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The Meaning of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September”

Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 hit single “September” is a timeless party anthem that can be enjoyed all year round, but of course it feels extra special during the month of September. What’s more — this day, the 21st of September — is undeniably the best day of the year to listen to “September”, as this is the day that is named in the lyrics, “Do you remember?”

Co-written by Al McKay and Maurice White of the group alongside Allee Willis, “September” was initially penned just to be included on the greatest hits album, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire. However, it became a huge hit in its own right, topping the R&B charts in the U.S. and reaching number 8 overall.

Today, it is not only the best-known Earth, Wind, & Fire song, but one of the most famous songs of the 1970s, and a defining track for the disco genre. It was even added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2018, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

So yeah, “September” is more than just a dance floor filler. It’s a big deal — and today we’re going to crack into the origins and lyrics, and find out what it all means.

“21st of September” Origins

We already discussed how “September” was born of a recording session for a greatest hits album, but what about the significance of the “21st of September”?

According to a 2014 interview with NPR, lyricist cowriter Allee Willis explains that it was simply chosen because of the way it sounded:

We went through all the dates: ‘Do you remember the first, the second, the third, the fourth … ‘ and the one that just felt the best was the 21s. I constantly have people coming up to me and they get so excited to know what the significance was. And there is no significance beyond it just sang better than any of the other dates. So … sorry!

Allee Willis on the meaning of “September”.

The theme of memory that runs through this song bring to mind of the 1892 poem “September” by the 19th century American poet Helen Hunt Jackson. The poem closes with these lines, that are eerily reminiscent of the song’s lyrics:

But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.

’T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

Lines from “September” by Helen Hunt Jackson.

“September” Lyrics Meaning

As we can see, “September” has some depth to it, aside from getting us all on the dance floor. Let’s take a deep dive into the lyrics and see what this song is all about, starting with that iconic opening verse:

Do you remember
The twenty-first night of September?
Love was changin’ the minds of pretenders
While chasin’ the clouds away
Our hearts were ringin’
In the key that our souls were singin’
As we danced in the night, remember
How the stars stole the night away, oh yeah

First verse to “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Even if we don’t remember, it feels like we do, because we’re all up there sharing in the good times with our family and friends. Just like this song, love has the power to bring people together and chase away sadness.

There is a sense of harmony and excitement that emanates from the lyrics, and as we know, that same feeling is captured in the arrangement. “September” has the power like few other songs to unite people under the universal flag of the groove.

The chorus brings some feel-good lyrics, along with some non-sensical expression:

Hey, hey, hey
Say, do you remember?
Dancin’ in September
Never was a cloudy day

Chorus to “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Now, many people (myself included) mis-hear the “ba-dee-ya” as “party on”, but the words are in fact, non-words. According to that same NPR interview, this was something that Maurice White used in many of his songs, as a “go-to phrase”.

This time, Allee Willis was hoping that they would change it to real words as they continued to develop the song, and she encouraged this notion during the songwriting session. However, White had other plans.

She explains:

And finally, when it was so obvious that he was not going to do it, I just said, ‘What the f*** does ‘ba-dee-ya’ mean?’ And he essentially said, ‘Who the f*** cares?'” she says. “I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him, which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.

Allee Willis on the meaning of “ba-dee-ya”.

The chorus is followed up by more of Maurice White’s signature scatting, which will be heard a lot more later in the song, after the second verse:

My thoughts are with you
Holdin’ hands with your heart to see you
Only blue talk and love, remember
How we knew love was here to stay
Now December
Found a love we shared in September
Only blue talk and love, remember
True love we share today

Second verse to “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire.

This verse is heartfelt and sweet, remembering a special lover. Their love blossomed in September, and by December they’re together. It’s true love and it’s here to stay.

The “blue talk”, perhaps is from a time when they were apart. When life gets hard, they can remember the love that they share in this very moment as a way to hang on to the hope.

Another chorus is up next, making sure we all remember that it’s time to party:

Hey, hey, hey (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Say, do you remember?
Ba-dee-ya (Oh)
Dancin’ in September
Ba-dee-ya (Hey)
Never was a cloudy day
And we’ll say ba-dee-ya (Ba-dee-ya, dee-ya)
Say, do you remember?
Ba-dee-ya (Ba-dee-ya, dee-ya)
Dancin’ in September
Ba-dee-ya (Ba-dee-ya, dee-ya)
Golden dreams were shiny days (Dee-ya)

Chorus to “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Finally, the bridge brings the final segment of new lyrics before the chorus returns to boogie its way to the end of the song:

The bells was ringin’, oh-oh
Our souls were singin’
Do you remember never a cloudy day? Yow

Bridge to “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Ringing bells and singing souls invoke a vision of wedding day, implying that this pair were married. They were so happy that they thought there would never be a cloudy day. Now, they remember, and we all shake it along with them.

Watch the official video for “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire below.

“September” Legacy

The glory of “September” doesn’t stop with Earth, Wind & Fire, oh no. The iconic song has been covered, sampled, twisted, and turned every which way ever since its release in 1978. Plus, it has appeared in a lot of movies.

In this final section, we gather some moments and creations from the history of pop culture that made use of “September”. Let us know in the comments if there are any awesome ones that we missed!

Get Over It (2001)

Sisqó and Vitamin C cover “September” in the closing credits to the 2001 film Get Over It.

Night at the Museum (2006)

“September” also plays in the ending scene of Night at the Museum.

Kirk Franklin – “September” (2007)

Kirk Franklin rips a hot gospel version of “September” in 2007.

Trolls (2016)

This version is performed by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick alongside Earth, Wind & Fire.

Taylor Swift – “September” (2018)

Taylor Swift recorded an acoustic version of “September” at The Tracking Room in Nashvilled in 2018. She changed the opening lyric to “28th night of September.”

Kohls Commercial (2022)

This 2022 commercial changes “September” to “December”.