Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" is not about what you think it's about.
The casual listener can be forgiven for believing "Boogie Wonderland" is merely a paean to the disco era: The bouncy rhythm, the cool vocals by Maurice White, the Emotions' soul-sister backing chorus. The song wants you to believe it's a magical place, this Boogie Wonderland.
But, for a moment, stop dancing and listen closely to the lyrics. "Boogie Wonderland" is actually a tale of lonely people at the end of their rope.
The mirror stares you in the face and says, baby, nuh uh, it don’t work. You say your prayers though you don’t care, you dance and shake the hurt.
"Boogie Wonderland" is about escaping into fantasy, and, perhaps even surrendering to insanity. In an interview on the SongFacts website, Allee Willis, the song's writer, says the lyrics were inspired by the movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar. "It's really about someone on the brink of self-destruction who goes to these clubs to try and find more, but is at least aware of the fact that if there's something like true love, that is something that could kind of drag them out of the abyss."
I chase my vinyl dreams to Boogie Wonderland, I find romance when I start to dance.
Says Willis: "'Boogie Wonderland' for us was this state of mind that you entered when you were around music and when you danced, but hopefully it was an aware enough state of mind that you would want to feel as good during the day as you did at night."
As a listener, I'm a sucker for music like this -- songs that seem happy, even optimistic, on the surface, but are really about things much darker. "Happy Trails to You," which I wrote about a few weeks ago, is like that. So too is "We'll Meet Again," the Carter Family's "Keep on the Sunny Side," and even "My Window Faces the South."
But "Boogie Wonderland" stands out for me -- partly because it has a serious groove those songs lack, and partly because it's from my era. And maybe mostly because the song's writer, the amazing Allee Willis (read about her here), is my aunt.
Dance and shake the hurt. Boogie Wonderland!