It was nearly 20 years ago and I was a bit more prideful in my songwriting. I knew everything. I had the world in my hands. I could write all the greatest songs…and there wasn’t a single publisher who wouldn’t want me.
Yeah….right. Glad those days are over. There I was at a conference and one of the side tracks included a one-on-one with one of several great songwriters. I had a couple of notable songwriters I had already picked out that I hoped to be paired with who had written some amazing songs. I just knew I would get lucky and be selected to be paired with them.
Instead…I was paired with this crazy looking woman who dressed funny…and I had never heard of…but BOY had I ever heard of her songs.
Allee Willis has written songs that most of us have heard no matter what age. Neutron Dance by Pointer Sisters, “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire, “I’ll Be There For You”…better known as the “Friends Theme Song”. I’ll even take some of you my age back to your childhood with this little video nugget:
Are you singing it still? “You’re the best!” Yep. She wrote that, too. We spent a while talking about stories and a lot about keeping writing “fun”…
…but her biggest piece of advice came when we talked about the song “September”.
So what do you think of when you sing “September”? Most likely the same part everyone else does. It’s the part that the teenager who was never alive during the hayday of the song, the drunk in the bar, the folks at karaoke night, and every other person in every other country knows:
Ba dee ya!
Yep. That’s it. Surprisingly, it was the line that Allee told me she hated the most. She never wrote that into the song. Maurice White from Earth, Wind, and Fire is responsible for that. Surprisingly, though…she said the more the band sang it…the more it just became part of the nucleus of the song for Allee. She said, “I learned not to let a lyric…even some jibberish…get in the way of a good groove.”
For her, it was the greatest lesson she had learned…and it became freeing for me.
Allee Willis passed away on Christmas Eve of 2019. Ba dee ya, Allee. Ba dee ya.
(Editor’s Note: This article deals with songwriting in general – and is not specific to worship/CCM songwriting. I realize that there is a huge difference in the way the two are written…and each line MUST be intentional and more crucial that the groove.)