Movies

What Made Kenny Loggins the Self-Proclaimed ‘King of Movie Soundtracks’ Album

Kenny Loggins is many things. He was one half of one of the most successful and critically lauded duos of the 1970’s (with Loggins and Messina), had a stellar solo career that has awarded him 12 platinum-selling albums and two Grammys. And he’s also got one of history’s greatest beards, easily ranking alongside Abraham Lincoln and the guys from ZZ Top, dense and powerful in a decidedly 1980’s way (like Ellis from “Die Hard“). He’s also the undisputed King of the Movie Soundtrack.

And how did he earn this title (which he totally embraces), exactly?

Well, let’s go back for a bit.

Soundtrack albums had been a part of the pop culture landscape since at least 1938, when Walt Disney, ever the ingenious businessman, put out an album accompanying his first feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Since then, albums have risen in the ranks, and in the 1970s and 1980s sometimes eclipsed the films that they were connected to, with breakout collections to “Saturday Night Fever,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Grease,” and “The Big Chill.” Some of these were collections of preexisting songs, others featured all new music, and some, like the work a singularly visionary Prince did for “Purple Rain” and “Batman,” expertly blurred the line between album and soundtrack.

But to be King of the Movie Soundtrack, you have to be somebody like Loggins — an unabashed populist whose solo fame rose in parallel to the cinematic movements of the 1980s which favored flash and polish over the “big themes” and sociological commentary of the 1970s. Here, Loggins flourished. And he didn’t just flourish on a single chart-topping soundtrack, but he contributed to several huge soundtracks, embracing disparate genres and styles. But one thing connects all of these accomplishments, and it’s Loggins’ clever songwriting and honeyed vocals. He can really sing.

His first breakthrough came in 1980, with “I’m Alright,” the theme from “Caddyshack,” the outré, National Lampoon-connected golf comedy starring Bill Murray. Eschewing one of the more obnoxious trends of the 1980s soundtrack song (recounting specifics from the movie’s plot), Loggins instead crafted a timeless gem of a pop song which, instead of referring to anything to the film, simply recreated its anarchic, freewheeling style. This song is a masterpiece, sonically speaking (listen to that nifty breakdown around the 1:50 mark), and just so much fun. You can easily imagine a rascally gopher dancing to it.

The song would also set the high-water mark for the rest of his soundtrack career — which is saying something, given what was to come. And what’s more, he did three other songs for “Caddyshack.” How epic is that? They range from the schmaltzy (“Lead the Way”) to the adventurously awesome — “Make the Move,” whose first minute is ambient echo-y goodness and serves as a companion to “I’m Alright” — to the outright funky (“Mr. Night”). Seriously, it’s mind-blowing how awesome his contributions to “Caddyshack” were, especially if they were the building blocks for his entire Kingdom. (Elsewhere on the soundtrack is Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” because of course it is.)

In 1984, his next soundtrack sensation would be unleashed. Loggins’ friend, Dean Pitchford, was working on a movie for Paramount. He gave the script to Loggins and asked if he’d write a couple of songs for the eventual movie. Loggins did, including the title track — “Footloose” — thinking that the movie might not even happen. Of course, it did, and Loggins’ contributions would eventually reach a kind of pop culture immortality. (Loggins still closes his live shows with the title track.)

That song is just perfect, again summing up the energy and vibe of the movie, and the second contribution “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man),” has a darker musical palette and does well to recreate the moody teenage undercurrent of the film. (The music video is even more atmospheric.) “I’m Free” scores one of the most emotional moments of the movie and is just as good as the title track, which makes it underrated, especially in the Great Soundtrack Songbook of Kenny Loggins.

Two years later, Loggins would contribute perhaps his most well-known soundtrack songs for the Tom Cruise action classic “Top Gun.” But are you ready to have your mind blown? Loggins wasn’t even supposed to sing “Danger Zone.” It originally existed as a demo that electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder composed with songwriter Tom Whitlock, at the insistence of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. (They were looking for something to get the audience fired up during the opening montage.)

The producers approached a number of artists, including Toto, Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon and Corey Hart (!), all of whom turned the collaboration down for a number of reasons (Adams thought the film glorified war, for example). Finally, it fell to Loggins, who Paramount knew and liked from “Footloose,” who absolutely crushed it. Loggins also contributed a song of his own to the film, “Playing with the Boys,” which ran during the unintentionally homoerotic beach volleyball sequence. (Interestingly, this song was repurposed for a much more hetero-normative beach volleyball movie, “Side Out,” in 1990.) While not an out-and-out masterpiece like “Danger Zone” (hey, it’s missing that Moroder magic), it’s still a terrific song and, along with “Danger Zone” and a number of other A+ cuts from bands like Cheap Trick and Berlin, propelled the “Top Gun” soundtrack to the top of the charts. It was the best-selling soundtrack of 1986.

A year after “Top Gun,” Loggins returned to the soundtrack fold once more for “Meet Me Half Way” from the regrettable Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling child custody drama, “Over the Top.” I have no idea how Loggins got involved and the movie is really awful. But here’s the thing — the song kicks ass. It’s deeply soulful and awesome and has an agreeably cheesy guitar solo. Sometimes it sounds like a lost Chicago song from that same period. This is not a bad thing.

“Meet Me Half Way” cemented one of the central themes of the Loggins Soundtrack Legacy — the movie doesn’t have to be good (or even watchable) for the accompanying song to be transcendent …

Speaking of which, in 1988, a year after his “Over the Top” experience, Loggins returned to the “Caddyshack” franchise with “Nobody’s Fool.” “Caddyshack II” was an unmitigated disaster, from Chevy Chase being the only actor willing to return, to the original director being fired during production. But one thing it did have was a crackerjack Kenny Loggins song. “Nobody’s Fool” isn’t quite on the same level of “I’m Alright” (or any of the other Loggins contributions to the first soundtrack) and it does the cardinal sin of incorporating the movie’s annoying tagline (“Back to the Shack,” a favorite of producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters) into the lyrics, but it’s still pretty great. For the first time, Loggins was in danger of letting the shellacked production overtake his velvety vocals — but it never quite gets to that point. The whole thing is, like every other Loggins soundtrack joint, soaring and majestic, like some kind of endangered eagle.

And, as the 1980s came to a close, Loggins found himself perched atop the soundtrack landscape like he did at the beginning of the decade: singing a really catchy song for a movie that involved an animatronic gopher. This would ultimately be the close of his soundtrack domination, although he has returned to the fold periodically, penning a song for the sugary George ClooneyMichelle Pfieffer romantic comedy “One Fine Day” (“For the First Time”) and working with the legendary Sherman Brothers for “Your Heart Will Lead You Home” from “The Tigger Movie.”

Also, in 2016, he wrote and recorded a satirical anti-Trump song called “The Art of the Dealfor Funny or Die. Unsurprisingly, it’s amazing and gleefully taps into the sound of his 1980s soundtrack hits. Even after all this time, the highway to the Danger Zone is leading him home.

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