We Are Family (song)

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"We Are Family"
Side A of US 7-inch single
Single by Sister Sledge
from the album We Are Family
B-side"Easier to Love"
ReleasedApril 1979
StudioPower Station, New York City, New York, US
Genre
Length
  • 8:19 (12-inch/album version)
  • 3:36 (single)
LabelCotillion
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • Nile Rodgers
  • Bernard Edwards
Sister Sledge singles chronology
"He's the Greatest Dancer"
(1979)
"We Are Family"
(1979)
"Lost in Music"
(1979)
Music video
"We Are Family" on YouTube

"We Are Family" is a song recorded by American vocal group Sister Sledge. Composed by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, they both offered the song to Atlantic Records; although the record label initially declined, the track was released in April 1979 as a single from the album of the same name (1979)[1] and began to gain club and radio play, eventually becoming the group's signature song.[2]

"We Are Family" went gold, becoming the number one R&B and number two pop song on the American charts in 1979 (behind "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer).[3] Along with the tracks "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "Lost in Music", "We Are Family" reached number one on the Billboard Dance Club Songs.[4] It has been re-released two times in new remixes; in 1984 and 1993. In 2017, the song was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."[5] Billboard magazine named the song number 20 on their list of "100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time" same year.[6] In 2023, the magazine included it in their "Best Pop Songs of All Time".[7]

Origins and meaning[edit]

"We Are Family" was the first song that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote for any act other than their own band Chic. After their first hit, "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)", Atlantic Records President Jerry L. Greenberg wanted the pair to write and produce for other acts on the label; Rodgers and Edwards did not feel confident enough to work with big, established recording artists and performers, e.g.: The Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, etc.[8] They also felt that if they worked as Greenberg had suggested, credit for a hit would just go to those established people, and Rodgers/Edwards would not gain proper notice as songwriter/producers.[8] So the pair suggested that they write and produce a song for the label's least established act; if they got a hit record, then they could take the challenge of writing for someone bigger.[8]

According to Rodgers, the verses were mostly verbatim based on how Greenberg described Sister Sledge to them when first commissioning the work.[8] Rodgers/Edwards then simply walked immediately to the studio, rearranged their notes from the meeting into lyrics, and wrote a song melody underneath them.[8] The chorus (and therefore the title) makes reference to the fact that the group are the four sisters of a family.[8]

The song has since gone on to be used more generally as an expression of solidarity in various contexts, notably as the anthem of the We Are Family Foundation, which is named after it. The lead vocals to "We Are Family" were recorded in a single take by then-19-year-old Kathy Sledge.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Original version[edit]

American magazine Billboard wrote that "We Are Family" has "an upbeat, catchy melody" and "heavy bass, funky guitar and pulsating percussion."[9] Cash Box said that the song has "caressing, exuberant lead vocals backed by Sister Sledge's infectious harmony vocals."[10] Richard Smith from Melody Maker commented, "Everybody from the women's movement to troupes of cheerleaders claimed the mighty "We Are Family" as their own anthem, but it's always has a special place in the hearts of gay men. Appropriation or intention? Chic were quite canny - it was New York's gay clubs that had broken them and songs like this were a way of paying back the debt."[11]

1993 remix[edit]

In his weekly UK chart commentary, James Masterton wrote, "Your eyes do not deceive you. At a time when the 1970s are suddenly hip again, one of the best soul disco records ever made return in a new set of mixes for 1993."[12] Paul Lester from Melody Maker felt it's "perfunctorily remixed", adding, "It remains the last word in identikit-robot-girls-sing-gospel-tinged-melodies-over-machine-beats pop and proves that rock crits have always had guilty consciences about the records they (claim to) like."[13] Alan Jones from Music Week stated that the song "gets a new treatment from the Sure Is Pure dream team. The result, while less distinctive than the original with much of Chic's sterling instrumental work suppressed, is a hot and contemporary garage track."[14] Another editor, Andy Beevers, named it Pick of the Week in the category of Dance, adding, "This most enduring and endearing of club classics should make the Top 40 for the third time thanks to a wonderful and suitably reverential remix by Sure Is Pure."[15]

Music video[edit]

A music video was filmed in 1979 to promote the single, featuring the group wearing red outfits and dancing to the song in a street-like setting. It was later made available on YouTube in 2013 and had generated more than 6.4 million views as of January 2023.[16]

Impact and legacy[edit]

The 1979 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates used "We Are Family" as their official theme song. It was chosen by Willie Stargell as the team waited out a rain delay on June 1, prior to a game in which they would mount a ninth-inning comeback to win.[17][18] After the team adopted the song, it rose to second on the charts, whereas previously it had not gone above fourth.[19]

Billboard magazine ranked "We Are Family" number 18 in their list of "The 35 Best Disco Songs Ever" in 2016[20] and number 20 in their list of "100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time" in 2017.[21] Rolling Stone ranked it number 34 in their list of "200 Greatest Dance Songs of All Time" in 2022.[22] In 2023, Billboard ranked "We Are Family" number 444 in their "Best Pop Songs of All Time".[7]

Charts[edit]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Greece 3,500[51]
United Kingdom (BPI)[52] Platinum 600,000
United States (RIAA)[53] Gold 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Cover versions[edit]

Many artists have covered the song. Among the more notable versions is one by Babes in Toyland, which was a dance club hit in the U.S. It peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1995. In addition, Nile Rodgers organized a re-recording of the song in 2001 as a benefit record for the September 11 attacks. This in turn led to his co-creation of the We Are Family Foundation, a global charity named for the song and designed to inspire and educate young people to find solutions to problems such as hunger and illiteracy that impede world peace.

Rodgers also produced a version featuring characters from popular television shows from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon and Disney such as Sesame Street, Between the Lions, Bear in the Big Blue House, Barney & Friends, etc. This version aired on Disney Channel, Playhouse Disney, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. Channel and PBS Kids on March 11, 2002, and subsequently was commercially released on DVD in 2005 as a public service announcement to promote diversity and tolerance, but it was attacked by an evangelical group which felt that SpongeBob SquarePants promoted homosexuality.[54] In December 2007, the song was announced as one of the 2008 inductees to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Australian singer Samantha Jade recorded a cover version of the song, which was played in the 2020 Robert Zemeckis film The Witches.

The song appears in 2021's Coming 2 America film, played by the fictional band Sexual Chocolate and sung by Eddie Murphy as Randy Watson.

The song appears repeatedly, from the opening to the closing, of the 1996 hit feel-good comedy movie The Birdcage, set in South Florida's South Beach Art Deco District, with the main characters (played by Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Dan Futterman, Tom McGowan, and Christine Baranski), and the entire Birdcage cast and audience, some in drag, singing and dancing to the number.

The song was played in ′′Trolls Band Together′′ as part of the medley track Let's Get Married It would be sung by Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel, and other voice actors as their characters.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Irvin, Jim; McLear, Colin (2000). The Mojo Collection. Edinburgh, Scotland: Canongate Books, Ltd. p. 421. ISBN 978-1-84195-973-3.
  2. ^ "Joni Sledge, member of the group Sister Sledge, dies aged 60". The Guardian. Associated Press. March 11, 2017. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 530.
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974–2003. Record Research. p. 236.
  5. ^ "National Recording Registry Picks Are "Over the Rainbow"". Library of Congress. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  6. ^ "100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time: Critics' Picks". Billboard. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "The 500 Best Pop Songs: Staff List". Billboard. October 19, 2023. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Nile Roidgers in conversation, Music Matters interview, 2007, Hong Kong
  9. ^ "Top Single Picks" (PDF). Billboard. April 28, 1979. p. 81. Retrieved February 11, 2023.
  10. ^ "CashBox Singles Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. April 28, 1979. p. 17. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  11. ^ Smith, Richard (January 30, 1993). "Albums". Melody Maker. p. 35. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  12. ^ Masterton, James (January 17, 1993). "Week Ending January 23rd 1993". Chart Watch UK. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
  13. ^ Lester, Paul (January 9, 1993). "Singles". Melody Maker. p. 25. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  14. ^ Jones, Alan (January 16, 1993). "Market Preview: Mainstream - Singles" (PDF). Music Week. p. 6. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
  15. ^ Beevers, Andy (January 9, 1993). "Market Preview: Dance - Pick of the Week" (PDF). Music Week. p. 17. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
  16. ^ "Sister Sledge - We Are Family (Official Music Video)". YouTube. December 13, 2013. Retrieved January 1, 2023.
  17. ^ Robinson, Eric. "June 1, 1979: A comeback victory and beginning of 'We Are Family' Pirates". Society of American Baseball Research. Archived from the original on December 3, 2022. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  18. ^ Guggenheimer, Paul (October 17, 2019). "Remembering the 'We Are Family' 1979 Pirates". TribLive.com. Archived from the original on October 8, 2022. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  19. ^ Clair, Michael (February 18, 2022). "How the Pirates chose 'We Are Family' in '79". MLB.com. Archived from the original on June 30, 2023. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  20. ^ "The 35 Best Disco Songs Ever". Billboard. July 20, 2016. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  21. ^ "100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time: Critics' Picks". Billboard. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  22. ^ Dolan, Jon; Lopez, Julyssa; Matos, Michaelangelo; Shaffer, Claire (July 22, 2022). "200 Greatest Dance Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 30, 2022.
  23. ^ Danyel Smith, ed. (1979). "Billboard 15 June 1979". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  24. ^ "We Are Family – Sister Sledge". VRT (in Dutch). Top30-2.radio2.be. Archived from the original on April 9, 2012. Retrieved July 25, 2013. Hoogste notering in de top 30 : 1
  25. ^ "Top Singles – Volume 42, No. 22, August 10, 1979". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  26. ^ "Sister Sledge – We Are Family" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  27. ^ "Chart Track: Week 14, 1979". Irish Singles Chart.
  28. ^ "Classifiche". Musica e dischi (in Italian). Retrieved June 7, 2022. Set "Tipo" on "Singoli". Then, in the "Artista" field, search "Sister Sledge".
  29. ^ a b "Nederlandse Top 40 – Sister Sledge" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  30. ^ "Sister Sledge – We Are Family" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  31. ^ "Sister Sledge – We Are Family". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  32. ^ "Sister Sledge – We Are Family". Swiss Singles Chart.
  33. ^ "Sister Sledge: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  34. ^ "Sister Sledge Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  35. ^ "Sister Sledge Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  36. ^ "Sister Sledge Chart History (Dance Club Songs)". Billboard.
  37. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles.
  38. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Sister Sledge – We Are Family" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  39. ^ "Sister Sledge – We Are Family - 1984 Mix By Bernard Edwards" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  40. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. February 6, 1993. p. 15. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  41. ^ "European Dance Radio Top 25" (PDF). Music & Media. February 27, 1993. p. 10. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  42. ^ "Top 10 Sales in Europe" (PDF). Music & Media. March 6, 1993. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  43. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – We Are Family". Irish Singles Chart.
  44. ^ "Top 60 Dance Singles" (PDF). Music Week. January 23, 1993. p. 22. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  45. ^ "The RM Club Chart" (PDF). Music Week, in Record Mirror (Dance Update Supplemental insert). January 30, 1993. p. 4. Retrieved October 30, 2021.
  46. ^ Bac-lac.gc.ca
  47. ^ "Top Selling Singles of 1979 | The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Nztop40.co.nz. December 31, 1979. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
  48. ^ Top 100 Hits of 1979/Top 100 Songs of 1979.
  49. ^ "The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1979". Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2016.
  50. ^ "The RM Club Chart 93" (PDF). Music Week, in Record Mirror (Dance Update Supplemental insert). December 25, 1993. p. 4. Retrieved February 3, 2023.
  51. ^ John Carr (February 9, 1980). "Greeks Grind To Foreign Product" (PDF). Billboard. p. 32. Retrieved September 19, 2021 – via World Radio History.
  52. ^ "British single certifications – Sister Sledge – We Are Family". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  53. ^ "American single certifications – Sister Sledge – We Are Family". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  54. ^ "US right attacks SpongeBob video". BBC News. January 20, 2005. Retrieved December 27, 2013.

External links[edit]