Allee Willis

My first hit, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire was released in Dec. of 1978. It was the only new song written for Earth, Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits Vol. I, which was released at the same time. I also co-wrote eight other songs with Maurice White that were about to come out in a few months on the groups next LP, “I Am”. Once that was done I started writing with Jon Lind who had co-written “Sun Goddess” for EWF some years before. Our first song was “Boogie Wonderland” which took two afternoons to write. We knew we wanted to write the disco song but didn’t want to just write about dancing and having a good time like every other song that had “boogie” in the title. We also didn’t want to use the word “boogie”, a staple in disco lyrics, the same way everyone else was using it like “get up and boogie”. I was used to writing songs that told stories and had more journalistic lyrics than most pop songs - complete sentences and lyrics that would make sense even if there wasn’t music accompanying them. I had just seen the movie “Looking For Mr. Goodbar” and someone desperate to find love who had such low self esteem that they used the disco as a place to escape from their life became the inspiration of the song. So as opposed to the happy song everyone thinks Boogie Wonderland is - Dance! Boogie Wonderland! - It’s actually about someone on the brink of suicide who goes to a club to lose themselves in a fantasy place and have a good time, clinging to the hope their life won’t remain as bleak as it feels now.

Musically I loved the low plodding melody we wrote for the verse. We really wanted to change the feel on the chorus. I remember patterning the melody of “All the records are playing and my heart keeps saying” line after a more Broadway sounding melody so the song would feel more sweeping. Both Jon and I felt the title should be the name of the club the song’s protagonist escaped to. We got out the Yellow Pages and looked up the names of bars. Johnny’s Casino Lounge was the first one we saw and that was the perfect number of syllables. So for about 20 minutes the first line of the chorus was “Come to Johnny’s Casino Lounge”. That eventually became “All the love in the world’ can’t be gone”. And the last line “Boogie Wonderland, Wonderland” was originally “You won’t be alone for long, not for long”. We felt so good about the song after we finished it we took photos to commemorate the day.

We cut the demo at Crystal Studios in Hollywood. I hated records that sounded like other records and the drummer at the demo session keep hitting the hi hat on every beat of the verses, despite the fact that I was adamant about this being one disco record that had not hi hat’. He was so incapable of playing that way we had to physically remove hi hat from the studio.

When Maurice White heard the song he loved it. We wanted him to cut it with EWF but he was producing a new group so after EWF cut the track he did the vocals with that group. Jon and I went to the studio the night the strings and horns were recorded and were a mess because, coming off of “September”, Boogie Wonderland” would have been great follow-up single. We ate over a dozen chocolate danishes each at Cantor’s Restaurant in LA that night waiting for a call from Maurice to tell us if, in fact, he was going to take the song back for himself. We didn’t get the call for five more days but the rest, as they say, is history.