By Craig D. Lindsey
Press Play contributor
There are many things about Caddyshack that people who’ve seen it hold in high, fond regard: The gopher, “It’s in the hole!” The Baby Ruth floating in the pool, Bill Murray’s crooked mouth, “Be the ball, Danny” (which I heard from someone in the very bar I’m writing this right now, as a soccer match played on TV), Cindy Morgan’s nipples, “You’ll get nothing and like it!” — and so on. But, for me, what I love the most about Caddyshack, the thing that has made me come back to it time and time again, is the music that starts off the whole damn movie.
I still remember it like it was yesterday: I must’ve been four or five, popping the heavy VHS tape into the gigantic contraption that we called a VCR, and being taken aback by the serene, sensuous, almost angelic way the movie begins. As we fade in on a country club course at dawn, a four-part harmony forms, reverberating all over the soundtrack. As sprinklers (I’m assuming the sound effects are provided by maracas) are set off on the greens, another melodious voice jumps in, singing the words “own heart beatin’” several times. (When I was a kid, I thought it was “ol’ heart beatin’.”) Even at that age, when I first saw the film after begging my mom to pick it up at the video store, I thought that was a peculiar way to start off a movie I only knew as that comedy where Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight seem to do some crazy shit.
The harmony eventually dissolves as the aforementioned gopher (memorably billed in the credits as “Chuck Rodent”) pops into frame and begins happily getting his groove on to the bass-heavy beat. I was quite surprised by what I heard next: Kenny Loggins’ ‘I’m Alright.” Wait a minute – that song’s in the movie! I heard that song here and there, but I didn’t know it was from this movie. After listening to “I’m Alright” in the opening credits, I found that that harmony from the opening (which sounds as if it were sung entirely by Loggins) reappears briefly in the middle of the song. This made me an instant fan.
However, for the past 30 years, I’ve been more or less obsessed with that opening harmony. (It’s used again in the movie, to even more sensuous effect, during the love scene between a memorably perky Morgan and Michael O’Keefe.) There have been times in my childhood where I have taped it off the TV on either audio or videocassette. In my later years, I wondered why a rapper hadn’t sampled it yet. (It turns out it’s been sampled three times, by Dom Kennedy, The Majesticons and the late, great hip-hop producer J Dilla.)
After years of being pissed that I couldn’t get a copy of that harmony somewhere, I eventually found it when I picked up an LP copy of the soundtrack at a used record store eight years ago. There it was, on a track called “Make the Move,” which is basically an alternate version of “Alright” with the harmonious middle as the intro.
According to all the tracks on the soundtrack’s A-side, Loggins contributed four songs to the movie. This may come as a surprise to even the most diehard Caddyshack fan, whom I’m sure just remembers “Alright” and that’s it. (There is that other Loggins-esque song that plays during the rowdy country club-pool sequence, but we’ll get to that later.) Along with “Alright” and “Move,” there is also the ballad “Lead the Way,” which you don’t exactly hear. Johnny Mandel, the movie’s composer, takes the melody and uses it as background instrumental music whenever characters get intimate. (Loggins ends the song with a solo version of the opening harmony.) And, of course, there is the pool-party number “Mr. Night,” which is actually a track from Loggins’ Keep the Fire album from 1979.
While the soundtrack includes a trio of compositions from Mandel as well as tracks from other artists (including Journey’s on-the-fairway party-starter “Any Way You Want It”) let’s concentrate on the Loggins tunes for a taste. Loggins has said he came into working on the movie after getting buddy-buddy with exec producer Jon Peters. At the time, Peters was dating Barbra Streisand, who recorded Loggins’ “I Believe in Love” for A Star Is Born. Peters eventually called on Loggins to do a song for Caddyshack, which he took very seriously, even if the movie did have a animatronic gopher. (In a Sports Illustrated article on the movie last year, Loggins recalled how Peters told him about the gopher dancing at the beginning. “And I said, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!’” said Loggins. “But people still love that little puppet. Go f—— figure!”)
Nevertheless, Loggins has said in interviews that he found the oft-forgotten subplot of O’Keefe’s conflicted teen caddy Danny Noonan to be the movie’s central story and got inspiration from that to write “Alright.” “For me it was the character of Danny — the character that was trying to figure out where he fit,” Loggins told the St. Petersburg Times in 2007. “But at the same time he wanted people to leave him alone and let him find his own way. So I wanted to grab him and summarize that character and that’s what ‘I’m Alright’ is doing.”
You could say that, after Caddyshack, Loggins became the go-to guy for composing theme songs for movies about white boys trying to find their own way. I mean, wouldn’t that be a perfect description of Kevin Bacon’s dancing-fool teen in Footloose (which Loggins, of course, did the titular theme) or Tom Cruise’s speed-crazy fighter pilot from Top Gun (where Loggins performed “Danger Zone”) or even Sylvester Stallone’s truck driver/pro arm wrestler in Over the Top (where Loggins did “Meet Me Half Way.”)
Basically, “I’m Alright” turned Kenny Loggins from California-rock troubadour to movie-music man. But even though Loggins has explained how he came about creating “Alright,” right down to the “You make me feel good” line uttered by, of all people, Eddie Money (he was recording an album in a nearby studio and just came by to drop the line), I’ve never heard him go into breaking down that infectious harmony. As someone who practically grew up on that one minute of wonderful material, I’m still curious how that came to be. Perhaps, one day, Mr. Soundtrack can tell us.
And once he’s done, maybe he can explain why he did the theme song for that lame-ass Caddyshack II. Come on, Kenny, that was just wrong.
Craig D. Lindsey used to have a job, as the film critic and pop-culture columnist for The Raleigh News & Observer. Now, he’s back out there hustling, writing about whatever for Nashville Scene, the Greensboro News & Record, Philadelphia Weekly, The Independent Weekly and other publications. He has a Tumblr blog. You can also hit him up on Twitter.