It’s hard to imagine now, but Kenny Loggins wasn’t the king of the soundtracks heading into 1980. Nor did it seem likely a movie about golf would be the impetus for him to grab that throne. But 40 years on, Caddyshack is a legendary comedy and “I’m Alright” is the song that helps to define it.
Loggins recently spoke to American Songwriter about the process of writing the song.
“It predated when I was working with Barbra Streisand and Jon Peters on A Star Is Born,” he recalls. “When they broke up, he decided to produce a movie himself. To my knowledge, the first one that he did was Caddyshack. Because of our friendship of working on A Star Is Born, he called me and asked me if I wanted to check it out and write a song for it. I was driving home from LA, stopped at this studio and saw a rough cut. It had no ending and no gopher. I laughed my ass off. It was hilarious.”
That rough cut and the temporary music the filmmakers were using started Loggins on his way. “The opening scene of the movie was Danny, the lead character, riding his bicycle through a suburb,” he says. “It looks really banal but the music that they put behind it was ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan. From that, I got the idea they wanted to portray him as a bit of a rebel, even though he had not yet achieved that particular character. I figured I wanted to write something that expressed that rebellious nature the way the director had tried to express it in his rough cut. ‘I’m alright/Nobody worry ‘bout me/Why you got to give me a fight?’ It’s kind of like two hands on the hips. He’s certainly not that character on his bicycle but will become that.”
Loggins stayed laser-focused on the character when writing “I’m Alright,” trusting that any wider meaning for the radio audience would eventually develop. “When I was writing for the movie, I wanted it to be as specific to the character as possible,” he says. “I thought that the angle that the director was using was cross-grained. This really banal opening scene with an edgier piece of music. That worked totally well. If I could nail that, then it would have a bigger appeal.”
One of Loggins’ great inspirations was his use of varied voices coming in at all angles in the run-up to the chorus, mimicking everyone trying to force their opinions on Danny. “I was thinking this character has all these people telling him what to do,” he remembers. “And so as the songwriter, I sort of stick in my opinion too. While you’re listening to everybody else, listen to this. Listen to your heart. And that becomes the theme that runs through the movie. Who the fuck are you and what do you believe? You take this silly comedy and you lift it up a notch. Why is this character likable and why do you give a shit? His redeeming quality is, sooner or later, he gets in touch with who he is.”
The end result is a pop song that sounds breezy and effortless on the surface yet carries a sneaky kick when you pay closer attention. That’s exactly what Loggins had hoped to create. But what he didn’t know is that the song would not only be used as the opening credits song, but also as the backing music for a dancing gopher.
“Jon told me about the idea when I came by to watch the first rough cut: ‘Oh, there’s gonna be this hilarious puppet,’” Loggins remembers with a laugh. “And I said, ‘A fucking puppet?’ I said to myself, not being a complete idiot, ‘Well, that’s a stupid idea.’ I was hoping there wasn’t going to be too much puppet in it. As it turns out, everybody loves that puppet. When I saw the opening of the film and I saw the gopher in the beginning and the whole theme with Bill Murray and the gopher, it really works.”
It did more than just “work,” as a matter of fact: “I’m Alright,” soared to No. 7 on the Billboard charts, Loggins’ biggest solo hit to that point. More importantly, it set him on a path that would include more massive soundtrack hits, including “Footloose” and “Danger Zone.”
“It was such a good experience for me,” Loggins says. “I’ve talked to other artists who have written for movies and they have not had good experiences. Jon was incredibly cooperative and creatively helpful. It turned into such a great experience. I’m grateful not only that it was a huge hit, but I wanted to do a lot more after that.”