17 February, 1984
Elmore City, Oklahoma was God-fearing, rural and remote, so much so that it was only in early 1980 that a 1889 law banning dancing in public was finally repealed. Even those who supported the ban had to admit that the feared tide of licentiousness did not materialise.
Hawaiian-born songwriter Dean Pitchford was intrigued by the story. An idea for a film was soon coalescing in his mind, and he pieced together a script for a movie rather like the ones that once emanated from AIP Pictures – titles brazenly directed at the teen market, such as Shake, Rattle & Rock! and Beach Party. Every well-worked cliché was utilised – including a ‘chicken’ run, during which two romantic rivals drove tractors at each other in a battle of nerves. Those who recalled the ploy being used way back in Rebel Without A Cause just yawned.
Nine Million Copies Sold
But Pitchford knew his market and had been Oscar-nominated for his songwriting on Alan Parker’s musical Fame. Producers Craig Zadan and Daniel Melnick, aware of how lucrative the link between films made for young audiences and soundtracks could be, backed him to the hilt. The result was Footloose, a teen drama whose soundtrack sold more than nine million copies in the US alone. Pitchford co-wrote nine songs for the film, six of which proved major hits and two of those hitting Number 1.
“As soon as picture went into production, I began working on all the songs for the soundtrack,” he recalled. Pitchford set about collaborating with a number of sympathetic co-writers to shape songs for specific scenes. “One of the most difficult recordings to co-ordinate was Almost Paradise, the film’s ‘Love Theme’,” he revealed. A duet featuring Mike Reno from Canadian rockers Loverboy and Heart’s Ann Wilson, it had to be recorded during the twosome’s busy schedules. Reno flew into Chicago for the studio date moments before the airport was shut down prior to an approaching storm, but Wilson was a no-show, having broken her wrist after fallen over in a hotel room. When she belatedly made it, recalls Pitchford, “she refused pain-killers because she knew they would mess up her voice.” She duetted with Reno with her arm in a sling and was rewarded with a Top 10 single.
“Kenny Loggins walked off a darkened stage and broke several ribs.”
There were other events more suited to the emergency room than the recording studio. After Pitchford and Kenny Loggins had written the film’s title song, Loggins walked off a darkened stage at a Provo, Utah gig and broke several ribs. When the injured Loggins arrived at Pitchford’s hotel for more work on the title number, Pitchford was himself running a temperature of 103 degrees and trying to disguise the fact that he had a strep throat. Even so, Loggins’ recording of the song was the soundtrack’s first chart-topping single. Other problems emerged with Let’s Hear It For The Boy, a song Pitchford co-penned with Tom Snow. Deniece Williams’ performance had to be re-recorded, as “it was too girlish”. Williams, who was playing a gig in New York, had to fly back to Los Angeles and cut a new version in just 20 minutes. It would prove to be the biggest song of her career, reaching Number 1. The tally of successes grew as Holding Out For A Hero, sung by Jim Steinman’s then-protégé Bonnie Tyler, charted, as did Shalamar’s Dancing In The Sheets. By April 1984, Footloose’s soundtrack was Number 1 in the US.
Apart from the music, much of the film’s appeal was laid at the dancing feet of Kevin Bacon, who’d grabbed the prime role of Ren McCormack, the cool teen hero who falls for the local minister’s daughter, portrayed by Lori Singer following Madonna’s foiled attempt to land the role. But those teenage fans whose memory of Footloose are based on Bacon’s jiving display have since been dismayed by their vest-dressed hero’s revelation that, though he performed the majority of dancing in the film, in the famous warehouse scene, “I had a stunt double, a dance double and two gymnastic doubles. There were five of us in the fucking outfit and I felt horrible.”
The film has enjoyed a long afterlife; in 2011 it was remade with Kenny Wormald in the lead role, while a plethora of Ren McCormacks strut their stuff for stage versions on YouTube. As for Dean Pitchford, he’s still busy. A winner of an Oscar and a Golden Globe award, these days he’s making waves as a novelist, writing the well-received Nickel Bay Nick, published in October 2013.