Recreated: Kenny Loggins - I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man) (from Footloose)

What is Recreated? I will analyse and recreate a full track. No vocals, but everything else is transcribed and reproduced. I'll try to match the original sound. The result won't be 100% like the original (limited by my skills and the time spent on each element) but pretty close to it.

The first track I'm going to recreate is I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man) by Kenny Loggins from the Footloose (1984) soundtrack. It was written by Loggins with Dean Pitchford, and produced by the legendary David Foster with Loggins.

If you haven't heard it or need to refresh your memory, listen to it below (or the music video version).

And here's my recreation, start playing and read on:

General stuff

BPM: 160.15 (about)
Key: C minor
Time signature: 4/4

As with any composition there are recurring motifs in this track. One of them is what I like to call the "Listen to me" rhythmic motif (referred to as LTM later):
"Listen to me" rhythmic motif
The name comes from the lyrics in the bridge where the motif is repeated. The motif starts on the upbeat of 4 and syncopates around the first beat.


Bass: The intro starts with a bass riff. It follows an extended LTM rhythm with natural minor VII resolving to I (B♭ to C).
Intro bass riff
The bass sound is enhanced with a subtly sweeping modulation effect that creates some nice harmonics. I managed to recreate something that sounds like this with an LFO modulated flanger send effect.
Achieving the bass effect with Guitar Rig's Electric Lady, depth modulated by an LFO.
I'm not sure if the bass is "real" or a synth. Considering that this is the early 80s, it might be real. Then again, it doesn't really matter since after the first bars the lower bass is doubled by another, definitely synth sounding bass.

After the drums enter the bass repeats the LTM pattern for each chord, and the bass drum mirrors this rhythm exactly.

Guitar (clean): After the solo bass riff we kick into action with a clean guitar stab. And we're talking about really clean, 80s style crisp attack with a lush reverb.
Clean guitar stab
The stab starts with an open B♭sus2 (B♭ - F - C) on beat 3 which slides (without attack) into an A♭5 on the upbeat of 4. The A♭5 might also be a separate instrument like a synth because it sounds a lot softer, but it flows so nicely with the first guitar stab that I tend to hear it as a single part.

The implied chords in the intro are A♭ - B♭ - Cm. This is your basic natural minor chord stuff (VI - VII - i), If you master these chords you can build every eurodance hit in the 90s, majority of trance tracks and every metalcore chorus.

Drums: Regarding the mixing, the hihats are very subdued (which makes it hard to analyze the exact pattern) but the snare, claps and toms are very pronounced, as was the trend back then. The tom sound is quite eccentric, even for an 80s production. It's got almost like a timbale sound, and they are mixed very wide: higher tom right, lower tom left (introduced later in the track).
Intro drum pattern. Note that the loop starts with the fill at beat 3.
Occasionally you'll hear something that sounds like sticks on top of the drums. This might be just the drummer hitting something in an odd angle and creating a spill, which is accentuated by the heavy processing. Another interesting thing is that there seems to be no other overheads: not a single crash or any other cymbal, only hihats.

Synth (mellow): There's a mellow lead synth playing the same riff twice in the intro. It revolves around G, jumping to F and B♭, giving the chords some flavor: A♭ becomes A♭maj7 and B♭ could be interpreted as Gm/B♭.
Intro synth lead
I recreated this lead with Arturia's Mini V2. Using a mainly square oscillator seems to give the proper timbre. Filter cutoff is quite low, with moderate emphasis. There's also a slight envelope to the filter so that it fades in and out nicely.

Synth (flutter): Before the verse kicks in there's an additional synth playing a B♭ with a slow attack. The fluttering effect is done by modulating the filter cutoff with a fast LFO. For this sound I just duplicated the mellow lead and modified it slightly. I gave it some automation to gradually open the filter.

1st verse

Looking into your eyes I know I'm right…
Bass: The verse has the same chords as the intro, but the bass riff and drums change slightly. The bass riff gets more dense, and has a fill C-B♭-G-A♭ at the end of the 4 bar loop.

Drums: The drums play a 2 bar loop of basic quarter beat where the bass drum is syncopated around 1st beat (continuing the LTM theme).

Guitar (clean): In addition to drums and bass(es), the only other accompaniment is a muted guitar with a steady B♭ on every upbeat. This flavors the perceived chords as A♭sus2 (or add9), B♭ (flavor doesn't change compared to intro) and Cm7.

1st bridge

We only get one chance…
(Also known as pre-chorus, I call it the bridge.) I've heard that a great bridge makes a great song. It might even be more important than the chorus. I'm Free delivers in this respect as the bridge is awesome.

Guitar (dist.): The first thing that really pops out is the distorted guitar, playing power chords in the first half and some nice riffs in the second half.
Distorted guitar in the bridge
The first half starts out with power chord hits A♭5 - B♭5 - E♭5 and then via E♭/G back to A♭5. We can think that we've shifted temporarily from C minor to its relative key E♭ major, giving us very basic chords: IV - V - I - IV. Bridge parts are usually built on subdominant and it fits here since A♭ is the subdominant of E♭.

The second half implied chords are Fm7 - E♭/G - A♭ - B♭ - Bdim7 (c: iv7 - III6 - VI - VII - ♮viio7), a nice ascending bass line. This is countered by a static quarter note stab - very quiet in the mix, an electric piano perhaps - with the notes B♭ and E♭. The guitar plays a riff around these same notes, switching the upper E♭ to D and F. This is a very common and powerful compositional device: static notes or an ostinato in one part and movement in another part.

If you look at the resulting chords in more detail, you'll notice that there's no C anywhere: Fm7 is actually F7sus4 and A♭ is A♭sus2.

The final bar is interesting as it contains a chord that's rarely used in pop music: the diminished seventh. No single part plays the whole chord: bass and guitar play B, the quiet stabber plays B and D (maybe also F, not sure), and vocal melody has an A♭. The usage of this chord here is also interesting because it's part of a cadence (B♭ - Bdim7) and as a dominant it wants to resolve to Cm, but instead is followed by Fm as the chorus starts. So we have a deceptive cadence!

1st chorus

Heaven helps the man who fights his fear…
One thing you'll probably notice in my recreation that the transition from the bridge to the chorus is kind of lame, or it's missing something. Well, it's missing the child choir yelling "I'm free!" which is the only fill or emphasis I can detect. There's no drum fill or even a crash on the first beat.

Chords in the chorus are Fm - D♭ - Fm - B♭m - C. You might notice that we're not in C minor anymore and you're right, the chorus is in F minor (f: i - VI - i - iv - V).

Drums: The drums in the chorus play a simple quarter beat until the last fill, which is only a single tom hit on the upbeat of one.

Bass: The bass plays solid eights, with a root-root-fifth-fifth pattern on the Fm. The fill on top of C major (which is doubled by the guitar) goes F - E - C - G - E which is just the chord arpeggiated with an F in front for some melodic suspension.
The chorus bassline
Synth (mellow): The mellow lead from the intro makes a comeback here and plays a F minor scale line from C down to F. This starts on the D♭ chord so the C gives it a maj7 flavor.

Synth (chords): There's a synth playing chords, mostly following the vocal melody. During the implied F minor chord the synth alternates between E♭ major and F minor triads, giving it a bit of suspension and release, or a minor 11 sound if you look at it as a whole.

Guitar (dist.): The distorted guitar plays some stabs of power chords and doubles the last riff on C, but there is something else happening during the F minor chord. This was the most difficult thing for me to figure out in this track. It sounds like muted notes, but I'm not entirely sure is this the guitar at all.
Guitar in the chorus. I'm sure of the power chords and the slides before them, but the short muted notes are a best guess.
While the transition to the chorus is a deceptive cadence, the exit from the chorus goes pretty smoothly ending on C major - with eight note stabs - and then shifting to C minor again. Well, not exactly since there's no C minor anywhere: the C based chord leading to the intro riff is ambiguous as it only contains the root and the seventh (C and B♭).

2nd verse

Before we get to the second verse there's a pre-verse (or a post-chorus) bit where the intro motif is repeated. This lasts only for a single repetition of the intro lead riff (as opposed to 2 times in the intro). The flutter fill doesn't appear here, or it's toned down. Instead there another cleaner swell sound playing B♭ and C together, which is played twice. I used my clean guitar sound for this, but it might be also done with the flutter synth by toning down the modulation and cutoff.
Running away will never make you free…
Synth (heaven): The second verse is similar to the first one but there's an additional synth playing question and answer with the vocals. This means that when Kenny's not singing there's something to fill in the space. Question and answer is a great tool in composition. You won't get too bored with one part if you only hear it occasionally and there's a forward momentum created with the interplay of two (or more) parts.
The "answer" synth in verse 2 playing the "sweet notes"
I named this part "heaven" because of the Synth Heaven preset in TAL U-No-62 which I used as a starting point for this sound. Also this is one of my favorite parts in the song and heavenly describes it well. Not a perfect sound match with the U-No-62, though: the original sound has a more electric piano type attack to it.

It sounds like the synth plays 8th notes because of a delay effect (which is set to 8th note time which doubles each quarter note). The dry sound is panned to the left and the delay right, creating a nice stereo effect.

The notes played are E♭ - D - B♭ - G (notes of E♭maj7 or III7, or III65 to be precise) on top of Cm, creating a Cm9 sound. These notes are something I like to call the sweet notes and I'll write a separate blog post about why they sound good on top of almost every chord.

2nd bridge

I wanna hold you now…
Drums: The latter half of the drums in the 2nd bridge are similar to the first, with slight variations in the first half.

Synth (e-piano): As with the 2nd verse, the 2nd bridge is also "sweetened" with a new element. This sound definitely has an electric piano type timbre, and I found the Stage E-Piano preset from FM8 quite suitable here.
Electric piano in the 2nd bridge.
The notes played are B♭ - D - E♭ (sweet notes again) which are repeated over all the chords expect the final bar, where the melody goes B♭ - A♭ - D, completing the diminished 7 on B. The repeated ostinato of intervals m6 down, m2 up, P5 up is very beautiful and effective.

The left hand plays bass notes, expect G on the E♭ major, and "stealing" A♭ in advance while the rest are only resolving E♭/G to A♭, which makes it sound a bit more interesting.

Guitar (dist.): The latter half doesn't have the higher riff as in the 1st bridge, which gives the e-piano more breathing room. Instead there seems to be only stabs of root notes on chord changes. There might be palm muted 8ths in between, but if there is, it's very subdued. The last B♭ to Bdim line is the same as before.

2nd chorus

The second chorus is the same as the first one, except for the very end. First time we had a short break on the C chord, now we're continuing full blast on to the guitar solo interlude.

Bass: Last bar plays 8th notes C - C - D - D - E - E - C - C.

Synth (chords): Last bar plays a long C major chord.

Interlude (guitar solo)

It's quite common for songs to follow the ABC pattern (or more like ABABCB), where A corresponds to the verse, B is the chorus and C is something else. The "C" or the interlude part of the song appears only once and is usually completely different from the rest of the other repeated elements. Some call this the bridge but I call it the interlude.

Interestingly, interludes quite often fall around the golden ratio (61.8%) point of the track. Here also the marker for the 3 minute 47 second track falls on 2:20 which is in the middle of the interlude.

Bass: The interlude in I'm Free doesn't follow any previous patterns we've seen. It hits every scale note except E♭ with transitional notes lasting 2 beats between longer chords. Steady 8ths play A♭ - (via B♭) - Cm - (B♭) - A♭ - (G) - Fm7 - (D) - Cm - Gm/B♭.

Drums: The drums continue a steady quarter beat, starting to hit some open hihats on the 4th upbeat.

Synth (effect): There's a funny little effect here during the long C minor chord. It kind of bubbles up, catches a breath, and then winds back down. There's a feedback delay effect (quarter triplet length) on it.

Synth (pad): If you had a string orchestra in this track it would play this line. It plays a scale up and down, from A♭ to E♭ and then back down to G.

Guitar (clean): Before we get to the solo, there's still one element in the background, the clean guitar playing chords. It a nice repeating pattern, playing short stabs of B♭ and C minor triads before landing on the chord proper, all on upbeats. Note the usage of Cm over A♭ creating a maj7 and A♭ on top of F bass creating a m7.
Chords in the interlude. Note that it starts just before the long Cm chord.
Guitar (dist./solo): And now for the interesting part, the actual solo. It's mainly built around the same riff we've seen in the 1st bridge: interplay of an inverted power chord E♭5 (B♭ and E♭) with B♭ and D. Did you notice these are sweet notes as well?
The guitar solo. The silent clusters in the latter half are just an effort to create a sliding sound/noise with MIDI guitar (doesn't sound good no matter how you try). Pitch bend range is 2 semitones up, 3.5 down.
The solo starts with a nice cross-rhythm where the repeated riff is 3 beats long, intertwining with the overall pulse of 4. When we get to the Cm chord an inverted C5 (G - C) is added to the riff, while a gradual crescendo is taking place.

On the second half there's an octave jump up, riffage around the same notes, and a finish with some bends on a Cm blues scale, finally landing on a high inverted C5.

3rd bridge

The end of the guitar solo transitions smoothly to the bridge which is yet again slightly different from the previous two. The first half has only bass and drums, the latter half has the e-piano riff from the 2nd bridge and the guitar.

Bass: The bass continues the solid 8ths pattern, only pausing in the crowd-pleasing clapping parts. The chord changes occur mostly on the upbeat of 4, same as before,

Drums: The claps enter! Everything else drops between the first two vocal lines, leaving only drums with claps accentuating the snare. This is what I love about the 80s: the snare sound is already fat, but apparently it's not big enough in certain places so you need to add some claps to make it huge.

Guitar (dist.): The distorted guitar seems to double the bassline with palm muting and accentuating the syncopated chord changes (LTM's first note).

Last chorus and fade out

The song ends with the chorus repeated 3 times and fading out during the third. There's nothing really different compared to the previous choruses apart from some drum fills and some bass variations during the last 1-2 bars of each repetition.
The bass at the end of the first of the last choruses.
The first variation is during the last B♭m and C chords. Instead of coming back down to B♭ on B♭m the last note is F and E - F - G - E is played on top of C, making it a C/E sound.

The second variation is on the next round, only modifying the last couple notes of the C chord. The bass plays C - C - D - D - E - C - C - low G during the last bar, breaking the pattern a bit.

Final words

Well, there you have it. In retrospect there's a lot going on in this track and the descriptions above just scratch the surface. Maybe I should have picked something simpler as the first track to fully recreate.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this analysis. I'd love to hear your comments on whether this is useful at all and which parts to focus more on the analysis.

Suggestions for tracks to analyse and recreate next are also welcome. I'll most likely recreate tracks that don't feature a lot of distorted guitars since they are a nuisance to recreate with MIDI/VSTs. The 80s, interesting production/sounds and an overall great track are things that will influence my track choices positively. Maybe something a bit simpler next.


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