The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs from Broadway Musicals and Hollywood Movies…Some #2/250: Footloose by Kenny Loggins

Footloose was a movie that debuted in 1984. It starred Kevin Bacon as a young teenage boy from Chicago who ends up moving to a small midwest town. Once there, he learns that his big city upbringing doesn’t translate well to this small community that functions under the authority of a local pastor played by John Lithgow. As many of you know by now, the movie’s plot line comes to a head when Bacon convinces some of his new high school friends that dancing is fun and that they have the right to hold a Prom, just like any other high school in America. Lithgow, who preaches that dancing to rock n’ roll music is akin to worshiping the Devil, unleashes his fury upon Bacon and attempts to paint him as an evil outsider coming to turn their peaceful town upside down. Eventually, Lithgow’s own daughter chooses to side with Bacon and Lithgow is forced to choose between his love for her or his rigid ideology. In the end, there is music and dance and a grudging respect shown between Bacon and Lithgow. The end.

Sometimes a movie is merely an entertaining tale told on screen. But, sometimes a movie is more than that. That Footloose was released in 1984 was no fluke. In fact, it was part of a carefully-crafted business plan developed by a man named Dean Pitchford, who had earned a lot of Hollywood credibility from writing the music and script for the film, Fame, a few years earlier. The early 1980s saw the rise of video music channel MTV, and the proliferation of a promotional tool known as music videos. In order to capitalize on that emerging trend, Pitchford wrote a nine-song soundtrack and pitched that soundtrack as a movie idea. Pitchford’s idea was to create a story that was told through nine very different, stand-alone songs. He said that he wasn’t writing a musical in the truest sense of the word but, instead, he was writing a film whose story was being told through music. The soundtrack that eventually ended up forming the backbone of the film, Footloose, spawned numerous #1 hit songs such as the title track (sung by Kenny Loggins), Let’s Hear It For The Boy (sung by Denice Williams), Holding Out For a Hero (by Bonnie Tyler), Almost Paradise (by Ann Wilson, from Heart and Mike Reno from Loverboy) and several others, as well. The soundtrack album went to #1, knocking Michael Jackson’s Thriller from the top spot on the charts. Furthermore, the songs were written and recorded before any filming took place which was advantageous for the actors because it meant that they were dancing on screen to the actual songs from the soundtrack, as opposed to dancing to pre-designed choreography and then having the music adapted to the film later in post-production.

The song, Footloose, was written by Pitchford, along with help from Kenny Loggins. The story behind their collaboration was that “Hollywood” would not approve the budget to begin filming the movie until Pitchford had acquired the services of Loggins to sing the title track. A meeting was scheduled between them and all looked good until news came out that Kenny Loggins had fallen off of a stage during a concert and broken his ribs. Because of the timing of the injury…with Hollywood executives breathing down his neck and a world tour in the offing for Loggins, Pitchford asked Loggins if they could meet on the weekend that Loggins was scheduled to get married. Loggins agreed. However, when that weekend came, Pitchford developed strep throat and required medication in order to protect Loggins’ throat from becoming infected on the eve of a world tour. Loggins, on his end, was taking painkillers for his injured ribs and could not play sitting down. Somehow, the pair managed to flesh out the chorus and main ideas for each verse and Loggins was able to record a sample-type version on a tape recorder in Pitchford’s hotel room. That cassette tape contained enough proof of Loggins’ commitment to the project that the movie budget was approved and the project was given the go-ahead. This collaboration proved so successful that Pitchford and Loggins teamed up again a couple of years later for the song Danger Zone, from the soundtrack of a little film called Top Gun. This was another movie in which the soundtrack came first and formed the core of the movie pitch, before a single word of the script was written.

At the time of its release, Footloose was given only mixed reviews as far as the quality of the movie, itself, went. But, one of the most enduring elements of the film was its exploration of the old saying that “all politics are local”. Released in an era that saw the commercial potential of music videos exploding across the nation, Footloose explored the idea that there are more parts to the country than people may realize that are isolated and insulated from national trends. In these small communities, there can be individuals with powerful personalities who gain prominence by being elected as Mayor or Sheriff or as head of the local School Board or Church and, as such they come to wield an inordinate amount of influence over the lives of the citizens of that community. Such happenings are not just the work of Hollywood screenwriters. One has only to look to the most recent history of the US to see how the local politics of School Boards, Library Boards and so on, are where much of the momentum for book banning and the fight against sexual ideology are coming from. In an effort to reorient an entire nation, battles are being fought from the public squares and town halls of local communities…all occupied by zealots who believe in the purity of their cause and are willing to browbeat anyone who dares to think differently. When you think about it that way, that is the exact plot of Footloose in a nutshell. Kevin Bacon was vilified as an outsider who was trying to foist progressive views upon the citizens of a small town. The powers that be in that town fought back against him so as to preserve their traditional way of life. In the end, Bacon’s progressive views held the day but, will that be the case across America in real time today? The attack on so-called progressive values such as racial equality, social justice, freedom of sexual orientation, women’s reproductive rights, issues of gender and so on are all under threat in the US as you read this post. These are troubled times for many in America and I am not sure if dancing will be enough to save them and the causes that progressives champion. To paraphrase the Footloose soundtrack, many are holding out for a hero. But, who will that hero end up being?

The link to the video for the song, Footloose, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Footloose can be found here.

The link to the video for the movie trailer to the film Footloose can be found here.

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Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

2 thoughts on “The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs from Broadway Musicals and Hollywood Movies…Some #2/250: Footloose by Kenny Loggins”

  1. Too had a dance wouldn’t clear up some of the worlds problems today !
    Great movie , soundtrack and very interesting back story ❤️

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