Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Do you remember?


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Do you remember the 21st night of September? Last year? Five years ago? Ten years ago?

Today is the 21st of September and the band Earth Wind And Fire asked that question in their song September.

Growing up in the 80s I was in love with words. I used to devour books, shunning chores to hide in a huge mango tree on the family property. 

The tree was about 400 metres away from the house – far away so that they would think twice about waiting for me to finish the chores and near enough for me to hear them shouting my name urgently.

In that tree was a low branch where I could climb and put my back into a crook of the limb to secure myself from falling. I would carry three to four books which were romance novels, detective stories or if I was lucky, my mum would have gotten the school book list early so I could read my literature books.

My love of words pushed me to listen to the lyrics of songs and it got to the point where I would take my lunch money and buy cassettes to put in the big radio like that the hip hop stars had in their music videos (Yes, you know what I am talking about) and record the songs.

Then I would put the cassettes in my walkman and diligently rewind and rewind until I had written the lyrics to the entire songs on the tape.

I had many hardcover books filled with lyrics of Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Otis Redding (sentimental because my boyfriend at the time was named Ottis), Whitney Houston and too many to mention.

I was of the view that many of the lyrics were about my life, whatever I was going through at the moment. Other times the songs didn’t have any meaning to me, I just loved the rhyming and stanza structures. 

Thinking about what things mean is what led me to write this. A friend, Sharon Babb, sent me a link to a radio station interview of one of the writers of EWF’s September

Listening to it, two things resounded: the date 21st has no significant meaning and neither do the words Bay-dee-ya!  Yes, it is true.

Since today is September 21st I will share with you what I learnt from the interview on NPR

“Do you remember the 21st night of September?

Love was changing the minds of pretenders

While chasing the clouds away.”

That was the first stanza of the song. The hook went: Ba dee ya, say do you remember/ Ba dee ya, dancing in September/ Ba dee ya, never was a cloudy day.

The song was written by leader of EWF Maurice White, band member Al McKay and Allee Willis. According to Willis, she was a white Jewish struggling songwriter living in Los Angeles and got a call from White to co-write the band’s next album.

Willis said she arrived at the studio the next day and the song was written over the course of a month. While it was all rosy writing about skies and clouds and dancing, she was irritated by one particular phrase.

“Maurice kept singing ba dee ya over and over at the start of some lines and I said ‘we are going to change ba dee ya to real words, right?’”

Willis explained that at the last vocal session she begged White to rewrite “ba dee ya” and he refused.

Frustrated she asked, “what the (bleep) does ba dee ya mean? And White replied, ‘who the (bleep) cares?’” 

Willis said she learnt then that songs can be songs without assigning meaning to each word.

And she is so true because many of us can ascribe whatever memories or meanings we want to September 21st – be it personal or professional or both.

And Willis, who has also written the theme song for the TV show Friends, said there is no significance to the date in the song.

“We went through all the dates, from the 1st to the 31st and the one that just felt the best was the 21st. There is no significance. It just sang better than any of the other dates. So sorry.”

EWF’s September was released November 18, 1978 and hit No. 1 on the R&B and Billboard Top 10 charts the next year. It has been on soundtracks for movies, TV shows, commercials and sporting events.

While I am disappointed that 21st has no special meaning in the song September, I will remember the date because of that song and keep dancing while chasing the clouds away. 




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