This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #321: Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind and Fire and the Emotions.
“Earth, Wind and Fire” were one of the world’s top Soul and R&B groups of the 1970s and 80s. They had a continuous string of hits such as “September”, “Reasons”, “Shining Star”, “That’s the Way of the World”, “Sing a Song” and many more. Because of their funky sound, the orchestra section they performed with and the oft-choreographed dance moves they employed while singing, “Earth, Wind and Fire” fit right in with the emerging Disco/dance-oriented scene that was so prevalent in the US at the time. Going to Disco clubs was a big thing and “Earth, Wind and Fire” had a ring-side seat for the entire spectacle.
There are many reasons why people frequent dance clubs; some just want to dance and move to the music, some enjoy all of the “seeing and being seen” that goes on among the dance crowd and some go there hoping to make a human connection with someone (whether that turns out to be sexual in nature or more long-term and loving). But, dance clubs are not unlike any other place where social rules apply. There tends to be a social pecking order in clubs that revolves around how a person looks and/or how well they dance. Often times, those with the confidence that comes with smooth moves and head-turning looks, dictate how things go at the club. Think about how John Travolta’s character took over the dance floor at the Disco he frequented in “Saturday Night Fever”. As well, I am sure we all know women whose good looks meant that they never paid for a drink the whole time they were at their club, too. Whatever the case, in the social hierarchy of Disco Clubs, you were a mover and a shaker or else, you were someone who watched the movers and shakers from the sidelines and fought over whatever scraps they chose to leave behind on their way out of the door. To quote Bruce Springsteen, “There are winners and losers and you don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of that line.”
“Boogie Wonderland” is a song about life in Disco clubs during the height of the Disco boom but, it is most definitely not about dancing. It is a song about those who find themselves “…on the wrong side of that line.” As such, this song is, easily, one of the saddest and most misunderstood songs of all-time. Not everyone who goes to the Club owns the dance floor or is fussed over because of their looks. “Boogie Wonderland” chronicles those people, for whom, a trip to the Club (which seemed to be an irresistible pull for them) was often an exercise in disappointment. This song is about the men who ask the beautiful women for a dance, only to be rejected. It is for the women who are looked over and deemed to be physically-wanting and who are never asked to dance or have a drink purchased for them. It is a song about the desperation that sets in as closing time approaches and the bids for dubious unions take place. It is a song for those who leave with someone they know is wrong for them but, in their minds, it is better than leaving alone. It is a song for those on the social fringes who come back to the club, again and again and again, even though they realize the outcome will probably be the same as it always is.
The song opens with the following lines that let you know, right off of the bat, that this song is about more than the bright lights and fancy clothes of those who rules the Disco lifestyle.
“Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get.
Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has made too many bets.
The mirror stares you in the face and says,
“Baby Uh Uh, It don’t work.”
You say your prayers, though you don’t care.
You dance and shake the hurt.”
The song ends with the realization by these folks that they are slaves to the pull of the Club, no matter how damaging it may be to their self-worth.
“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 keep saying
The song, “Boogie Wonderland” is sung by “Earth, Wind and Fire” in partnership with three sisters who call themselves, “The Emotions”. Their participation in this song helps fuel the notion that the desire to be wanted is a dynamic that works within genders and across genders, too. Male and female voices alternate and combine in ways that mimic the real, social interactions that occur in the Club. Casual listeners often mistake the careful analysis being offered by EWF/The Emotions as being a celebration of the Disco-lifestyle. It is anything but.
As I have lived my life, one of my greatest strengths was in knowing who I really was and being true to that person. One aspect of knowing who I was, was knowing who I wasn’t. I was never someone who frequented Dance clubs because I was never someone with strengths that applied in that world. I may be a lot of things in this world but, one of the things I never was, was a Player. For those who are, living the Club lifestyle may work out for you. But, for people like me, we have been given a warning in the form of a catchy song by a mighty group called “Earth Wind and Fire, with The Emotions”. It is a warning worth heeding because it will save you a lot of heartbreak and self-doubt in the end. “Boogie Wonderland” is one of those songs that I cannot tell you to “enjoy”, as I usually do at the end of these posts. Instead, listen and hear the words being sung and think long and hard about how and where you wish to spend the currency that is your self-worth.
Here are “Earth, Wind and Fire, with The Emotions”, with one of the saddest songs of them all, “Boogie Wonderland”.
PS: I am going to include a link to the animated movie, “Happy Feet”. In this clip, this movie that is aimed at children tosses a bone to those of us who are adults. The song, “Boogie Wonderland” is played during a scene that illustrates exactly what Earth, Wind and Fire, with The Emotions, were talking about in this song. I highly recommend this scene. It is most instructive.
The link to the video for the song, “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind and Fire, with The Emotions, can be found here.
The link to the video clip of “Boogie Wonderland” in the movie, “Happy Feet” can be found here.
The link to the official website for Earth, Wind and Fire, can be found here.
The official website for The Emotions is, unfortunately, not up and running so no link is available.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.