The story behind The Logical Song by Supertramp

In 1979, Paul McCartney was asked to name his favourite song of the year. He chose The Logical Song by Supertramp.

For Roger Hodgson, Supertramp’s co-leader, it was the greatest of compliments. “Having been brought up on The Beatles,” he says, “it was wonderful to hear Paul McCartney loved my song.”

But Hodgson always knew The Logical Song was something special. “When you’re writing a song,” he says, “sometimes you feel like you’re eighty per cent successful, but with The Logical Song I felt like I’d nailed it one hundred per cent. As a melody, a lyric, an arrangement and a recording, it really is perfect in its completeness.”

The Logical Song was the biggest hit of Supertramp’s career, reaching the Top Ten in the US and UK, and transforming parent album Breakfast In America into a chart-topping, multimillion-selling phenomenon. 

It also won a prestigious Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically And Lyrically. And as Hodgson acknowledges, it was the lyrical content, as much as the expertly crafted music, that made The Logical Song connect with such a huge audience. “A great song,” he says, “is one that people can relate to, that touches them, makes them feel something.”

And in The Logical Song, Hodgson drew on the experiences of his own troubled childhood to create an existentialist pop-rock classic in which he addressed the biggest question of all: the meaning of life.

Ever since Supertramp formed in 1969, it was Hodgson and Rick Davies who formed the band’s creative nucleus. Both sang lead vocals and played keyboards, and between them they wrote all of the songs. Hodgson and Davies had a similar arrangement to Lennon and McCartney in The Beatles: they wrote separately, but always shared the writing credits. However, as Hodgson says now: “The Logical Song wasn’t co-written in any way. It was very much my song.”

It was in early 1978 that The Logical Song started coming together. The band were in Los Angeles, about to begin recording the Breakfast In America album, when Hodgson sat alone at a Wurlitzer electric piano and began playing around with a chord progression he’d toyed with, off and on, for a couple of months. 

“I had these chords written,” he says, “and I hadn’t thought much of them, to tell the truth. But then one day when I was playing the chords, I heard the melody. And as I started singing the melody, the first word that came to me was ‘liberal’…”

Immediately, Hodgson reeled off words that rhymed: intellectual, radical… logical. And in that moment, the whole concept for the song came into focus. “Right away, I knew what I wanted to say. The song was born out of my questions about what really mattered in life. Throughout childhood we’re taught how to behave, yet we’re very rarely told anything about the deeper purpose of life. We go from the innocence and wonder of childhood to the confusion of adolescence, and that often ends up in disillusionment in adulthood. And many of us spend our lives trying to get back to that innocence.”

In The Logical Song, Hodgson delivered a damning critique of the education system. It was a subject he had tackled before in School, a song from Supertramp’s 1974 breakthrough Crime Of The Century, a landmark progressive rock album. But as Hodgson says, The Logical Song was “very autobiographical”. Its first-person narrative made specific reference to his years at boarding school as a ‘shy and sensitive’ boy, deeply affected by his parents’ divorce when he was 12: ‘They sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical/And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical…

Hodgson invested “a lot of work” in the lyrics. “I had to come up with all the words ending in ‘al’,” he says. “So it was the one and only time I consulted a dictionary when writing a lyric.” And for the music, his attention to detail bordered on the obsessive. The electric piano riff was the foundation. “It had a very percussive, rhythmical feel I really liked.”

But when work began at LA’s Village Recorder studios, Hodgson dictated what each member of the band would play. “I was the main arranger in the band,” he says. “I used to go through all the parts, even down to drum fills. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Anything extraneous shouldn’t be there. Everything was orchestrated and that’s why it works so well.”

Incorporated into the finished track were various sound effects. John Helliwell, having contributed a rasping saxophone solo, provided the heavy sigh in the intro and blew a whistle to signal the outro. And a surprise comic twist was added by the bleeping ‘goal’ sound from a Mattel football game that Rick Davies loved to play between takes. “We’d hear that sound echoing around the studio all day,” Hodgson says. “So we put it in the run-out after I sang the word ‘digital’.”

Due to Hodgson’s perfectionism, it took two weeks for the final mix of the song to be completed. “I wouldn’t rest until it was absolutely right,” he says.

However, the end justified the means. Released in the summer of 1979, The Logical Song was acclaimed by Rolling Stone as “a small masterpiece”, and its success turned Supertramp into superstars.

Forty-two years on – and 38 since he exited Supertramp – Roger Hodgson still sings The Logical Song every night when he performs as a solo artist. “I can still hit that big note at the end of the song,” he laughs. “But it is damn high.”

Most importantly of all for Hodgson, it’s a song that has lost none of its meaning. “I was 29 when I wrote The Logical Song,” he says. “I was searching for answers. The burning question in that song was: ‘Please tell me who I am.’ I still don’t have all the answers. But I knew there was something deeper out there – a place of peace. And in the end, I found it."

Classic Rock 219: News & Regulars

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”