In 1979 the album Breakfast In America was huge. The album had 4 singles in the Billboard 100. The Logical Song was the lead single. It peaked at #4 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, #7 in the UK, and #13 in New Zealand in 1979.
Breakfast In America peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts, #1 in Canada, #1 in New Zealand, and #3 in the UK…and won 2 Grammys.
This was a very personal song for Roger Hodgson would work on the song during soundchecks, and completed it long before bringing it to the band. The lyrics were based on his experience of being sent away to boarding school for ten years.
To accentuate the “d-d-digital” line in the lyrics, the band borrowed a Mattel handheld electronic football game from an engineer named Richard Digby-Smith, who was working next door. This device provided an unusual sounding, layered bleep. The specific sound occurs near the end of the song just after Hodgson sings the word “digital.” The sound itself indicated a player had lost control of the football.
Roger Hodgson: “I had actually finished the words and the arrangement six months before I proposed it to the band for the album… I didn’t think anyone would like it. Interestingly enough this song has the distinction of being one of the most quoted lyrics in schools.”
The lyrics are about how the innocence and wonder of childhood can quickly give way to worry and cynicism as children are taught to be responsible adults. It makes the point that logic can restrict creativity and passion. Supertramp keyboard player Roger Hodgson, who wrote this song and sang the lead vocals, said in our 2012 interview: “I think it was very relevant when I wrote it, and actually I think it’s even more relevant today. It’s very basically saying that what they teach us in schools is all very fine, but what about what they don’t teach us in schools that creates so much confusion in our being. I mean, they don’t really prepare us for life in terms of teaching us who we are on the inside. They teach us how to function on the outside and to be very intellectual, but they don’t tell us how to act with our intuition or our heart or really give us a real plausible explanation of what life’s about. There’s a huge hole in the education. I remember leaving school at 19, I was totally confused. That song really came out of my confusion, which came down to a basic question: please tell me who I am. I felt very lost. I had to educate myself in that way, and that’s why California was very good for me to kind of re-educate myself, if you like.
But it’s interesting that that song, I hear it all the time, it’s quoted in schools so much. I’ve been told it’s the most-quoted song in school. That may be because it has so many words in it that people like to spell. But I think it also poses that question, and maybe stimulates something with students. I hope so.” (Here’s our full interview with Roger Hodgson.)
Like the Lennon/McCartney partnership, most of Supertramp’s songs are credited to their lead singers Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, although in many cases one writer was entirely responsible for the song. “The Logical Song” was written by Hodgson, but it shares some themes with a song Davies wrote on Supertramp’s 1974 album Crime of the Century called “School.” Speaking of the connection in 1979 at a time when the songwriters were at odds, Davies said to Melody Maker: “‘School’ was a device, in some ways. I don’t know whether Roger would be able to associate too much with that, although I can see the connection with ‘Logical Song.’ Roger went straight from public school to a rock group, so his personal experience is a bit limited in that area. He’s very public school.”
Hodgson often writes songs by singing over his keyboard riffs. He’ll try different words and phrases to get ideas for his lyrics, which is how the title of this song came about. Said Hodgson: “From singing absolute nonsense, a line will pop up that suddenly makes sense, then another one, and so on. I was doing that when the word ‘logical’, came into my head and I thought, ‘That’s an interesting word’.”
Like another famous song from 1979, “Another Brick In The Wall (part II),” this song rails against English schooling. “What’s missing at school is for me the loudest thing,” Hodgson said. “We are taught to function outwardly, but we are not taught who we are inwardly, and what really the true purpose of life is. The natural awe and wonder, the thirst and enthusiasm and joy of life that young children have, it gets lost. It gets beaten out of them in a way.”
In 1980, Hodgson won the Ivor Novello Award from The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, who named “The Logical Song” the best song both musically and lyrically of that year.
The German dance music band Scooter did a techno version of “The Logical Song,” which was wildly popular across Europe and hit #2 in the UK. It has been certified gold by the BPI, selling over 400,000 copies and was the 15th best selling single of 2002.
In 2004, a Supertramp tribute band called Logicaltramp formed in the UK. Supertramp members John Helliwell and Roger Hodgson have given the band favorable reviews, and Helliwell has joined them on stage. >>
At a concert appearance, Roger Hodgson said of this song: “I was sent to boarding school for ten years and I definitely emerged from that experience with a lot of questions, like What the hell happened to me? What is life about? And why a lot of the things I had been told didn’t make any sense. ‘Logical Song’ was really a light hearted way of saying something pretty deep. Which is they told me how to conform, to be presentable, to be acceptable and everything but they didn’t tell me who I am or why I m here. So, it s a very profound message and I think it really resonated with a lot of people when it came out.”
The Logical Song
When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, playfully watching me
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical
There are times when all the world’s asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am
I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable
Respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable
Oh, take it take it yeah
But at night, when all the world’s asleep
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man
Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am, who I am, who I am, who I am
‘Cause I was feeling so logical
One, two, three, five
Oh, oh, oh, oh
It’s getting unbelievable