We never know where a simple favor might lead. For singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins a simple favor turned into the iconic movie soundtrack Footloose.
Writing A Hit Song
Kenny had written songs with friend Dean Pitchford, so when Dean asked Kenny to read his screenplay, Loggins said, “Oh sure, I’ll give it a look.” That screenplay would eventually evolve into the movie Footloose, and that favor would see Loggins joining forces with Pitchford to write songs for the movies. Footloose became the movie’s title track and is now etched in history as the iconic opening and closing musical number for the film.
Footloose the song was released in January 1984, and a few short months later was the number-one song in America. Some fans may know part of the story behind the writing of the Footloose lyrics. But when when The Professor of Rock caught up with Kenny Loggins at Lehi Roller Mills, he gave deeper insight into how the music was developed. This interview was conducted in the same space where scenes from the famous movie were filmed.
Pitchford has shared his account of teaming up with Loggins to write Footloose on several occasions over the years. And all of his versions lay out a series of unfortunate events that somehow led to creating one of the most memorable songs of the 80s. Here are some highlights from Pitchford’s tale. “Footloose was one of the most tortured journeys to a song that I’ve ever had,” (songwriteruniverse.com). As Pitchford tells it, his screenplay caught the attention of Paramount Pictures. The studio liked the idea of the Pitchford-Loggins collaboration on the music.
A Bad Case of the Broken Ribs
However, execs wanted to hear a song or two before they would greenlight the duo for the whole soundtrack. Loggins was to begin a tour in Asia five weeks later. So, the two hatched a workable song-writing plan. Then Loggins fell off the stage at a live performance in Utah and broke a couple ribs. He was completely out of commission.
By the Skin of their Teeth
As Loggins healed, the days were ticking by for Pitchford like a bomb with a timer about to explode. There was only one week to go before Loggins was off to Asia for months. Paramount was ready to get new music talent if the duo couldn’t deliver a demo of some sort before Kenny’s tour. Pitchford met Loggins at a Lake Tahoe hotel (where Loggins was performing nearby). Loggins on pain killers for his ribs, and Pitchford on meds for strep throat, willed themselves to complete the song in just a few days. And they pulled it off!
Bacon says it’s Ear Candy
While Pitchford’s facts aren’t disputed, Loggins focuses on the song’s production. Kevin Bacon dubbed the song ear candy. Bacon first heard the song as a raw cut that “was just Kenny on guitar.” Kevin remembers his surprise at hearing the finished version. When asked what question Bacon would most like to ask Loggins about the song, Bacon replied, “I guess my question for him is when he wrote that song, did he imagine all of the ear candy that went along with it? All the production. Because, from the demo, to what the record actually became, is like a giant, giant leap. That song…from start to finish is just ear candy…elements come in and you just go, ‘Oh that’s cool, and that’s cool, and that’s cool!’”
So, what was Loggins thinking about when he created the No. 1 song of March 1984? As Loggins recalls, “I wrote the song backstage on an acoustic guitar. And as I developed the idea, the production popped into my head.” It seems Loggins drew on all sorts of inspiration. “The drum group was based on a Bowie drum group, a song called ‘Modern Luck,’” he reveals. “I love the way that groove hit. Only, I turned it into a four-bar figure instead of a two-bar figure. And then, I built it out at sound check, since I was working the tune up. I would have the band play different parts, and gradually the song developed.”
Bringing it all Together
“The drum breakdown in the middle came about because the Siemens drums were new back then. It was the beginning of actual electronic drum pads, so I had Tris Imboden [the drummer on the track] work out a drum part, based on the Siemens sounds. And then we built the whole bridge out of that.” He further explains that the original groove of the song was based on the intro of the 1966 hit by Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels’ “Devil with a Blue Dress On.” Loggins says, “the 1-4-1 move is a pretty classic rock style.”
Building on Simplicity
When he felt a release was needed (the ooh, ooh, ooh), he thought about “Do You Love Me,” by The Contours, and “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. It’s that classic rock 1-4-1 move. Loggins says he has “always admired rock and roll songs that could build on the simplicity of a basic idea.” And he thinks the power of Footloose is because it doesn’t take a lot of left turns. It takes one strong idea—the chorus—and builds on that.
The Missing Demo Tape
As for the bare-bones demo that Bacon referenced, Loggins says, “I have no idea where that is, but you know, I do have a lot of old cassette tapes.” He contemplated going through them if he could ever find a cassette tape player. Then playfully reconsidered, “I’ll leave that in my Will, so my kids are strapped with that.”
Footloose, Not Your Average Chart Topper
For Footloose, song rankings are only part of this tune’s pop culture story. Yes, the song spent three consecutive weeks (March 31—April 14, 1984) in the number one spot of Billboard’s Hot 100 U.S. ranking. The song also reached No. 1 on weekly charts that year in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It breached the Top 10 on weekly charts in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, UK, and Austria. It landed on several 1984 year-end charts throughout the world, including its highest ranking of No. 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100. And Footloose was a Best Original Song nominee at the 1985 Academy Awards.
A Piece of History
At #9 Greatest Movie Soundtrack of all time (ranker.com), Footloose has become more than an 80s hit song. In fact, in 2018, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”
In 2011, Footloose was remade, and Blake Shelton covered the title track for the new film. Significantly, while Shelton could have changed up the song, he didn’t. As reported by The Boot back in 2011, Shelton says of the song, “It was rock at the time, but is pretty much what we hear on country radio today, so I knew that we didn’t have to stray that far away from the original.”
Shelton further paid tribute in a kind of if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it way. He recalled: “you have to remove yourself from it and step into the role of what’s best for the movie and that particular scene. There’s really only one way to approach it when you think of it that way. A fun, up tempo, catchy version just like Kenny Loggins did.”
Shelton’s version only reached No. 63 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 2011 but peaked at No. 35 on Canada’s Country chart that year. It hit No. 53 on the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart. Such cross-over appeal, particularly 27 years after the song’s original debut, is rare.
Kenny Loggins was no stranger to writing movie soundtracks when he accepted the Footloose project. After all, he had written four songs on the 1980 Caddyshack soundtrack. This included his immensely popular U.S. Top 10 single I’m Alright, the film’s theme song. But Loggins explains that the Footloose music was a very different proposition. “We wrote a couple of songs for the screenplay, but [the movie] hadn’t been filmed yet.”
Typically, as with Caddyshack, there will be a screening of the movie. And while it may be unfinished, the scenes provide the songwriter(s) with some very clear visuals to which to match their songs. “As opposed to what we normally do where you’ll go see a screening…and then we plug songs into scenes,” says Loggins, “with [Footloose] there was nothing to see. So we wrote basically to what we were imagining the scenes would become.” This may not have been the standard, but Loggins made it seem easy.
The Birth of MTV
Another trailblazing milestone for Footloose relates to a little television channel called MTV. MTV launched between the release of Caddyshack and Footloose. Pre-MTV there was no designated outlet for music-related videos. However, by 1984, when Footloose was released, MTV was two-and-a-half years into its heyday. Stephen Holden said it best in his real-time 1984 New York Times article about the indelible mark music videos were leaving on films. He wrote, “Suddenly, records, movies and video software have found themselves interrelated configurations of the same basic product.”
A New Kind of Advertising
And regarding Footloose specifically he said, “Footloose, which was consciously structured around this new relationship, is being aggressively cross-marketed by Paramount Pictures and Columbia Records. This is in expectation of a multimedia bonanza. The music-video of the title song, sung by Kenny Loggins and featuring clips from the movie, was prepared by Paramount. And it was heavily programmed by MTV. The video is almost indistinguishable in style from the movie’s saturation ad campaign being blitzed on the cable channel.” It was groundbreaking for the times.
His Gift Keeps on Giving
The popularity of Footloose the song, like the movie, has spanned more than three decades. From a reboot in a TV show like Glee (Season 4, Episode 15), or an iconic reference in a blockbuster film like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) there is no denying its place in pop culture. Such longevity mirrors the career of Loggins and Pitchford. These artists have no end in sight approaching the 50-year mark. If Loggins is “King of the Movie Soundtrack” we’re okay with that. Given his music legacy, he should be royalty.