There may not be one precise reason why 1986’s Top Gun has remained at the forefront of the minds of movie and pop culture fans since its debut 30 years ago. The lasting legacy can, in part, be credited to the film’s now widely accepted status as a quintessential, peak-‘80s blockbuster. It can also be attributed to the undeniable producing (and box office) power of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the story follows a bromance in its purest form. Plus fighter jets.
Still, I think what has given Top Gun its staying power more than anything else is the unfiltered, all-American, glorious soundtrack.
That soundtrack, already a superstorm of talent and relevance when it was compiled by renowned Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, is an all-time great of its own volition. But its total and complete cohesion with the film arguably makes it the all-time great. Let’s look at – and listen to – a few notable tracks to see why.
“Danger Zone” – Kenny Loggins
Incredibly, this song was actually an alternative selection, sung by an alternate artist. Moroder offered it to Toto, Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon, and even Corey Hart before Loggins agreed. And yet, it’s difficult to imagine Top Gun without the song or Loggins’ signature improvisations. Moroder and Co. hoped it would be a hit, and a music video with Loggins and clips from the movie was released a few weeks before the premiere. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains the preeminent single from the film.
"Take My Breath Away" – Berlin
Despite the lasting power of “Danger Zone,” it was not the biggest hit to come from the Top Gun soundtrack. That honor belongs to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” which vaulted to the top spot on song charts across the globe (and was co-written by Moroder and writing partner Tom Whitlock). If “Danger Zone” was the bouncy, rock theme of the decade, “Take My Breath Away” was its love ballad.
The song may now come off as schmaltzy and indulgent to some. It’s often used to supplement ‘80s flashbacks in contemporary film and television. But it went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 1987 Academy Awards, and that kind of hardware is difficult to argue with.
"Through the Fire" – Larry Greene
“Through the fire/To the wire/When the flames are burning hot/They take you higher.” Don’t those lyrics just make you want to punch Mikhail Gorbachev in the face?
If this song isn’t Exhibit A for the patriotic machismo of anti-communist ‘80s America, I don’t know what is. Played during thrilling, daring air scenes in the film, “Through the Fire” was the anthem of a country running on jet fuel (and Reaganism). Who could resist the allure of Maverick, Iceman, and Goose tearing up the skies paired a song that got the heart pumping like this?
Here are the rest of the jams rounding out the soundtrack:
"Mighty Wings" – Cheap Trick
"Mighty Wings" was the last single released from the album. Though it didn't see success on the charts, it was used for the end credits in the film (and earlier without lyrics).
"Playing With the Boys" – Kenny Loggins
This song, written by Loggins, played during the beach volleyball scene before Maverick's date with Charlie (and was later used for a 1990 beach volleyball movie called Side Out).
"Lead Me On" – Teena Marie
C'mon and lead me on! This is a strong, quintessential '80s dance track that played during the film's club scenes.
"Hot Summer Nights" – Miami Sound Machine
A pre-fame Gloria Estefan absolutely crushes it here, with Latin tones that call to mind her later hit "Rhythm is Gonna Get You."
"Heaven in Your Eyes" – Loverboy
"It took some time to find the light, but now I realize/I can see the heaven in your eyes.” With lyrics like these, the love ballad could have been a hit if not for the massive success of "Take My Breath Away."
"Destination Unknown" – Marietta Waters
A good beat and fun chorus, but not a standout track on this super-album.
"Top Gun Anthem" – Steve Stevens, Harold Faltermeyer
Last, but certainly not least, the anthem itself! This guitar-based instrumental shows up more than any other throughout the film. Before you listen, be warned: it will likely cause incessant humming.
Catch Top Gun at the Hulu Summer Road Trip’s stop in San Diego on August 20, preceded by an episode of “The O.C.”
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