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Kenny Loggins talks autobiography, addiction and that unexpectedly iconic 'Top Gun' volleyball scene

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·10 min read
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Kenny Loggins’s new autobiography Still Alright chronicles his entire career, from his days as one-half of Loggins & Messina through that duo’s revival via the stranger-than-non-fiction satire series Yacht Rock. And in between, there’s a whole hefty chapter titled “At the Movies” — because in the 1980s, when Loggins went solo, he was basically the soundtrack GOAT of the decade. “Writing for the movies gave me the freedom to write in any style I wanted to, because I didn't feel that I had to stick with anything I'd previously done,” he says, speaking to Yahoo Entertainment for our Under the Covers series. “I guess I've just been naive enough to believe that I could sing in any style, so that allowed me to do it.”

Loggins was the first male solo artist to chart four top 10 singles off four different soundtracks — “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, “Nobody’s Fool” from Caddyshack II, the theme from Footloose, and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun, the latter of which is experiencing a resurgence due to the massive success of the new sequel Top Gun: Maverick. “I love what's happening, of course, with ‘Danger Zone’ and Top Gun, that all of a sudden it's streaming a million streams a day, which is amazing. I didn't feel that it had the kind of showcase that the original did in the first movie, but apparently it does, because, there's still a real strong reaction to it,” says Loggins.

However, there’s another classic song and scene from the original Top Gun that also elicits strong reactions to this day: Loggins’s cult favorite “Playing With the Boys.” The upbeat, aerobics-worthy bop scored the movie’s (perhaps unintentionally) homoerotic beach volleyball match featuring an oiled-up, shirtless Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer — a scene that was a sexual awakening for both gay boys and straight girls of the ‘80s, and was later parodied on Family Guy, American Dad!, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But amazingly, Loggins never thought that scene would be a standout moment in Top Gun. In fact, he specifically pitched to write for the volleyball scene because he thought he had no shot at writing for the opening sequence that eventually featured his other soundtrack contribution, “Danger Zone.”

“My co-producer and I, Peter Wolf — not the Peter Wolf from J. Geils! — we were watching a screening of Top Gun. There were a lot of acts coming to different screenings to write music for the movie, and so I figured the competition would be stiff and plentiful,” Loggins explains. “We got to the volleyball scene, and I turned to Peter and said, ‘We have to write for this one, because we won't have any competition!’ It seemed to me that nobody would write for the volleyball scene. I saw it as a secondary scene to the movie, just a little fluffy moment. That it took on a life of its own was not anticipated.”

“Playing With the Boys” went on to become an unexpected club hit and a Pride anthem. “Sometimes songs are adopted in ways that you never see coming,” says Loggins. “I think lyrically for me, it was a metaphor for the dangers of being in a relationship: ‘Said it was the wrong thing for me to do/I said it's just a boys' game, but girls play too.’ There's a line in there about how in this kind of game, people get hurt. I'm thinking that was a message that I'm not going to play that game. But apparently that message that I wrote in that lyric has nothing to do with how people hear the song!”

Loggins recently recut “Playing With the Boys” with a queer female perspective for Top Gun: Maverick, teaming with Australian singer-songwriter Butterfly Boucher. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be a great shock to them and could be a really great approach, because she's a rocker.’ Unfortunately, they didn't use it in the movie, but you should check it out if you get a chance — it's still very much in that ethos of… what we're celebrating this [Pride] month,” he says.

Another fun fact about Loggins and Top Gun was he was far from the first choice to sing “Danger Zone”: Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin, and Mickey Thomas of Starship were among the many in the running for the job. It was Loggins’s work on “Playing With the Boys” that brought him to the attention of “Danger Zone” producer/composer Giorgio Moroder at the last minute — giving Loggins another chance to fully rock out and further distance himself from his ‘70s soft-rock persona.

“The lawyers had screwed it up, and suddenly Giorgio found himself with a song he had to dub into the movie in like three days, being ‘Danger Zone’ — and no singer for it. And he heard that I was in the studio down the street, working on ‘Playing With the Boys.’ So, he called me and said, ‘Are you interested?’ And I just asked one question, which was: ‘Is it a rocker? Because I need something uptempo for my show.’ And he assured me that it rocked,” Loggins recalls. “Two days later, I'm in Giorgio’s studio, and he and I worked on the tune vocally. My inspiration for my vocal approach was Tina Turner, because I wanted to have that edgy thing that she was developing — her new rock persona with that classic R&B voice that she had pushed into more of a Rod Stewart direction. So, when I got to do ‘daaaangerrr zonnnne,’ I did definitely my version of Tina.”

Moroder had of course already just experienced Oscar-winning success with the theme from Flashdance, and shortly after that, Loggins penned the theme for a movie that could be considered Flashdance’s male-driven counterpart: Footloose. (Anther fun film fact: Two of Loggins’s reference points for “Footloose” was David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and Mitch Ryder’s “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”) Loggins was actually also supposed to write a song for Flashdance, but like the above-mentioned Butterfly Boucher remake of “Playing With the Boys,” that was another rare missed opportunity.

“I never actually finished [the proposed Flashdance song]. It was a song that I called ‘No Dancing Allowed’ — before I fully realized that [concept] was exactly Footloose!” Loggins chuckles. Loggins at first turned down film producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s offer to write a song for Flashdance because Bruckheimer’s deadline conflicted with his busy touring schedule; however, when Loggins found himself at home due to a stage injury that derailed his tour, he decided to revisit the idea.

“I took one step too many over to the stage-left and fell off the stage, spun around backwards in mid-air and hit the packing cases that were on the floor behind us and broke three ribs. I went home and they gave me plenty of painkillers,” Loggins recalls. “And while I was on the painkillers, I suddenly believed that I could go in the studio, because I'm not on tour anymore and I feel ‘fine.’ So, why not just finish the song and go in the studio and write it and record a song for Flashdance? I did record a track, and it was coming out good… and then I realized that I cut it in a key that was too high for me because I was too damned stoned to think about what key the damn song was in! So, it was too high. And after about three days in the studio, I realized I really was in pain. I really did have broken ribs. I was just a little too Percodan’d out. And I just said, ‘OK, I'm throwing in the towel. I'm out.’”

Loggins’s Flashdance/Percodan incident just ended up being a funny anecdote in Still Alright. But the autobiography — which covers not just his many musical achievements, but also the highs and lows of his personal life — more seriously reveals that prescription medication became a real problem for him in 2004, when he was going through a painful second divorce and was prescribed benzodiazepines to calm his nerves. “I think drugs like that are miracle drugs, in that they are too good at what they're prescribed to do. You know, it just makes everything easy,” he muses.

“My addictions were primarily benzodiazepines, which came from my doctor,” Loggins explains. “He was like, ‘You're going through a tough time. … Take these benzos, but you know, try not to take 'em for too long.’ I had two little kids, so when it was kid time, I wanted to have my s*** together. And it was difficult, you know — I don't know whether you've gone through [a divorce], but they can be very, very difficult, and the second one [from Julia Cooper] was especially difficult for me.” After first, Loggins was able to get off benzos on his own, but he relapsed after undergoing back surgery and “had to go to a clinic in, of all places, Florida,” says the yacht-rocker.

“This takes about a week for them to go, ‘Yes, you're, you're no longer physically addicted. … And [then] the emotional part of the addiction to kicks in, and also physical to the point where I went five days without sleeping. When I first got home, my brain couldn't shut down,” Loggins reveals. “But the emotional aspect of the benzos, what you initially took it for, that was no longer happening in my life by then. So, as far as the trauma from the divorce, I could move into more of a meditative place to deal with that.”

Loggins, now age 74, is in a meditative place in general these days as he looks back his life in Still Alright, which he says felt “therapeutic and cathartic” to write. “You know, we have more than one emotion at any given time. Take, for example, divorce itself, which is probably one of the worst things — other than the death of a family member or friend — for us humans to go through. On one hand I can say, ‘God, that was just the worst moment of my life,’ and on the other, I can also say it was the most learning experience I've had. It taught me a lot about myself and my beliefs. And so, is it a bad moment or a good moment? It's a difficult moment. But I think when I look back, I've learned the most from my most difficult moments.”

Still Alright is out June 14 via Hachette Books. On July 15 and 16, Loggins and Jim Messina will play their first Hollywood Bowl shows together in 50 years, followed by Loggins closing each night with a solo set of greatest hits, including “I'm Alright,” “Danger Zone” and hopefully “Playing With the Boys.”

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

· Giorgio Moroder discusses his greatest onscreen collaborations

· 'Top Gun: Maverick' filmmakers on the return of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, paying homage to iconic volleyball scene

· The Revolution recalls making Prince's 'Purple Rain': 'He was frantically telling us we were making history'

· Maxwell Caulfield on coming to terms with underrated cult classic 'Grease 2': 'I used to be almost an apologist for the film'

· The Tubes’ Fee Waybill recalls bonkers 'Xanadu' scene: 'What, are you a disco band now?'

· Debbie Allen recalls the grittiness of ‘Fame,’ 40 years later: ‘It was not a Disney movie’

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