There are certain irrefutable truths in life as one gets older. Kurt Cobain doesn’t deserve the messiah-like status attributed to him. Most things that your parents told you were fabricated. You’ve never once nor will you ever need to use Pythagorean Theorem in your daily life. But perhaps most pertinent of all is the fact that the Top Gun album not only trumps the film itself, but is undoubtedly the greatest soundtrack ever produced.
1986’s proudly jingoistic and faintly homoerotic tale of jet fighter pilots up in the skies with the best of the best was the brainchild of ’80s powerhouse producers Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson. The film adhered to the duo’s simplistic (but box office watertight) three-act structure and their insistence in forging a highly lucrative synergy between cinema and the music industry by packing their movies with all the hot artists of that era to essentially create a super-soundtrack.
Assisting them in their all-out conquest of the pop charts, Bruckheimer and Simpson had an ace up their sleeves in the form of famed German music producer Giorgio Moroder. Having scored huge with his shimmering electronic dance numbers (including the iconic Donna Summer disco track “I Feel Love”), Moroder brought his musical prowess to a number of early features from the producers, including both Flashdance and American Gigolo. Reaching his zenith here with this soundtrack and its all killer, no filler content, Morodor assembled a collection of solo artists and groups who were firing on all cylinders during this period.
Forget the reissued version of the album which added those classic music tracks featured in the film. Also ignore completely the horribly cynical repackaged 2006 “Deluxe Edition,” complete with a number of hit songs from the decade that had zero connection to the film. The original 1986 release is the only one you should be listening to on rotation forever.
Here’s a blow-by-blow look at the tracks:
“Danger Zone” – Kenny Loggins
Originally intended for the band Toto, arguably the album’s most famous song was actually an alternative to one which was first sought out. Pock-marked Canadian songsmith Bryan Adams was initially approached by the makers to see if he would allow them to use his track, “Only The Strong Survive,” but is said to have refused on the grounds that he felt the film glorified war.
It’s difficult to envision any other song in place of “Danger Zone.” Co-written by Moroder and his biggest Top Gun contributor Tom Whitlock, legend has it the latter was a mechanic by trade who found his way into the industry through working on Moroder’s collection of Ferraris. The US automotive industry’s loss was obviously ’80s movie soundtracks’ gain as Whitlock went on to provide songs for such films as Over The Top, Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise, Fatal Beauty and Navy SEALs.
“Mighty Wings” – Cheap Trick
This track by odd-looking American rock combo Cheap Trick (who would go on to score big over the Atlantic with their 1988 track “The Flame”), “Mighty Wings” was released as the final single from the soundtrack. Co-written by Moroder protégé Harold Faltermeyer (who had won a Grammy two years earlier with his soundtrack for Simpson and Bruckheimer’s Beverly Hills Cop) this is a song of sweeping, Wagnerian proportions, delivered with the requisite poodle-haired, power chord gusto.
“Playing With The Boys” – Kenny Loggins
The second contribution from singer-songwriter Loggins (no slouch in the soundtrack department, with memorable songs from both Caddyshack and Footloose under his belt) Playing With The Boys offers a joyous, feel-good burst of summer wrapped up in a song. Owing to its title and the scene it plays out to within in the film (a male-on-male volleyball game, featuring a slew of oiled up, muscular bods) the tune has come under some gentle ribbing in the past. Listening to it now however, it can’t help but bring a huge smile to your face.
“Lead Me On” – Teena Marie
One of the strongest additions to the soundtrack, it’s unfortunate that this sprightly pop ditty is used only as scene filler earlier on in the film where Maverick (lead Tom Cruise) first meets and tries to woo his flight instructor-cum-love interest (played by Kelly McGillis). Marie first made a splash on Motown Records before becoming a regular fixture in the 80s R&B charts, particularly in the US where she frequently collaborated with her Superfreak ex, Rick James. Sadly, she died of natural causes in 2010 aged just 54.
“Take My Breath Away” (Love Theme from Top Gun) – Berlin
“Take My Breath Away” is the song which undoubtedly catapulted this album to the top. Co-written by Moroder, it reached number one in many countries around the world, hitting the top spot in the UK for four weeks and ultimately going on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Moody, atmospheric and elegiac, it remains an incredible 80s love ballad and has subsequently been used in various adverts and has cropped up numerous times in contemporary popular culture as the signature theme song to denote that decade (the most obvious of these being a flashback in Ocean��s Eleven). Moroder has said this is the song he is most proud of producing, and it’s easy to see why he feels that way.
“Hot Summer Nights” – Miami Sound Machine
For those who are old enough to have purchased the soundtrack on either vinyl or cassette, this was the barnstorming B-side opener. Featuring lead vocals by Gloria Estefan right before she was catapulted to worldwide stardom (and essentially robbing the band of their title in the process) the Latino singer would also score big with another track for a film the following year when her song “Bad Boys” was used in the opening credits of Three Men And A Baby. As fun as that number is, it simply doesn’t reach the dizzying, evocative heights of “Hot Summer Nights.”
“Heaven In Your Eyes” – Loverboy
The second love song off the album, this is an unflinching cheesefest which is delivered with so much sincerity and passion you can’t help but get caught up in it. The band’s keyboardist Doug Johnson was apparently another conscientious objector, like fellow Canadian peacenik Bryan Adams. His absence in the song’s music video was intentional, as he also felt that the film glamorised war and life in the military. Years later, several of Loverboy’s songs ended up making an appearance in the kind of film they seemed destined for – the cult ’80s-set satirical comedy Wet Hot American Summer.
Through The Fire – Larry Greene
Like “Danger Zone,” “Through The Fire” offers another example of a ridiculously OTT title, dripping with the kind of gung-ho machismo which chimed with US audiences in that Regan-era of flag-waving patriotism. America, fuck yeah! Greene’s songs also cropped up in two other features from that decade, Over The Top and Mystic Pizza, although the singer himself has kept a low profile throughout the years since Top Gun. His website states that one of his tracks made it into an episode of True Blood, but that’s his only credit of recent years, soundtrack-wise.
Destination Unknown – Marietta
A pensive and haunting song delivered by a singer with an alluring single moniker, this penultimate addition to the album is a welcome respite from the heavier track which precedes it. Co-written by the composers behind memorable tracks found in the likes of Fletch, Iron Eagle and Rocky IV, with its thoughtful, contemplative vibe, “Destination Unknown” could even work in a dialled-down Rocky-like montage sequence.
“Top Gun Anthem” – Harold Faltermeyer & Steve Stevens
The perfect end to a near-faultless compilation, this instrumental is an unabashedly fist-pumping joy to listen to. Stevens’ rip-roaring guitar solo grids away, reaching soaring and transcendental heights, and the song perfectly encapsulates that grandiose era in pop music.