How Kenny Loggins Became the Soundtrack King
It's no surprise that because of the soundtrack success Kenny Loggins enjoyed in the '80s and beyond, he ended up with an entire chapter of his new memoir devoted to the subject.
You know about Caddyshack, Footloose and Top Gun. But there are also some layers of Loggins' cinematic adventures that aren't as well known, like American Gigolo, Flashdance, A Star is Born.
A film buff since he was a kid, the singer-songwriter weaves together a lot of fascinating history regarding his movie work in the pages of Still Alright, his new memoir that arrives June 14. During a Zoom conversation with UCR, he delved into some additional topics related to the songs.
You're having a fresh moment with "Danger Zone," which is great timing for your book. The way the pandemic kept pushing the Top Gun: Maverick release further and further lines up nicely.
That’s right in alignment with everything in the book, where I just happened to be down the street and they need a singer for “Danger Zone” and shit like that. It’s like the god of money is sitting beside me. [Laughs] What can we do now?
What do you remember feeling after the original version was recorded?
I was really happy with how it came out. I mention in the book that I was very into Tina Turner at the time and the way she pronounced things. Her gospel and R&B history, combining with her love of Rod Stewart and the modern rock and roll at the time created a level of intense R&B rock and roll. I mean, name three other acts that do it anywhere near as intensely as she did it. That’s what I was trying to bring to “Danger Zone.” When I listen to it now, I hear myself go, “DAYN-ger ZOH-ahn,” in that total Tina accent. I think it’s funny, but it works in that song. It’s a character for the song.
Watch the Video for 'Danger Zone' by Kenny Loggins
You recorded a new version of "Danger Zone." What did you rediscover about the song as a result of that?
One of the things that the original song felt like to me, it was like a big mono [recording]. I really wanted to re-record the song to capture that 5.0 surround thing that theaters are doing. I wanted to use that huge theater sound system in the mix itself. I didn’t get to, because Tom [Cruise] was so in love with the original version. He really wanted to use that as the marker for bringing the audience fully focused back to that original vibe. It really works, I mean, the way he did it, putting it in the opening of the scene. So if there’s a third Top Gun someday, it will probably be in the opening of that movie. They’re all going to want to hearken back to the original.
But what I learned from the original, I learned that my voice was higher 36 years ago or whatever it is. It was a harder song to sing now in the original key and in the original way. We took the original vocal and put it on two tracks. I sent that to my left ear and I sent my voice now to my right ear. I [tried] to emulate myself until I found exactly where in my throat I was singing from, so I could come as close to that voice as possible. I think it’s pretty good. I had to use like five guitars to get that vibe that the original had with only one guitar.
Giorgio Moroder had the bulk of the original "Danger Zone" completed when you came in to sing it. Did you take any creative license with this new version?
Yes. When I was working with [producer] Tom Whitlock and he showed me what they had, I felt like I just wanted to bring more of a Police vibe to it, chordally. So I added a lot of two chords, open voicing things, where they just had like 1-4-5. I added all of the inversions and then we extended the bridge out.
How much were you inspired by the Police back in the day?
They brought a musicality to that kind of rock and roll. They weren’t anywhere [like the later] grunge thing. They weren’t the Foo Fighters. They had a very clean, but aggressive rock thing where they could cluster chords together and you would hear more notes than just ones and fives. That’s what I wanted to bring to [the new version of] “Danger Zone.”
I loved the anecdote that you never saw the second Caddyshack movie. How easy was it by that point to write a soundtrack song? Was "Nobody's Fool" an easy, formulaic Loggins soundtrack song to turn out from your perspective?
No, I knew that I wanted [something different]. When Jon Peters asked me to write the theme for the second one, I didn’t want to do a parody of “I’m Alright.” I didn’t want to do an imitation of that. I decided I would try to write a rock song in the modality of pop/rock songs at that time. So it’s very much influenced by Foreigner, you know that high vocal [Loggins sings the section] “I’m going all the way,” it's very ‘80s soprano rock singer guy. I hate the fact that it’s that high now. [Laughs] Because it’s so difficult to reproduce. But I can do it. I’ve been working on it. It’s challenging. But the song was not formulaic for me, because it was way out of my wheelhouse. I wasn’t used to writing in that style. But once I got the right players in the room, it was really fun to put together.
Watch the Video for 'Nobody's Fool' by Kenny Loggins
You certainly had a knack already for recording a good pop single. How much do you think working on soundtrack songs helped you to further hone that skill? What did you take away from the experience?
It really gave me the freedom to mess with genres. I had the beginning of “I’m Alright” in my hands and I remember showing it to Tris [Imboden], my drummer and he was like, “Oh, that sounds okay.” It was not like, “Oh my God, that’s a hit, you’d better finish it.” Because it’s really, the chorus is one chord. It’s D7 to D, to D7 to D. It’s like, how did I get away with that? I remember thinking that “Footloose” was way out of my normal vibe. It was not what I would have written for Kenny Loggins. The movies gave me freedom to be somebody else. In that freedom, I could write in whatever genre I felt was appropriate for the movie. So in a way, I loved and I miss that kind of freedom in my own writing. I think I’ve tried to bring it into what I do since then. Part of the fun of being a collaborator is that I can now let go of whoever I think I’m supposed to be and move into the vibe of my collaboration. I become an extension of the person I’m working with.
I talked to someone once who was handed a song title to write a song for a soundtrack. That's a great challenge.
Right? And to me, you see, too often they want something spot on. They want something that’s too literal to the movie. I liked to go [against the grain]. American Gigolo, originally I was going to have a part in that process because John Travolta was the original guy they wanted for it. The original scene was a tender love scene between a male prostitute and an older woman. The scene was not a sweet love song, even though visually, they were filming it that way. I wanted to go crossgrain and I wrote a thing called “Love Has Come of Age,” which in my mind, was a sort of bump and grind, Stevie Wonder type of thing. The song came out really good, but they totally changed their minds and didn’t even want to hear anything. But I like the idea of the sort of oil and water vibe where you go crossgrain and you don’t write a literal song to the scene. You try to extend the scene out in some other way. That’s part of the challenge of writing music for movies.
Watch the Video for 'Footloose' by Kenny Loggins