People always ask me what my favorite song I’ve written is. I hate to favor any of the babies but pound for pound I’d have to shout “September”! I think it’s an eternally uplifting song. It makes people HAPPY, not just with a capital H but ALL CAPS!! I write a lot of happy songs but even perennial foot tappers like “Neutron Dance” and “Boogie Wonderland” don’t inspire the immediate mood shift that “September” does. I’ve never been in a room where people’s toes didn’t start tapping or heads start bobbing as soon as it comes on. I’ve never been to a Bar Mitzvah or wedding where it wasn’t played, including Beyonce and Jay-Z’s, where I wasn’t but learned from US Weekly that that’s what they danced their first dance to. And they didn’t even get married in September.
Without question, the original Earth Wind & Fire version is and will always be my favorite.
With EWF founder and lead singer, Maurice White, and EWF guitarist, Al McKay, I started writing “September” the first day we met, in the summer of 1978. It was actually written as the third song in a trilogy that Maurice and Al had already created, EWF’s “Sing a Song” and The Emotions’ “Best of My Love”, two of my favorite Pop Soul records of all time.
Although most of the music to “September” was completed that first day, it actually took a couple months to finalize the lyric, during which time I was also working with Maurice on all but two songs that became their (thankfully) legendary crossover album, I Am.
I used to be hung up that the “September” lyric was a little sing-songy, not the most intelligent I’d written. But seeing the effect it has on people I’m happy I took Maurice’s advice: Never let a lyric get in the way of the groove. If a lyric isn’t grammatically correct or even if it’s nonsensical – like the key words in the “September” chorus, “Ba-de-ya” – don’t replace it with something that is. If you marry the lyric to the music just right, the meaning will come across in the feel. I have no doubt that the love expressed in the chorus of “September” comes across even better with this nonsensical phrase than it would have had we merely filled those syllables with “I love you”.
The first time I ever went on YouTube just months after it launched in 2005, there were already tons of versions of the song there. Over the years I’ve watched “September” videos multiple like rabbits, some good but mostly a little on the lame side – Bad bar bands, jazz bands, marching bands, people in their living rooms, bathrooms, underwear, at auditions, dance classes, birthday parties, on lawns, mountaintops, in line dances, in lines at stores, playing solo bass, drum, keyboard and guitar parts, making animations and short films with it, in all varieties of languages, styles and quality.
Most songwriters are tortured when they hear cheesy versions of their work. As the Grand Master of Kitsch however, I LOVE it. I love that something I’ve created inspires someone to perform it despite an apparent lack of talent or rhythm. If it makes them happy it makes me happy.
And, trust me, this is a song that’s still making me happy. In one of my YouTube searches I stumbled onto Pomplamoose, a band that completely deconstructed the song and did it so distinctively I suggested we work together. The resulting “Jungle Animal” song, video and game went live TODAY.
But back to “September”… 1978 wasn’t the first time I placed my bet on a song that glorified September. Four years earlier, my first and only album, Childstar, came out on Epic Records. It contained the first 10 songs I ever wrote. The tune the label thought had the most single potential was called “What Kind of Shoes Does September Wear?”.
Although my career didn’t get off to the running start I had hoped it would then, I’d have to say that, in retrospect, September did, indeed, have some very nice shoes!
A few nights ago I went back on YouTube to see if any new versions of “September” had been done. To my astonishment, it was like the song had In vitro and gave birth to enough versions that if I played one a day for a year I would never run out. So I made it a goal to chronicle the madness. From this day forth, the 21st of September, the date in the opening line of the song, until the 21st of September, 2011, I shall feature one (brilliant, alarming, innovative, ridiculous) version of the song a day.
So here now, I offer you the most definitive version of all, the Godhead, “SEPTEMBER” by EARTH, WIND & FIRE on this, the 21st day of September, 2010, the first of 365 days of September. It pretty much goes downhill from here…