Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kenny Loggins - Footloose And Fancy Free

Kenny Loggins had already collaborated with composer Dean Pitchford on his 1982 album ‘High Adventure’ for the soaring arena rocker ‘Don’t Fight It’.  For two years Pitchford (who had won an Oscar in 1980 for co-writing ‘Fame’) had been working on the script and music for a proposed motion picture musical.  He’d already decided that he wanted Loggins involved in the recording process for one or more tracks, and if possible the title track.  The two consulted each other regularly, including in between tour dates for Loggins.  It was on one of those tour dates that Loggins met with mishap and fell off a stage in Utah, fracturing several ribs.  Loggins recovered enough to continue the tour, but was also aware that there was a fast approaching deadline to pen and record a title track for the proposed movie project.  Meanwhile, Pitchford had come down with a serious bronchial infection.  And so it was that both writers, in not the best of health, collaborated over a period of four days (between concert dates for Loggins), and penned the title track for the film ‘Footloose’.  To test the waters as it were, Loggins performed the newly crafted song on his next few dates, and the song was very well received.  The pair knew they were on a winner.

The motion picture ‘Footloose’ hit cinemas in early 1984.  It was one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year.  The basic premise for the film was a young man Ren McCormack (played by Kevin Bacon) arrives in a small town with hopes and dreams beyond the boundaries of the conservative environment he finds himself in. Dancing and rock music has been banned by an over zealous town hierarchy.  Ren falls in love with the local Reverend’s daughter  Ariel (played by Lori Singer), and decides to defy the town’s conservative ways and dance till his feet won’t dance no more.  Eventually he prevails and dancing and rock music win the day.  The film’s theme song needed to embody the rebellious energy and spirit of the lead character.  Kenny Loggins’ ‘Footloose’ managed to do just that with it’s thumping percussion track, surging guitar riff, and inspiring vocals.  ‘Footloose’ bopped its way on to the U.S. Hot 100 in mid February of ‘84, and by the end of March had rocketed to #1, displacing Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ in the process.  As ‘Footloose’ the motion picture set box office records, the title track single spent three weeks at the pinnacle of the U.S. charts, and by May of ‘84 had done likewise on the Australian charts (UK#6).  ‘Footloose’ went on to become the 27th biggest selling song of all time from a motion picture.  It was eventually replaced at #1 by Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)’ - not for the last time would Loggins be held off the #1 position by a Genesis connection.  Incidentally, for the first time during the rock music era, all five songs nominated for an Oscar for Best Song were #1 U.S. hits - ‘Against All Odds’ (Phil Collins); ‘Purple Rain’ (Prince); ‘Ghostbusters’ (Ray Parker Jr. - see previous post); ‘Footloose’ (Kenny Loggins); and the eventual Oscar winner ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ (from ‘The Woman In Red’) by Stevie Wonder.  The ‘Footloose’ soundtrack also contained another Kenny Loggins track, the uplifting rock number ‘I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man)’ - in my humble opinion a better track than ‘Footloose’.

Following the mammoth success of ‘Footloose’, Kenny Loggins took time out to write some new material for what would be his first full album of new material in nearly three years.  The album ‘Vox Humana’ (Latin for ‘human voice’), hit stores during April of ‘85, alongside the title track single (US#29) - which had more than a faint echo of ‘Footloose’ about it.  The second single, ‘I’ll Be There’ (US#88), was nothing to write home about, though the guitar riff was catchy enough.  The third single, ‘Forever’ (US#40/OZ#94), was a tender ballad co-written with David Foster - Loggins later noted that the track had been translated into a dozen or more languages, several of which versions he’d sung on tour.  Other highlights on the ‘Vox Humana’ (US#41) album included the synth-pop number ‘No Lookin’ Back’, and the similarly synth laced ‘I’m Gonna Do It Right’ - everyone else was using synthesizers, so why should Kenny miss out.

With the credits in the film theme bank accumulated from ‘Footloose’, Kenny Loggins was a name in demand in Hollywood.  The producers of a new Tom Cruise action vehicle contacted Loggins and asked if he’d be interested in lending his voice to one of the proposed singles associated with the film.  This time Loggins wouldn’t be needed to co-write the track (quite a change for an artist used to penning his own material), as that work had already been done by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock.  All that was required was for he to turn up at the studio and deliver the same impassioned rock vocal performance heard on the ‘Footloose’ soundtrack.  With producer Giorgio Moroder overseeing things, Loggins did his part behind the microphone, the result being the supersonic ‘Danger Zone’ from the motion picture ‘Top Gun’.  Whilst the soundtrack delivered up one chart topping hit - Berlin’s emotive ballad ‘Take My Breath Away’ - Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ went mighty, mighty close to soaring to the same heights.  Instead it was held at #2 (OZ#14/UK#45) by another Genesis connection - Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ and Genesis’ ‘Invisible Touch’.  Regardless, ‘Danger Zone’ became one of the most recognisable motion picture hit songs of the 80s, further enhancing Kenny Loggins’ reputation as the go to man for motion picture soundtracks.

The same combination of Moroder /Whitlock (composers), Moroder (producer), and Loggins (vocalist) joined forces once more on the soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone film ‘Over The Top’ in 1987.  ‘Meet Me Halfway’ was a slower tempo, more ‘balladish’ number, and found enough appeal among movie goers to peak at #11 on the U.S. charts mid year.  The track ended up being included on Loggins’ next album of original material, released in mid ‘88.  The lead out single was yet another movie related affair, this time as the theme song from the film ‘Caddyshack II’ - a logical move given Loggins’ successful outing with the first film.  ‘Nobody’s Fool’ (US#8) was a raucous, arena rocker that packed a sonic punch from the get go.  I recall purchasing the single on vinyl 45 and playing it relentlessly, especially enjoying the middle refrain featuring beautifully layered vocal harmonies.  So much did I enjoy playing ‘Nobody’s Fool’ that I all but wore out the grooves on the vinyl single.  I eventually tracked down an imported copy of the CD album (that was before the days of downloading - which yes I admit is easier, quicker, and cheaper), ‘Back To Avalon’ (US#69).  The album’s second single was a curious take of the Exciters’ 60s hit ‘Tell Her’ (US#76), whilst single #3 was the largely forgettable ‘I’m Gonna Miss You’ (US#82) which all but missed the Hot 100.  It’s not that ‘Back To Avalon’ was a bad album, but it was a meandering affair that detoured from the heart and soul of Kenny Loggins’ previous material.

Regardless, by the close of the 80s, Kenny Loggins had gained a well deserved reputation as the ‘king’ of the movie soundtrack.  Despite substantial chart success in the U.S. and Australia, like so many A.O.R. artists, significant success in Britain eluded Loggins.  That lack of chart success would continue to be a growing trend in Loggins’ career as the 90s dawned.

A three year hiatus occurred between the release of 1988’s ‘Back To Avalon’ and the next Loggins’ album, 1991’s ‘Leap Of Faith’ (US#71).  Part of the reason for the gap could be explained by Loggins undergoing a divorce in the interim.  The album reveals a much more reflective and introspective Loggins, lyrics wise, and a more mellow, approachable style of music.  Though the album didn’t yield any Hot 100 hit singles, it did make an impact on the ‘adult contemporary’ charts with three separate top ten entries.  The gently flowing ‘If You Believe’ (#9) was co-written by Loggins with George Harrison, Steve Wood, and Gary Wright.  ‘The Real Thing’ (#5) was a collaboration between Loggins and David Foster, the lyrics of which had been inspired by Loggins’ daughter.  The majestic ‘Conviction Of The Heart’ (#9) was declared by U.S. Vice President Al Gore as being the ‘unofficial anthem’ of the environmental movement.  Loggins performed the song live on Earth Day 1995 before an estimated audience of 500,000.

1993 and it was time for another live album, but this time with a difference.  ‘Outside: From The Redwoods’ (US#60) was Kenny Loggins’ version of an ‘unplugged’ affair, and included a mix of solo hits and hits from the Loggins & Messina era.  Michael McDonald guests on a version of ‘What A Fool Believes’.  Gone are the synthesizers and raucous guitar work of recent outings, with a return to a more organic, home grown feel to proceedings.

Kenny Loggins career, in a way, came full circle with his 1994 album ‘Return To Pooh Corner’ (US#65 - #7 Kids Album).  As Loggins recalls in the liner notes to his 1997 Greatest Hits CD - “I originally wrote ‘House At Pooh Corner’ when I was supposed to be studying for finals as a high school senior.  It was my farewell to childhood.”  The song was recorded by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band way back in 1971.  The title track ‘Return To Pooh Corner’ (#25 US Adult Contemporary) was a return to the spirit of that original song, and headed up an album of songs recorded for children to enjoy.  Other tracks included covers of ‘Rainbow Connection’, John Lennon’s ‘Love’, and Paul Simon’s ‘St. Judy’s Comet’.  The album confirmed just what a versatile performer Kenny Loggins had become.

1996 saw Loggins return to soundtrack duties on the ballad ‘For The First Time’, produced by Peter Asher, and featured in the George Clooney/Michelle Pfeiffer romantic comedy ‘One Fine Day’.  In keeping with the romance theme, Kenny Loggins’ next album of original material surfaced in 1997 under the title ‘The Unimaginable Life’ (US#107).  Whilst the 1991 ‘Leap Of Faith’ album dealt with the aftermath of Loggins’ divorce, this album immersed itself in the courting and marrying of the new love in his life.  Loggins has a strong hand in most of the writing credits, though his new wife Julia contributes, along with the likes of Jonathan Butler, Babyface, and David Foster.  At the time, Loggins referred to the album as “the most ambitious, artistic undertaking of my career”.  Maybe he was caught up in the moment there, but the album does offer up a genuine insight into Loggins the artist, and the man.  Some might call it self indulgent but a companion book of the same name was also released, chronicling the Loggins’ love affair.

Over the ensuing decade or more, Kenny Loggins has continued to demonstrate his versatility as both writer and performer, releasing two Christmas themed albums (‘December’, ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ - mixing original with traditional material), and another two children’s albums, ‘All Join In’, and ‘More Songs From Pooh Corner’ - what a busy little corner that must be.  2003 witnessed the return of Kenny Loggins the adult contemporary artist on the album ‘It’s About Time’, featuring guest appearance from old friends Michael McDonald and Richard Marx.  After a few years sabbatical, and a change of facial hair style, Loggins returned in 2008 with ‘How About Now’, a melding of his roots in folk rock, with country tinged rock thrown in for good measure on the track ‘I’m A Free Man Now’.

Though having a recording career spanning 40 years, it still seems apparent to this author that the name Kenny Loggins will forever be associated primarily with those huge soundtrack hits of the 80s.  No bad thing necessarily, but it bears remembering the versatility and complexity of the artist behind those songs.

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