[Flexes, checks watch] ... It's time for the Top Gun Soundtrack!
For a movie that came out in 1986, you’d think that the primary source of its music would be from hair metal bands, especially given the magnificently triumphant guitar work on the Top Gun Anthem. Instead, Top Gun keeps it classy by featuring Yacht Rock maestro, Kenny Loggins, midwest Power Pop rock band, Cheap Trick, and the Latin synth-brass of the Miami Sound Machine. And when it needs to take it up a notch in movie, the klaxons burst to life, calling in older recording battleships like Otis Redding, The Righteous Brothers, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The real story of how the Top Gun Anthem was written
Disclaimer: the video for the anthem is not the most 80s thing ever, but it’s up there. Say you’re Steve Stevens and you’re sitting around the green room, separating out the brown M&Ms from the rest. All of a sudden, the door bursts open. And on the other side is a mix of Tony Scott, Tom Cruise, Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Harold Faltermeyer, and Anthony Edwards, because Edwards is a total bad ass.
Their like, “Hey Steve, you’re the fingers of rock! We need those magical fingers to perform the most magnificently triumphant music since the National Anthem for our two hour military recruitment commercial named Top Gun, can you do that?”
And if you’re Steve in 1986, you’re like, “Bodacious. But before we begin, and it’s a big but, the National Anthem isn’t even close to the most magnificently triumphant music ever created. Setting Throne Room (Williams) aside, you still have next year’s Appetite for Destruction, and, Hysteria, as well as everything that the fictional band Wyld Stallyns will write.
You see, eventually their music will help put an end to war and poverty. It will align the planets and bring them into universal harmony, allowing meaningful contact with all forms of life, from extraterrestrial beings to common household pets. And … it’s excellent for dancing.”
If you were there, you would have seen what Steve Stevens saw. Simpson’s blank stare, he only listens to Yacht Rock). Tony Scott looking incredulous, he had high hopes of having Spinal Tap score his film. Jerry B. shaking his head because he just wants the National Anthem on repeat for entirety of the film … ‘Mmmerrika! Faltermeyer nodding coolly, he can work with this. Cruise being intrigued by the word extraterrestrial, maybe he’ll do some research, after all, he has an extended vacation coming up after filming wraps and Clearwater, FL seems like a nice town.
And of course, Edwards cocking his arm for a huge high five, he gets it. Of course he does.
Just then, Bruckheimer gets a call on his Zack Morris cellphone, cause it’s 1986 and all, and it’s his buddy Michael Bay talking about a cartoon movie his kid is watching and how he wants to make a live action movie that will ruin the childhoods of everyone who loved the original so dearly by changing how all of the robots look.
So he steps out of the room.
Simpson and Scott then start arguing over budgeting issues, how they can skirt the rights to the Righteous Brothers’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, and how many times they need Rick Rossovich to flex in the shirtless volleyball scene.
Edwards is like, “Yo, Donny, I’m just going to sing it to Kelly acapella!” And Harold is trying to get the cassette rewound on his boombox to play the demo tape he made for Steve to convince him to sign on for guitar work.
Cruise is thinking.
“Now Steve,” Harold says. “I haven’t written the melody line, only the foundational chord structure of the song, with appropriate instrumentation and …” as his voice trails off, frustrated because the tape deck’s play button was momentarily stuck.
Unnoticed, due to the chaos in the room, Steve’s amps are dimed, with the tubes saturated, ready for overdriven glory. Hamer in hand with the tremolo floating, Steve switches channels from standby to full throttle. It’s at this time that Harold is hitting play on his silver Sony boombox.
The programmatic drums start, panning to and fro, L to R, R to L. The synth bell rings once, now twice. Internalizing this, Steve pictures a fighter jet rising from the depths of an aircraft carrier, maybe the USS Carl Vinson? Nah, too new.
… The USS Ranger. Perfect.
The airman on the flight deck taking orders. A flash of radar, four bogeys en route. Another shot of the F-14, resplendent in it’s cold blue steel, a silver dove, waiting to spread its mighty wings.
Yeah, this is good pacing. Another shot of radar, only now the four bogeys are five, the odds just got worse. Steve looks over at Cruise, squinty eyed from questioning his own spirituality. Looks at Harold, who is now just turning to face him. Looks at Tony and Don, they have ceased their discussion, sensing that something momentous is about to occur. And with Jerry B. out in the hallway trying to talk his boy down off the ledge of murdering Transformers, he turns to the Goose himself, future Nick Bradshaw, one Mr. Anthony Edwards.
Edwards matches the stare of one Mr. Steve Stevens. Mustachioed, with a PBR tallboy in his right hand and his left slowly rising, Edwards goes all in, legs spread wide, fist up, maximum power move.
The fingers of rock burst into electric fire. The dimed, but probably at 11 if we are being honest, Marshall full stack bathes everyone in sound.
Uncontrollably, Edwards speaks out over the music, “I feel a great convergence in the force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in pleasure, and were suddenly uproarious! … I feel something amazing has happened!”
Four minutes and fourteen seconds of hammer-ons, pull-offs, whammy excellence, dive bombs, two-hand tapping, pinch harmonics, power chords, note flutters, scoops, sweeps, braying horses, all in a cyclone of masterfully fretted and plucked notes.
Stevens’ Hamer hums in and out of breath from the shredding sprint of notes, the floyd rose battered, but intact from the passionately aggressive whammy tricks. His spangled raiment, a glossy silver poly-blend, molecularly bonds with his body due to a combination of perspiration and dripping Aquanet from his elaborately teased coif.
Around the world, war stops for four minutes and fourteen seconds. It’s as if We Are The World is true. Global Warming, rife with mainstream denial, reverses like Superman flying backward around Earth. Strangers shake hands. Sick babies are healed. Hungry children are fed. Parents get offered raises. Even corporations in America discuss profitable ways to increase maternity leave for mother’s.
The glass ceiling shatters.
While the world outside radiated, the men in the room irrevocably changed for the worse.
Managing to remain out of the room and thus bathing in the radiance of the performance, Jerry B. goes on to produce some stellar films (and so many sequels):
- Days of Thunder
- Bad Boys
- The Rock
- Enemy of the State
- Coyote Ugly (the chicks, man!)
- Remember the Titans
- Black Hawk Down (Eric Bana, for the chicks!)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
- years pass and then Top Gun: Maverick
However, in the afterglow of Stevens resplendence, the rest succumb to a vile and tragic fate.
Donny Simpson, uncaged party animal, dies a decade later with 21 drugs in his system, the result of a 60k/mo. habit. Apparently he felt the need, the need for speed!
Too soon? You’re right, I’m sorry.
Tony Scott, may his soul rest, jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in LA, committing suicide. Tragic for sure.
Harold Faltermeyer barely got a gig after his epic scoring. He did The Running Man, and fell off the map. At least he is coming back for Top Gun: Maverick. I expect good things.
Cruise’s tragic fall is anything but. Somehow, despite joining the Church of Scientology, and, murdering the acting career of Katie Holmes, he is excelling. He stars in a ton of good to really great movies, and, he is being asked back to reprise his ultimate role at Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Hopefully he has been promoted since.
But get this, the wildest thing is that he hasn’t aged. Seriously, check out his photos. He is like a real life Lestat.
But no tragedy was more tragic than Anthony Edwards losing both his hair and his mustache. A man may lose one, but never both.
Interesting thought: If Tom Selleck’s mustache is Chocolate Thunder, would Anthony Edwards’ mustache just be called The Goose?
… but yeah, that all happened. Four minutes and fourteen seconds of peace and harmony on this Earth.
The Top Gun Anthem youtube video
Remember that story as you watch the Top gun Anthem video that Dominic Sena directed. It’s like Dominic was plugged into Steve Stevens’ mind Matrix-style, as he storyboarded and subsequently filmed his vision for the video.
In reality, we can all thank Steve Stevens and Anthony Edwards for Top Gun and the Top Gun Anthem. Without the Edwards power move, Stevens doesn’t dial up the full confidence to shred the most patriotic music every created. He subsumed the power of Francis Scott Key, John Stafford Smith, and Jimi Hendrix.
It’s widely accepted that Mr. Faltermeyer and Mr. Stevens were promptly invited to the White House for lemonade and croquet on the front lawn for their generous contribution to patriotism and the American Way after writing this music.
I give the Top Gun Original Motion Picture Soundtrack a 8.75⁄10
Every song is at least decent. The 1999 Special Edition obviously helps to raise the bar. But let’s be honest and just point out that the Top Gun Anthem alone is worth 5 of the 8.75.
- Danger Zone - Kenny Loggins
- Mighty Wings - Cheap Trick
- Playing with the Boys - Kenny Loggins
- Lead Me On - Teena Marie
- Take My Breath Away - Berlin
- Hot Summer Nights - Miami Sound Machine
- Heaven in Your Eyes - Loverboy
- Through the Fire - Larry Greene
- Destination Unknown - Marietta
- Top Gun Anthem - Harold Faltermeyer (and Steve Stevens)
- (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
- Memories - Harold Faltermeyer
- Great Balls of Fire (Original Version) - Jerry Lee Lewis
- You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling - The Righteous Brothers
- Playing with the Boys (Dance Mix) - Kenny Loggins
Tracks 11-15 are bonus tracks on a 1999 Special Edition release of the Top Gun Soundtrack.
Top Gun Original Motion Picture Soundtrack notes
Danger Zone - Kenny Loggins
One would think that Kenny Loggins was the first phone call that got made to record Danger Zone, but it was actually Toto. In fact, Danger Zone went through a slew of other recording artists, most notably Bryan Adams (and REO Speedwagon, Corey Hart, and others).
Personally, I think Bryan Adams would have slayed Danger Zone with equal aplomb.
Unsurprisingly, Danger Zone still retains its pop culture relevance to this day. It’s been used in TV Shows and Super Bowl commercials. Better yet, it’s coming back for the sequal, Top Gun: Maverick.
Beyond being the U.S. Navy’s “… most effective recruiting poster ever produced”, the video for Danger Zone was shot by Top Gun director, Tony Scott.
Perhaps the most important thing about the song Danger Zone is how many times a bunch of Bro’s, sitting in their IROC-Z, said to each other in unison, “I feel the need … the need for speed!” while blaring the titular track to the 1986 movie.
Also, one would think that Danger Zone is the theme song of the Top Gun Soundtrack based on the sheer number of times it gets played. But come on, the anthem is the anthem.
The Danger Zone video is equally bad ass, interspersed with scenes from the movie and the mythical Kenny Loggins playing with a SLR camera. If that doesn’t say intensity, I don’t know what does.
Mighty Wings - Cheap Trick
Mighty Wings might as well be Danger Zone 2, only better. The verse into the chorus exhibits the typical Noles/Fizz pattern of songwriting, with the tension verse with minor verse into the exhilarating lift-me-up choral melody.
Rick Nielsen lays down a classy solo. And who doesn’t the lighthearted Ferris Bueller style synth notes that pop in and out.
No stranger to righteous soundtrack songs, Cheap Trick’s Mighty Wings turns and burns through every verse and chorus, overlaying many of the Grunman F-14 Tomcat and MiG action sequences. Hands down the most bad ass song on the Top Gun soundtrack.
This raging fire of a song really is a silver dove with mighty wings.
If you’re in the mood for another soundtrack anthem, check out I Will Survive by Cheap Trick on the Gladiator Soundtrack (1992).
Playing with the Boys - Kenny Loggins
Annnnnd he’s back. Kenny Loggins records the only hit song that Volleyball, both court and beach, ever had. Better still, Playing with the Boys has a regular mix AND a dance mix. Oh that Kenny Loggins.
Playing with the Boys is featured in one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. Who remembers Shirtless Volleyball!?
Shirtless beach volleyball had everything. Lets list them in order.
- Spinning the volleyball on a finger
- Watch check
- Goose wearing a sleeveless cutoff
- Mav in jeans
- Slider flexing
- Slider tossing Iceman into a headlock
- Double high fives
- A strong insult to end it
It’s just the best. Everyone loves shirtless volleyball, the girls and the boys. It is quite a pivotal scene in the movie. Bacon sports breaks it down further.
Playing with the boys is good, but it isn’t Over the Top’s Meet Me Half Way. That song was a masterpiece.
Lead Me On - Teena Marie
Lead Me On by Teena Marie got all the funk that Sisqó left out.
Without watching the movie, this is the song from the Top Gun awards banquet scene, right? The one where Viper offers to be Mav’s RIO, but then he gets to the carrier and Principal Strickland assigns him (future) Andy Dufresne (Merlin / Tim Robbins).
Nothing like some 70’s Bose 301s bumpin’ some synth-funk, dance pop at the Miramir Country Club whilst a bunch of Naval Aviators collect training awards while trying not to get cocktail sauce on their dress whites.
Fun fact - Teena Marie had a hit with Lovergirl. It would have been so meta to perform that hit with Loverboy. Just saying.
Take My Breath Away - Berlin
The song before the smoking jacket and snifter. Berlin’s Take My Breath Away was the official sound of romance in 1986.
When you think of bands named after cities, Berlin is at the top of your list, right?
No? Clearly, because you are thinking about Boston and Chicago. Question, would it have been way to presumptuous to be named New York?
Hot Summer Nights - Miami Sound Machine
Standard 80s pop here on Hot Summer Nights. The Sound Machine of Miami cranked out copies of the hit song template with regularity in 1986.
Mirrors? Combs in their hand? Solid gold lyric writing.
The radio is about to blow? Guess their boombox goes way past 11.
Heaven in Your Eyes - Loverboy
Love the synth intro. You gotta hand it to Mike Reno, he really lays the dramatics on thick in Heaven in Your Eyes.
Every movie, like every album, needs a ballad. Heaven in Your Eyes is Top Gun’s.
Through the Fire - Larry Greene
Gotta be honest here, Through the Fire seems like it belongs in another 1986 movie, and no, I’m not talking about Iron Eagle. I’m talking about the outrageously awesome Transformers: The Movie. Reminds me a lot of Spectre General’s (Kick Axe) Nothin’s Gonna Stand In Our Way.
Through the Fire got the electronic drumkit and synth combo that is a staple of 1986.
But I need to know, who is Larry Greene? Let’s check the internet to see if he had other hits … I guess he was in the band Fortune and wrote songs for other 80s movies, Over the Top and Mystic Pizza.
Destination Unknown - Marietta
Marietta’s Destination Unknown is actually a solid track. If I recall correctly (without watching the movie), it’s the song playing at the bar when Mav goes and hits on Charlie.
Top Gun Anthem - Harold Faltermeyer (with Steve Stevens)
Emblazoned with patriotism and radiating victory, the Top Gun Anthem is written and executed to perfection. Faltermeyer writes an absolute gem.
Why did Mav even switch to rockets? The harbinger of defeat, he should have just broadcast the Top Gun Anthem when he was intercepting enemy planes. Every MiG pilot would have bugged out and returned to base, so sure they would have been of their annihilation.
You know who would have blasted the Top Gun Anthem in his fighter jet’s JBLs? Doug Masters.
Playable as a track in Guitar Hero III.
(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
Mav, getting the girl.
A girl named Charlie.
Memories - Harold Faltermeyer
The music when Goose dies. 32 years later and I still can’t talk about it.
Great Balls of Fire (Original Version) - Jerry Lee Lewis
In the movie, Goose is just being the consummate wingman and helping Mav get the girl.
A girl named Charlie.
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling - The Righteous Brothers
You know this from the scene in the bar when Goose first acts like the consummate wingman to help Mav get the girl.
A girl named Charlie.
I hate it when she does that!
Playing with the Boys (Dance Mix) - Kenny Loggins
A more “pop” version of this fantastic tune. You gotta check out the video. It’s progressive attitudes toward female empowerment were definitely not a theme of the 80s.
Nice work, Kenny. Nice work.
Final thoughts on the Top Gun Soundtrack
Wow! As far as movie soundtracks go, this is right up there. It’s not Rocky IV, but what is?!