Top Gun became a box office hit in 1986 thanks to a combination of exhilarating visuals, high-octane storytelling and – perhaps most importantly – a dynamic soundtrack.
Filmmakers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson had witnessed successful synergy between movies and albums before, having previously overseen the soundtracks to Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop. While both men were listed as producers on the Top Gun soundtrack, the real brains behind the release was composer, songwriter and record producer Giorgio Moroder. The Italian maestro would write several of the LP’s biggest hits, while also playing an integral in the selection of songs.
No track captured the movie’s adrenaline-rush attitude more clearly than “Danger Zone,” the anthemic song used in the film’s opening scene. “I mean, for that time, when you hear that song, “Danger Zone,” it was rocking,” the film’s star, Tom Cruise, later remarked. “We’re Top Gun at that point.”
Kenny Loggins would deliver the rousing rock track, though he wasn’t Moroder’s first choice. The composer, who had written the song alongside lyricist Tom Whitlock, approached Bryan Adams, Corey Hart, REO Speedwagon and Toto with the song. For various issues, all passed.
With “Danger Zone” written, but nobody to sing it, producers reached out to Loggins. “I just happened to be in the studio, and they needed a singer right away,” he recalled to Movieweb. “I dropped what I was doing and went in.”
Watch Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ Video
“Playing with the Boys” – an upbeat pop tune, featured in the movie’s infamous volleyball scene – also came courtesy of the singer. Unlike “Danger Zone,” “Boys” was a Loggins original, penned after Moroder and his team had asked for submissions from a wide range of songwriters.
“They decided that they were going to bring in as many pop writers as they could to try to really inject it full of rock ‘n’ roll,” Loggins later recalled to VH1, explaining that there was fierce competition among artists to land a song in the film. “We saw one scene that we figured nobody would write for, and that was the volleyball scene. So we said, Okay, let’s just write something really cool for the volleyball scene. Get in [the movie]. Let everybody else fight over the opening credits.”
Both of Loggins’ tracks became radio hits, though “Danger Zone” was the more popular of the two. The hard-hitting tune reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Playing With the Boys” peaked at No. 60.
Watch Kenny Loggins’ ‘Playing With the Boys’ Video
The only No. 1 song on the Top Gun soundtrack came courtesy of the new wave band Berlin. Like “Danger Zone,” the track was written by Moroder and Whitlock, who then searched for the perfect artist to record it.
When Moroder pitched “Take My Breath Away” to Berlin – and showed the band the steamy love scene it would soundtrack – frontwoman Terri Nunn was immediately on board. Her bandmate, bassist John Crawford, was not.
“I wanted to do it. John, my partner, was like,’ ‘This isn’t our song. And we’re Berlin, and we do only our own music. And I’m not really sure about this,” Nunn recalled years later. The singer claimed she “slapped him around a bit,” before Crawford relented and agreed to record the track.
Watch Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’ Video
“Take My Breath Away” quickly became a worldwide hit, reaching the Top 5 in 16 different countries and becoming the one of the most popular songs of 1986. The soaring ballad even took home the Oscar for best original song (awarded to cowriters Moroder and Whitlock).
Despite this success, the song created turmoil within Berlin, specifically with Crawford, who resented the track. “Here was this song, which was huge, which he felt wasn’t us,” Nunn recalled. “Wasn’t our sound. Wasn’t anything we’d ever done before. And now we have to do this every live show. And, dammit, this is not what Berlin’s about.”
Still, Nunn took pride in the track, believing it struck an emotional chord with listeners. “I was alone [at the time],” the singer recalled to The Guardian. “I’d been so busy with the band, I’d not had a relationship for four years. So I sang it from a feeling of sadness and longing, and maybe that’s what resonated.”
Though not quite the worldwide hit that “Take My Breath Away” became, Loverboy’s “Heaven in Your Eyes” was another solid entry on the Top Gun soundtrack. The power ballad peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later appeared on Loverboy’s 1989 compilation album, Big Ones. Still, the song was not without controversy. The band’s keyboardist, Doug Johnson, refused to appear in the song’s music video, a sign of protest against Top Gun, a movie he believed glorified war.
Watch Loverboy’s ‘Heaven in Your Eyes’ Video
Elsewhere on the Top Gun soundtrack, Cheap Trick made an appearance. In the film, an instrumental version of their song “Mighty Wings” was used during a pilot-training sequence. The full version, complete with vocals, later played over the movie’s end credits.
The rest of the Top Gun soundtrack was made up of lesser-known material. “Through the Fire,” recorded by Larry Greene, felt like a less impactful “Danger Zone” knockoff. Indeed, the track was also penned by Moroder and Whitlock, so it’s entirely possible the songwriters were copying themselves. Gloria Estefan made an appearance fronting the Miami Sound Machine. The group’s “Hot Summer Nights” added some upbeat, dance-inducing pop to the largely bombastic soundtrack. Meanwhile, Teena Marie’s “Lead Me On” and Marietta’s “Destination Unknown” delivered the kind of bubbly-yet-forgettable synth-pop fluff that was everywhere in the ‘80s.
Listen to Cheap Trick’s ‘Mighty Wings’
The soundtrack’s closing song, “Top Gun Anthem,” was written by the film’s composer, Harold Faltermeyer. The track’s epic sound was heightened thanks to a contribution from guitar virtuoso Steve Stevens. Not only did the tune become an indelible slice of ‘80s cinema history, it scored a Grammy award in 1987.
The Top Gun soundtrack was released on May 13, 1986, and would go on to become one of the best selling in history, with more than 9 million copies sold. The album could have had even more muscle. Before settling on the final song choices, producers asked Judas Priest for permission to include their song “Reckless” on the soundtrack. Approving the deal would have stopped the group from including the track on its own 1986 LP, Turbo. So, they declined – a decision guitarist K.K. Downing later called a “big mistake.”