can induce synesthesia of one kind or another even in people not normally prone to the condition — it feels “golden” or makes them feel like they’re levitating or flying. The effect may stem from a bit of musical trickery. As Hamilton notes, while the song is in A (making this the 1 chord), the song’s chord progression doesn’t land on A, making the melodies and song never quite resolve. This may contribute to the sensation of feeling free, soaring, and unbound.
In 1978, the song achieved Top 10 chart positions in the UK and US. It has remained a dance floor favorite ever since.
“September” was written by Allee Willis, Maurice White, and Al McKay. For Willis, who wasn’t part of the band, the songwriting experience was more involved than she’d anticipated, according to Songfacts:
Their stuff was very much based on Eastern philosophies, an incredibly positive outlook on life; the lyrical content of their songs was not typical of what would have been in soul music at that time. So when I left the studio that first day, Maurice gave me the name of a book, it was called The Greatest Salesman In The World. . . . And what went from being a very simple experience turned into, for me, an incredibly complex experience. Because I dove into these books.
I was pouring through [the] books for a couple of months. Lyrics started being 25-30 pages long as I’m trying to figure all this stuff out. Reading all that stuff changed me forever. He led me to a path I’ve stayed on.
So “September” was fantastic and thrilling, and they had started the intro of it by the time I had walked into the studio to meet everyone. Just as I opened the door and I heard that little guitar intro, I thought, “Oh God, please let this be what they want to work with me on.” Because it was so obviously a hit.
Willis also helped write another classic of the times, “Boogie Wonderland.”
Earth, Wind & Fire has been dubbed one of the most innovative bands of all time, and is one of the top-selling acts in history. Nominated for 17 Grammy Awards, the group won six times, while also receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
But the key question is: “Do you remember the 21st night of September?”