When I was in high school the teen movie camps were basically split three ways between Purple Rain, Flashdance and Footloose. There were other smaller divisions like Amadeaus for people in the band, Valleygirl for would be punks and preps and of course Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the few stoners at my rather conservative high school. Then there still other fringe groups like the Drama Club who idolized the New York centric film Fame.
I was in both the Valleygirls and Purple Rain subset as my musical tastes were all over the place, but usually at the fringes (never mind the clothes, or teen speak). Despite the many groups present, it was clear that the biggest of them was Footloose. That film and it’s message reached across a wide demographic to become a theme for a generation of mostly white middle class suburban and rural teens. In fact, the impact of Footloose impact would be felt more on the generation that came of age during the height of VHS rentals in the late ’80s through early ’90s.
When new, Footloose might have been film critics punching bag, but for large sections of Anglo America, it was their Purple Rain moment. In many suburban and middle regions of the country where actual diversity was almost non existent, America’s youth viewed the film as it’s coming of age manifesto.
Kevin Bacon aside, the soundtrack played a big part in what would become one of the most loved/hated musical films of the decade. Depending on who you ask, it was either the 1#, 2 or 3 film soundtrack of the 1980s. Equally high was the cheese factor, as the film is held up as a classic example of how bad films could be popular .
The soundtrack, considered a dance album, hardly registered with R&B audiences, beyond Shalamar and Deneice Williams contributions (as singles). The same could be said of club and dance charts of the day, although there were successes on the pop, country and rock singles charts. Considering how racially segmented radio was at the time it would not have been a stretch to say that Footloose was Purple Rain for white people.
While the film had limited appeal beyond it’s core audience, the soundtrack better represented America’s image of itself as multicultural and diverse, even though the R&B on the soundtrack from Shalamar sounded more like new wave pop than the R&B that put them on the map.
A well curated collection of songs featuring good olde boy rock to crowd favorites like the title track from Kenny Loggins and Deneice Williams obnoxiously popular “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”. made more than half the soundtrack radio friendly. Other high powered rock from Bonnie Tyler and Sammy Hagar capture the mood of the day with plenty of blue smoke and darkly lit geometric backgrounds.
For all the high energy of the album, it’s the albums one good ballad that really stood out. The duo from Heart’s Ann Wilson and Mike Reno of Loverboy’s “Almost Paradise” stands the test of time. Other songs like Moving Picture’s “Never” will always be associated with the one of the films awkwardly cheesy moments.
Footloose was great for Kenny Loggins, but it was Shalamar who benefited the most from it’s exposure to middle America with “Dancing In the Sheets”. The weight of that song’s popularity would be difficult to maintain for the band wich underwent a big shake up shortly after. Loggins on the other hand had two hit singles from the album the title song and the teen anthem “I’m Free”.
Despite being hard to look at at times, Footloose did spawn a great soundtrack. As a tamed collection of pop songs, it just enough edge in the form of guitar driven rock to appeal to teen angst.
For those who like to dance it may be even more significant as it covers a diverse array of dance styles that much of middle America would not have found intimidating (none of that gay Euro club or Negro hippty hop stuff). While the dances in other ’80s films like Fame and Flashdance were too street or urban for most folks not on the coasts, Footloose quickly became America’s dance soundtrack by virtue of accessibility and familiarity.