Interview with Dean Pitchford, song and screen writer for 'Footloose' & much more

(This interview was originally published January 25, 2013 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Dean Pitchford. He is an award-winning songwriter whose songs, many from the '80s, are included on albums that have sold over 70 million copies. The multi-talented Pitchford is also a screenwriter, author, director, singer and actor. He wrote the screenplay for 1984's Footloose and co-wrote all nine songs from the film's hugely successful soundtrack. You're in for a real treat as you find out about creating those '80s hits, Footloose and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Dean Pitchford...

Pitchford was born in Honolulu, Hawaii where he eventually began performing as an actor and singer. Then he went on to Yale University where he performed with several drama groups and worked with the Wooster Square Revival. In 1971, on a whim, Pitchford auditioned for and was cast in the off-Broadway musical, Godspell in New York City. Then in 1972, Bob Fosse cast Pitchford in the title role for his Broadway show, Pippin, which he performed over 250 times. During that same time, he was singing and dancing in over 100 television commercials as well as performing in the exploding cabaret scene in Manhattan. As a result, he began to get invitations to write songs with several composers which eventually opened the door to what would be an exceptional career.

Q: Do you use a certain process every time when writing songs? What is your normal process?

Dean: My process for every song varies according to the demands of the project. When I write a motion picture song, I'll start by reading the script, seeing the film, talking with the director and music supervisor, spit-balling about genres, possible artists, etc. Then I'll sit with my collaborator and discuss lyric approaches, musical takes, etc. My goal, after all, is to make a film song blend seamlessly with the picture that it's enhancing.

The process for writing theater songs is similar but varies in one significant way: in writing for the stage, I'm not concerned about attracting a signed recording artist, but rather about writing for the character in the script.

When writing for the pop market, I'd sometimes write for an artist who was looking for material for an upcoming record, but - by and large - my collaborators and I would write (what we hoped would be) solid tunes with arresting hooks. And then we'd hope someone would bite.

That process was a constant one. I kept notebooks full of lyric ideas and cassettes filled with the starts of melodies. Whenever I'd go into a writing session I'd have trunks full of material to draw from... as well as whatever we'd come up with in the room.

In 1979, Pitchford collaborated with Peter Allen to write new songs for Allen's one-man Broadway show, Up In One. Composer Michael Gore was in the audience on opening night of that show and tracked down Pitchford to help him write some songs for a film he was the Musical Director for. The film's working title was "Hot Lunch" but would later be changed to Fame (1980).

Q: You co-wrote several songs for Fame including the iconic title song with Michael Gore. Please take us back to when "Fame" was written. What do you remember about how that song was conceived and written?

Dean: "Fame" was the last of about a dozen songs that Michael Gore and I worked on for that motion picture. We were never actually HIRED to write songs for the film; Michael was on staff as the Musical Supervisor (and Scorer), but we wrote songs that joined a pool of other songs for consideration and possible inclusion in the soundtrack. We wrote a bunch of songs that weren't picked for the film or were dropped because they'd been intended for sequences that were cut from the shooting script.

Before writing "Fame", two of our efforts had made the cut so far: the finale "I Sing the Body Electric" had been pre-recorded before the shooting of the film's ending. And "Red Light" had been written to replace a dummy track to which an audition dance was choreographed. Sometime during the shooting of the movie, Michael called with the news that the film's title was being changed - from "Hot Lunch" to "Fame." So we rolled up our sleeves and took a crack at writing for that title.

Trouble was, David Bowie had had a #1 song with his own "Fame" about two years before, and - because the director of our film, Alan Parker, was British - it was very well known to him. We did have an advantage, however in knowing that Irene Cara would be singing whatever song was picked for the now-famous street dance free-for-all. So we set about writing an exuberant, hard-driving dance floor number that played to Irene's strengths. We got her to sing the song's demo, and Alan Parker immediately fell for it.

Q: What did you use as inspiration? I love the lyrics "I'm gonna live forever" and "Baby, remember my name" which I think capture the feelings perfectly. And the repetitive "Remember!" always sticks with me for a while after hearing it.

Dean: Until just a year before working on "Fame," I had been a performer, juggling stage and television work in NYC with my increasingly busy, budding songwriting career. So it wasn't hard for me to draw upon the feelings I had as an actor when imagining what an aspiring student of the arts would want to express.

Although I did write "Baby, remember my name," I must give credit where credit is due. The lead background singer whom we hired to lay down the background parts on the song is the one who - after only hearing the chorus through once - made us rewind the tape and then - after that line - sang the iconic "Remember! Remember! Remember! Remember!" That background singer was Luther Vandross. 

The film was released in theaters in May of 1980 with "Fame" released as a single shortly after that sung by Irene Cara who plays the character of "Coco Hernandez" in the film. The single would peak at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August becoming one of the most popular songs of that year. It earned Pitchford and Gore an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Song and a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. The same song was also used for the TV Series which began in 1982 and ran for six seasons until 1987. Here is a scene from the film that features the song "Fame" by Irene Cara...



Q: Did you have any feeling that this song was going to be something special when you wrote it?

Dean: Michael and I had operated in such a bubble when writing the song - shuttling between his apartment to long, long days and nights in the recording studio - that I honestly had no perspective on what we had done. It wasn't until I returned to Los Angeles with a cassette of the first rough mix and played it for a publisher whose ears I trusted completely that I got my first sign that we might have something here. He flipped out so utterly and unreservedly that I suspected he wasn't simply being nice.

Q: What were your feelings when you heard the final recording of your song by Irene Cara?

Dean: Michael Gore deserves the lion's share of credit for that record (he produced it). We'd had a first vocal session with Irene that had not gone well, and - though the budget didn't allow for it - we knew we'd have to get her back into the studio. Michael was amazingly diplomatic about getting her to return to the studio... and then layering the record with those amazing guitars, synthesizers and background vocals. Our little song suddenly sounded like an unstoppable freight train!

Q: How cool was it for your song to win the Oscar?

Dean: Now, after 30+ years in the business, I look back and marvel that I won an Oscar for only the fourth song I'd ever had recorded. You have to remember that only a year before I had been onstage acting at the NY Shakespeare Festival; suddenly, I was sitting next to Dolly Parton (who was nominated that year for "Nine to Five") and walking off with a gold statuette. Thank God I've got some clippings and a few photos, or else I'd never have believed that it happened to me.

Q: How did you come to work with Michael Miller on the theme song for Solid Gold? What do you remember about that process? Did you write it knowing that Dionne Warwick would be performing it?

Dean: Michael Miller and I met when he did horn charts for a composer named Fred Karlin, with whom I was writing songs for a film called 'Loving Couples' [1980]. Shortly thereafter, Michael called to tell me that he'd been hired to be the musical director of this record countdown show called 'Solid Gold', and would I be interested in writing the theme song with him? To be honest, I was so strung out by then - splitting my writing time between NY, LA and Nashville (while secretly working on a film script that would turn out to be "Footloose") - that I almost said no. But then Michael told me that they were talking to Dionne Warwick about hosting the show, in which case she would sing the theme song. Being a huge fan of hers, I couldn't say no.

If I'm remembering correctly, I wrote only a verse and a chorus at first, since that's all the time they'd need over the show's opening credits. But Dionne and everyone on the production team liked the theme so much that it was decided to go into the studio and cut it twice - once as the opening of the show, and a second time as a record-length track. So I wrote a second verse. That version came in handy when - at the end of the seasons, for instance - the producers would cut together a highlights reel of the season's performances and play the record-length song over it. In subsequent years, the hosts who replaced Dionne - Andy Gibb, Rex Smith and Marilyn McCoo - all recorded both versions of the song.

Solid Gold ran for 8 seasons and 332 episodes and they all started with the theme song that Pitchford co-wrote. The first season was hosted by Dionne Warwick who was also the first to record the theme song. Probably remembered better than the host of any season were the Solid Gold Dancers. Here is the opening for an episode featuring Dionne Warwick singing the Solid Gold theme song...



Q: You co-wrote the song "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" with Tom Snow which became a hit for Melissa Manchester. What can you share with us about how that song originated and written? Was it written specifically for Manchester to sing and what were your feelings when you heard her version of your song?

Dean: "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" was the result of two different conversations. Tom Snow had expressed at one time that he'd like to write an update of the Beatles' "She Loves You," i.e., a song in which the singer - though not emotionally involved him/herself - tells a friend about someone's romantic interests in her/him. Then one day, Tom played me the start of a melody, and I improvised "You should hear how she talks about you..." over it. Which was exactly the kind of sentiment that Tom had spitballed about months before.

The British pop superstar Cliff Richard was having a hit in the States at the time with a song called "We Don't Talk Anymore." He was going to be appearing on 'Solid Gold,' and (because I'd co-written the theme song) I was free to drop in on the tapings whenever I wanted. I suggested to Tom that we demo the song for Cliff (as "You Should Hear How HE Talks About You"), and I'd slip it to him backstage.

So we did that, but when Cliff arrived surrounded by bodyguards and handlers, I couldn't get near him. He did his segment and flew out the door, and I was left holding the male version of our song. (I got to tell him this story at a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills about five years ago; he confessed to being a huge fan of Melissa's record and had no idea that it had first been demo'd with him in mind.) Within a day or two, though, Clive Davis called looking for material for Melissa Manchester, and we immediately re-recorded the demo with a female singer and point of view. Melissa & Clive jumped on the record, and Melissa - one of the sweetest people in all of show business - went on to win the 1983 Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal for her terrific performance.

It's interesting to point out, however, that in the final record - which was done in New York City, without Tom or me present - someone (we still don't know who) added two lines of un-sung dialogue. During the bridge of the song, Melissa chants, "Can't you see? It's ME!" Suddenly the song was no longer about a Good Samaritan friend trying to put two potential lovers together; instead, Melissa became the 'she' of "You Should Hear How SHE Talks About You," and the song became a confession of long-suppressed affection.

As mentioned, "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" won Manchester a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1982 and would be the last Top 40 hit for Manchester. Here is a video of a performance (coincidentally on Solid Gold) of "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" by Melissa Manchester...


As he continued writing songs, Pitchford also had been working on an idea for a film script that first occurred to him after reading a news story in 1979 about a town in Oklahoma which, after 80 years, was lifting a ban on dancing. His first few drafts - then called "Cheek To Cheek" - met with enough encouragement from film executives that Dean traveled to Ardmore and Elmore City, Oklahoma, to do further research; when he returned to Los Angeles and plugged the new ideas into his script, the screenplay was optioned by 20th Century Fox, where it stayed in development for three years before finally being bought by Paramount; the project - by then re-titled Footloose - began filming in 1983 in and around Provo, Utah. In addition to writing the screenplay, Pitchford also co-wrote nine songs that were used in the film.

Q: While creating the characters, is there any of yourself in "Ren" or any of the others?

Dean: I never thought that there was anything of my life in the character of Ren, who moves from Chicago to a small-town (Bomont) when his father deserts him and his mother. It wasn't until about three years after the film was released that I was in Seattle to speak at a film festival. The driver/intern who had been assigned to shuttle me around during my stay asked me one day whether I had based Ren on my own experience. "Which experience?" I asked. He then went on to blow my mind my citing parts of my life story that I'd somehow forgotten - how, when I was fourteen, after my parents had split up, my mom and four kids had moved from Honolulu to Kansas City, where Dad was working, to try to save their marriage. (It didn't work.) How I managed to write 22 drafts of Footloose and never consider how it paralleled my own history is beyond me.

Q: I read in one account that you may have written the character "Willard" with Chris Penn in mind. Can that be true?

Dean: Totally the opposite, actually. I had written the character of Willard (named "Bryan" at first) as a quiet, sensitive guy who ends up befriending the newcomer Ren on the first day in his new high school. I credit casting director Marci Liroff with turning that all around; she brought in Chris Penn to read for our director Herbert Ross, who was so amused and thrilled by Chris's unorthodox style that he hired him on the spot. Then Herbert called me in to explain that I'd have to re-write "Bryan" for this amazing young actor to make maximum use of his quirkiness. PLUS - because Chris had just played a character named "Brian" in the movie he'd just finished shooting (All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise), Chris had requested that we give "Bryan" a different name. Thus, "Willard" was born.

Q: Did you have anybody else specifically in mind when writing the other characters?

Dean: When I first arrived in L.A., I got friendly with the lovely and gracious Ann-Margret, whose acting credentials were getting noticed more and more (Tommy, Carnal Knowledge). I wrote a song for her (with Peter Allen), and hung out with her and her wonderful husband Roger Smith. So when I conceived the part of Vi Moore, the minister's wife, I wrote it with her in mind. By the time we were ready to shoot, Roger was ill with a disease that was baffling the doctors (he eventually recovered), but Ann-Margret graciously declined the role, saying that she didn't want to travel (to Utah) to shoot at that time. And then Marci brought Dianne Wiest to Herbert Ross's attention and - OMG! - the rest is history.

I also wrote the role of Rusty with a different actress in mind than the one who ended up onscreen. I had met Ricky Nelson's daughter Tracy at a friend's dinner party, and I found her magical. Ethereal. Beautiful, in a very exotic way. And funny! So I wrote Rusty with Tracy's speech patterns playing over in my ear. I never mentioned this to Herbert Ross, who - how's this for kismet? - auditioned and cast Tracy in that very role! It wasn't until we got on location in Utah and started to put our actors on film for hair and makeup tests that something became quite apparent - Tracy, with her milk-white skin and aquiline features, didn't look like anyone else in our film. She didn't look like a resident of our fictional, midwestern town of Bomont. She was simply too - transcendent. With regret, we replaced her with her Square Pegs co-star Sarah Jessica Parker.

Q: Did you ever expect the success and adoration that the film and soundtrack would achieve?

Dean: Paramount spent a little over $8 million to make Footloose and every step of the way the studio made us feel like the unwanted child. They had a number of big productions happening at the time - ('Star Trek III', 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom', etc.) - so 'Footloose' was hardly a concern. Which turned out to be a blessing. For the most part, they left us alone and we got to make the movie that we wanted to make. But we never expected that we were making a box office hit. Or a music chart-topper. Never ever did we imagine the tidal wave of response that our little film would elicit.

Footloose was released in theaters in February of 1984. It was directed by Herbert Ross and starred Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer and Dianne Wiest among others. Despite mixed critical reviews, the film was quite successful and ended up the seventh highest grossing film of 1984 and a cultural phenomenon. It certainly helped that it had an award-winning soundtrack which we will examine further below. Pitchford helped bring a stage adaptation to life which ran on Broadway for two years starting back in 1998 and there was even a film remake released in 2011. Here is the trailer for the original Footloose...



Q: What were your feelings about the final film when you saw it in 1984?

Dean: I felt then the way that I feel about all my projects when I first see (or hear) them realized. All I can see in the beginning are the flaws - the "if only...!" moments that I wish I could go back and correct. I saw Footloose dozens of times (during the editing, scoring and dubbing phases) before I ever saw it with an audience. I must say, the screaming, stomping and clapping of an enthusiastic preview crowd went a long way toward quieting that critical voice in my head.

Q: What are your feelings about Footloose now nearly 30 years later?

Dean: I credit Herbert Ross with making my screenplay into a fable that has stood the test of time. He cast and directed the movie with the perfect touch of whimsy, excitement and emotion. The characters he created - with Kevin Bacon, Dianne Wiest, John Lithgow, etc. - are all so honest and vivid that they transcend the era in which the film was made. For which I'm very grateful and proud.

The Footloose soundtrack was an even bigger success than the film going on to sell over 17 million copies worldwide. The album reached #1 on the Billboard album chart on April 21, 1984 and knocked Michael Jackson's Thriller out of the top spot. It remained at the top of the chart for 10 weeks. Of the nine songs, all co-written by Pitchford, six of the singles reached the Top 40 and two hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Q: Will you take us through any of the details or particular memories you have about creating some of the bigger hit songs from the soundtrack? "Let's Hear It for the Boy" co-written with Tom Snow and performed by Deniece Williams?

Dean: Very early in pre-production of Footloose, Tom Snow and I wrote a song called "Somebody's Eyes" which everyone, including Herbert Ross, fell in love with. So in love, as a matter of fact, that Herbert used it as the temp track to choreograph a number of sequences in the movie (the surreptitious drive-in number; the teaching-Willard-to-dance montage, etc.) After playing it over and over and over in rehearsals in L.A., then day after day on the set in Utah, then day after day in the editing room at Paramount, Herbert (understandably) grew tired of the song and wanted it gone from both sequences.

I had already started work on "Dancin' in the Sheets" (with Bill Wolfer) for the drive-in scene, but Tom and I were both devastated that "Somebody's Eyes" had been struck from the "teaching-Willard-to-danc e" montage. We were under the gun - which, in a way, was good. If we'd had more time, the studio (I'm convinced) would have asked me to shop around for a celebrity songwriter/artist. As it was, I convinced them to let me and Tom take a crack at solving this situation. And then everything happened in a flash.

I left Paramount that day, went directly to Tom's studio, and shared with him the title I'd been considering ("Let's Hear It for the Boy"). He'd already been at work on a bass-line figure (which Quincy Jones would later tell Tom is "one of the greatest bass lines in pop music"). We started carving the song, called out for food, worked late into the evening, and in the wee hours of the next morning, we cut a rough demo. After three hours sleep, I took that to work (at 8 a.m.), played it for Herbert, who flipped. He said, "Finish it." So I wrote a second verse on my way over to Tom's; we added it to the demo, and, by late afternoon, started the process of finding an artist.

Deniece Williams had just had a monster hit with her re-make of "Gonna Take A Miracle" and I was crazy about her voice, so youthful and jubilant. She agreed to a meeting (with producer George Duke) at which Tom and I performed the song for her. She immediately agreed to record the song. A year later - when all the "Footloose" songs were getting a lot of Grammy love - Deniece (over lunch) showed me the lyric sheet we had handed her at that first meeting. On it she had written - one year before!! - "1 million" because (loving the song the way she did) that's how many records she was sure we'd sell. To date, the Footloose soundtrack has sold over 17 million copies.

"Let's Hear It for the Boy" was was the second song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it held the top spot for two weeks beginning May 26, 1984. It also received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Here is the video for "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Deniece Williams...



Q: "Dancing in the Sheets" co-written with Bill Wolfer and performed by Shalamar?

Dean: The hardest part about corralling all the many talented people to work on 'Footloose' is that I was approaching record artists and producers, who weren't accustomed to serving any other vision but theirs (and perhaps the record label's). When working on a film song, however, there's the story to consider... and the characters... and the movement (if it's a dance number). Lots and lots of variables and demands that might make artists chafe. But two people - both of whom I thought might be the most resistant to this process - turned out to be the most flexible.

The first was "bad-boy" rocker Sammy Hagar; writing and recording "The Girl Gets Around" with him was joy from start to finish. We had the cut footage of the scene - in which the minister's daughter Ariel straddles two speeding cars while facing down an oncoming semi - and making our song fit that sequence like a glove was one of the highest highs of the entire filmmaking process for me.

Another was working with Bill Wolfer, an amazingly funky white guy who'd been having a lot of success producing R&B acts. Shalamar was coming off their hit "Dead Giveaway" and lead singer Howard Hewitt was anxious to work with Bill Wolfer again, so that went very smoothly. My other collaborators (Tom Snow, Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Eric Carmen, & Jim Steinman) wrote either on the guitar or the piano, after which we'd go into the studio and make a record. Bill Wolfer, on the other hand, wrote with the entire studio at his fingertips. The drum sounds and bass lines and background vocals and hand claps were all built simultaneously - not after the fact. It was an exhilarating way of working.

Q: "Holding Out for a Hero" co-written with Jim Steinman and performed by Bonnie Tyler?


Dean: Bonnie Tyler was having an international hit with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (which had only barely started to get airplay in U.S.) when we decided (and by "we" I mean myself and Becky Mancuso, our brilliant music supervisor) that she'd be an awesome addition to our project. Bonnie had just worked with Jim Steinman ("Paradise by the Dashboard Light") of whom I was a big fan. So we set about trying to get Jim to write a song with me for Bonnie to record.
One other memory of that song - Jim Steinman and I went in to play the song for 'Footloose' director Herbert Ross, who had a spinet piano installed in his office for just such auditions. Jim, who is a madman at the keyboard, played the sh*t out of the song (while a female singer sang), pounding away with near-operatic fervor, tossing his long silver hair with abandon. When we were done, I looked down at the keyboard; it was smeared with blood. In his fury, Jim had opened cuts on his fingers, but never stopped playing.
The problem was finding Bonnie. We went through Columbia Records West Coast, who told us that no one in that office represented her. Try the East Coast. Our calls were transferred around the East Coast offices of Columbia for a few days before it was suggested that we try Nashville. After all, her one big hit in the U.S. thus far ("It's A Heartache" - which first brought Bonnie to my attention) had started its life as a Country/Western single. In Nashville, nobody had any idea who we were talking about. They suggested we try Australia (where "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was topping the charts, as it would three months later in the U.S.). And the folks in Australia told us that - because Bonnie is Welsh - we'd better try Columbia UK. Which is where we finally found her. After tracking her down, making that record was easy-peasy!


Q: "Almost Paradise" co-written with Eric Carmen and the duet performed by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson?

Dean: I had been a fan of Eric Carmen's for years; I still think "Boats Against the Current" is one of the most beautifully written and performed songs of the last 50 years. So the chance to work with him was always on my mind. When it was decided that we needed a love duet for Footloose, he was my first call. Eric flew to L.A. (from Ohio), and what happened next happened in one day: I met him for a "get to know you" breakfast early in the morning. Then I drove him to Paramount, where we watched the film together.

After that, we went back to my studio and started writing. And writing and writing and writing. By 11 p.m. we had finished "Almost Paradise" and I called Herbert Ross's secretary to schedule a meeting the following morning. Bright and early the next day, we walked into Herbert's office and played the song for him (on the same spinet piano that Jim Steinman had bled all over.) Herbert's only comment was, "How does it feel to have written a classic?" The budget was approved for a demo session, and by early afternoon we were at the Hit Factory laying down a simple piano/vocal demo. Then Eric flew home. Our music supervisor, Becky Mancuso, immediately sent demos out to a short list of record execs and artists' managers, hoping that one of them would respond to the song. As it turns out, ALL of them wanted it, and they fell all over themselves in suggesting pairings that they could make happen. When Ann Wilson (of Heart) and Mike Reno (of Loverboy) agreed to cut our song, we were on cloud nine.

The only problem was that they were both on tour, so we had to find a date and a place where both of them could rendezvous in a studio. Heart was going to be in Chicago on a night that Loverboy wasn't playing a gig, so Mike Reno flew from Salt Lake City to join me, Ann Wilson and producer Keith Olsen. Unfortunately, Chicago was clobbered by a blizzard that night, but we all managed to sneak into town before the storm hit. Keith, Mike and I were all at the studio at about 11 p.m., awaiting Ann's arrival (she was coming from a concert), when we got word that she had slipped and fallen in her dressing room and, it appeared, she had broken her wrist. So all the people who had to schlep across country had arrived; the one person who was actually in town was going to be late - if she got there at all!

Ann finally arrived, bandaged (she hadn't broken any bones, as it turned out) at close to 2 a.m. She had refused painkillers at the hospital, knowing the effect that it would have on her vocals. Then she and Mike Reno got out into the studio and ripped into the song for take after take, until Keith Olsen finally hit the talkback switch and said, "Thanks. I've got what I need." We wrapped up about 4 a.m. and went back out into the blizzard.

"Almost Paradise" spent 13 weeks in the Top 40 while peaking at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. The perfect pairing of Heart's Wilson and Loverboy's Reno came together on Pitchford and Carmen's song to create one of the most beautiful duets of all time. Pitchford and Carmen later joined forces again to co-write Carmen's 1988 hit "Make Me Lose Control" which itself peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. Here is the video for "Almost Paradise" by Mike Reno & Ann Wilson...



Q: The iconic title track, "Footloose" co-written with and performed by Kenny Loggins?

Dean: Kenny and I were introduced, and wrote "Don't Fight It" with Journey's Steve Perry [1982], while I was writing early drafts of 'Footloose'. I had long envisioned Kenny as the perfect artist for that film - as the voice of Ren, if you will - because Kenny's voice had (and still has) such an exuberance and energy. It was after "Don't Fight It" was finally cut that I showed Kenny the script for Footloose, at which point he said, "I'm in." That commitment carried a powerful clout with the film studio - and also determined where we'd park the soundtrack album (Columbia Records - Kenny's label.)

Kenny's touring schedule was so complicated, though, that it was hard finding a time to write with him. And then he fell off a stage in Utah and broke several ribs, which put him out of commission for several weeks, after which he was booked on a tour of Southeast Asia. So the window of opportunity for collaborating was shrinking. His manager called and told me that if I could get myself to Lake Tahoe for a few days, where Kenny was easing himself back into performing with a week of appearances, he'd persuade Kenny to spend a few days writing with me. So that's what I did. But not before contracting strep throat.

So I arrived in Tahoe, sick as a dog. But I couldn't let Kenny know, or else, I feared, he might not want to be around my germs. So Kenny showed up in my hotel room (he was staying upstairs with his wife and their two little boys) for three days running, and we wrote the framework of "Footloose" - two verses and the chorus. Then Kenny went off to Asia and I flew back to L.A. and went into the hospital for one night. Paramount was happy to have the basics of the song, but - in the absence of a demo - Herbert Ross wasn't able to go off and film any of the sequences in the movie to playback of the title song. Instead, he and the choreographer used a sped up version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" during the Utah filming (because it had the approximate feel of "Footloose").

Kenny was in Asia for almost two months; on his way back, he stopped in Hawaii, and when he checked into his hotel, he found my lyric for "I'm Free (Heaven Help the Man)" waiting for him. We finished both songs when he returned and then spent a very, very long time cutting "Footloose" for which Kenny eventually required 96 tracks; that meant (at that time) four 24-track tape decks linked in tandem. We had dozens of tracks of vocals, hand claps, guitar solos, drum variations, etc. Mixing those down was the work of Kenny's valiant co-producer, Lee DeCarlo. It was an unheard-of amount of material for a single, but I think the finished product is still a great, great listening experience (especially under earphones!)

"Footloose" was released in January of 1984 and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on March 31st and held the top spot for three weeks. It was a worldwide hit reaching the Top 10 in seven other countries and topping the charts in three of those (Canada, Australia & New Zealand). Like the other #1 hit from the soundtrack, "Let's Hear It for the Boy", it also received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. As he mentioned, Pitchford and Loggins also co-wrote "I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)" for the film which itself reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here is the video for "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins...



Q: To finish up the '80s, you and Tom Snow co-wrote the song "After All" for the 1989 film Chances Are. Please take us back to when this song was conceived and written. Was it written specifically for the film? What inspired the lyrics?

Dean: This was a case of working with a director (Emile Ardolino) who had very specific ideas about what he wanted for his film. I was called into a meeting and shown this film and I asked Tom Snow to write the song with me.

If you listen to the lyric, it's clear that it was tailored to the film's plot. Chances Are is the story of a young married couple (Cybill Shepherd and Christopher McDonald) whose blissful marriage comes to an end when he's killed in a traffic accident on their first anniversary. His spirit is reincarnated in the body of (much younger) Robert Downey, Jr., who comes home with his college sweetheart (Mary Stuart Masterson), only to discover that her mom is Cybill Shepherd and that he (because he's carrying around the spirit of her dead husband) has the (inexplicable) hots for her.

Eventually, everything works out and everyone ends up with an age-appropriate partner, but along the way there's much confusion and hilarity as Robert Downey swoons over his girlfriend's mom. In the end, Cybill gets re-married (to Ryan O'Neal, who's been pining for her ever since her first husband's death), and Robert Downey discovers happiness with Mary Stuart Masterson.

The lyric I wrote immediately sets the plot of the picture to music: "Well here we are again/I guess it must be fate/We tried it on our own/But deep inside we've known/We'd be back to set things straight." And the title refers to all the years - and all the misunderstandings and stumbles - that stood in the way of the lovers: "AFTER ALL the stops and starts/We keep coming back to these two hearts/Two angels who've been rescued from the fall/And AFTER ALL that we've been through/It all comes down to me and you/I guess it's meant to be/Forever you and me/ AFTER ALL."

Q: Was it written specifically for Cetera and Cher to sing? I read that the two recorded their parts separately and have never actually performed the song together which I found to be odd.


Dean: This was another fortunate case in which we had a number of recording artists jump at the opportunity to record this song. Cher was making her comeback on Geffen Records at the time (with an album that contained not only "After All" but also the song that would herald her return - "If I Could Turn Back Time"). So although she didn't have a recent track record, her re-emergence was of great interest to the industry.

The great record producer Peter Asher (with whom Tom Snow had worked a lot) cut the record, but - with great diplomacy - asked us not to come to the session. Not even Peter Cetera was invited to Cher's vocal session, but not for the reason that a lot of people attribute to it. I don't believe, from the reports I subsequently received, that Cher was pulling any diva crap by asking to record alone. I think that she was honestly terrified of going back into the studio again, after being away so long, with a consummate vocalist like Pete Cetera. So Peter Asher recorded her separately and handled her with great kindness. As a result, he got those amazing performances from both artists.

Q: What were your feelings regarding the final version of the duet by those two?

Dean: I loved this record the first time I heard it, and I love it still. It continues to be a huge favorite at weddings after all these years, and I've had couples tell me that they still burst into tears whenever it comes on the radio because it was "their" song when they got married. Who could ask for better?!

"After All" was released as a single in February of 1989 and peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May, but reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart in April where it stayed for four weeks. It also earned Pitchford his fourth Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Here are scenes from the film featuring "After All" by Cher & Peter Cetera...



Q: What do you remember best about the decade of 80s music? What lasting impact do you feel music from the '80s has made?

Dean: '80s music bridges the divide between two eras in pop music... Before MTV and After MTV. Just before videos became the "next hot thing" (c. 1983), there were wonderful, interesting, melodic, rhythmic songs being recorded (think: Christopher Cross's "Sailing" and "Ride Like the Wind" or anything by Toto). That spilled over a bit into the post-MTV era, but then the visual component became an increasingly important part of the selling of an artist and a record. Songwriting craft was pushed to the background as music - and music videos - became the provenance of directors. And choreographers. And film editors.

But there are so many wonderful soulful, emotional, catchy, infectious songs from that era that we - as a society - continue to return to that repertoire. Witness the number of '80s tunes (whether Michael Jackson or Hall & Oates or Cyndi Lauper, etc.) that still show up in commercials. Or on singing or dancing competitions. I'm so proud to have come of age as a songwriter during that period.

Q: Is it difficult as a songwriter to relinquish your song to another artist who will undoubtedly take artistic liberties and/or put their own spin on you work?

Dean: My biggest concern with any song is to see to it that the first recording hews very close to the vision that I and my collaborator have for the song. It's important that it gets laid down correctly - at least once. After that, it's a free-for-all; anyone can and does record songs I've written. Sometimes they'll take liberties that amuse and entertain me; other times, I'll shake my head and wonder, "What were they thinking?" But a good, well-constructed song can stand up to varied interpretations and still hold its own.

Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since the '80s. How have your priorities or goals changed over the years? What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Dean: I always juggled my songwriting with screenwriting (Footloose, Sing) as well as writing for the theatre. As the years have gone along and the film and music industries have evolved, I have tried to evolve along with them. Songwriting and film-writing have taken a back seat to my work for the stage (Footloose and Carrie on Broadway) as well as my most recent passion - novels.

Putnam/Penguin published two of my young adult novels (The Big One-Oh [2007] and Captain Nobody [2009]) in the last six years. Both of them were recorded as audiobooks and released by Random House (I did the readings), and both of those were nominated for Grammys in the category of Best Spoken Word Recording for Children. My third novel, Nickel Bay Nick, will be published this fall by Putnam/Penguin.

And the stage version of the musical Carrie, based on Stephen King's first novel (on which I collaborated with Larry Cohen and my Fame co-writer Michael Gore) has now - after being produced on the New York stage last spring - been made available for licensing all over the world. As for proudest accomplishments? I'd say that there are two - although they're aspects of the same "accomplishment". I'm proud to have friends today whom I've known and worked with for 30 or 40 years. My relationships - personal and professional - are very dear to me. And my marriage to my husband, Michael, of 22 years is by far the single greatest achievement of my life.

I'll tell you a funny story. Just after I met Michael, I had an international #1 song with Whitney Houston (co-written with Michael Gore) called "All the Man That I Need". Michael was on a swim team at the time and his teammates joked with him that, even though we'd only been dating about nine months, apparently I had already written a song for him. So "All the Man That I Need" became (unofficially) "our" song, even though it had been written ten years before. Years later, I decided that Michael deserved a song that was unequivocally written for him. So Tom Snow and I wrote "If I Never Met You" which was recorded (unexpectedly!) by Barbra Streisand on her A Love Like Ours album [1999]. Between Whitney and Barbra, Michael now feels that he - and our relationship - have been sufficiently celebrated in song.

Wow, a lot of great stuff to take in. I am completely honored and very grateful that Dean was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. I am so impressed with his generosity sharing so much interesting detail and stories about these awesome accomplishments. You can find out more about him and keep up with everything he has going on at his official DeanPitchford.com website. You can also find links there to learn more about his novels.

I want to take this occasion to again thank Dean Pitchford for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through Footloose, his songwriting and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.

Follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter for a daily dose of  '80s nostalgia and read more Retro Interviews on RD80s.

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