Swift released her gentle, banjo-laced rendition of “September” on April 12, prompting a brutal storm of caustic reaction from fans of the 1978 smash. That seemed a bit much for Allee Willis, who wrote the song with EWF’s late Maurice White and Al McKay.
“On the same day things happened in Syria, the FBI broke into Michael Cohen’s office… the worst thing that happened as far as the Internet was concerned on this 449th day of all of our brains feeling like they’ve been hurled back and forth like squash balls, the top-trending topic on Twitter was the Taylor Swift cut of ‘September,'” Willis said Friday night (May 18) during an entertaining and often humorous songs-and-stories performance at the City Theatre in her home town of Detroit. “I didn’t really think she did a horrible job. Yes, I felt it was as lethargic as a drunk turtle dozing under a sunflower after ingesting a bottle of Valium, and I thought it had all the build of a one-story motel, but, I mean, the girl didn’t kill anybody. She didn’t run over your foot. She just cut a very calm and somewhat boring take of one of the peppiest, happiest, most popular songs in history.”
Willis said that she learned Swift was covering “September” “a few hours before it came out” and, at her publicist’s behest, issued a complimentary statement about the version. “I was thrilled Taylor Swift cut ‘September,'” Willis, who will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame next month, said on Friday. “I’m imagining she’s going to give it a kind of jagged, ‘Shake It Off’ kind of feel and it’s gonna be great. So I got to sleep happy and excited, but by the time I wake up — on Friday the 13th, I might add — the Internet was already a 28-alarm fire.”
Like many, Willis — who subsequently rescinded her statement — took umbrage that Swift changed the song’s opening line from the “21st night of September” to the 28th. But she did say that “everyone has a right to do with a song what they please, so go on with your own bad self, Taylor Swift. I’m honored you’d choose to do my song and that it meant enough to you that you wanted to personalize it to the goddamn 28th night of September, that you wanted to cover it with banjo… and that you changed the sacred ba-de-ya to the more Caucasian ah-ah-ah and make it sound more like a field of daffodils than a Soul Train line.”
Willis then led the audience in a sing-along version to the EWF original to “take ‘September’ back to its happy place… that has kept this Detroiter shaking it up and off for four fat decades.”