top gun

Top Gun (Harold Faltermeyer)

What is it?

The premise of 1986’s Top Gun should be familiar to most people: The Top Gun naval fighter school is where the best of the best train to refine their elite flying skills. Fighter pilot Maverick (Tom Cruise) is one of them, but he finds himself competing with Iceman (Val Kilmer) while trying to get the attention of flight instructor Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis).

Directed by Tony Scott and produced by “The Golden Boys” Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, Top Gun is of course a bona fide classic, partly due to the fact that the soundtrack album sold 9 million copies in the US alone. Now, 38 years after the release of the film and soundtrack, record label La-La Land finally got past all hindrances and unleashed a 2CD set on the world, featuring all the music from the film.

The album is limited to 5000 copies, with one disc including all the instrumental score by composer Harold Faltermeyer, and the other showcasing all the songs, plus several bonus tracks. Liner notes (titled “Full-tilt boogie rock ‘n’ roll in the sky”) are by Tim Greiving, and there is a 20-page booklet included. The notes were clearly written years ago, as it states that “Faltermeyer and Hans Zimmer will score Top Gun: Maverick in 2020.” Things like that should have been fixed before the printing of the final booklet, but at least it shows just how long this project has been in the works. Another repeating issue with these kinds of specialty releases, at least for this reviewer, is that there isn’t a single photo of the composer in the booklet, but rather dozens of pictures of the actors. I have to point out that this is a CD with music, not a film.

How is it?

The second disc of the set includes the original 1986 soundtrack album, among other things. The original soundtrack featured nine songs and one instrumental score track, with only two tracks not written or produced by Faltermeyer or wingman Giorgio Moroder. Most of the tracks are in the uptempo, energetic vein, with some dynamite, hard-hitting, metallic drums permeating most of the tunes. Also, several of the lyrics are written by Tom Whitlock (1954-2023), a rather unsung hero in the career of Moroder. Brian Reeves is of course engineer and score mixer (read Jon’s interview with Reeves here).

Kenny Loggins’ «Danger Zone» is still a banger, even showing up in the movie’s sequel (and on the soundtrack) in 2022. «Mighty Wings» by Cheap Trick is very much in the same vein, while Loggins’ enjoyable «Playing With The Boys» was actually produced and co-written by part-time film composer Peter Wolf. «Lead Me On» by Teena Marie is another solid uptempo track, before it’s time for the immortal ballad «Take My Breath Away» by Berlin. «Hot Summer Nights» by Miami Sound Machine is the weakest of the Moroder productions here; probably good for him that he didn’t write the song. Power ballad «Heaven In Your Eyes» by Loverboy is even weaker, though, it doesn’t gel with the other tracks, as it doesn’t have the touch of Moroder or Faltermeyer. Larry Greene’s «Through The Fire» could have been a hit – it was the only song Greene ever did solo in his career. «Destination Unknown» by Marietta is also fine, before «Top Gun Anthem» by Faltermeyer and guitarist Steve Stevens closes the original album. It was actually none other than Billy Idol who made Faltermeyer use this track for Top Gun, as it was originally intended for a sequence in Fletch.

Songs «The Dock Of The Bay», «Great Balls Of Fire» and «You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin» are also featured here, all of them oldies which I personally don’t care for, but I guess they give the film another sound for some key scenes. There is also a Jellybean dance mix of «Playing With The Boys», running for almost 7 minutes. It’s a bit ironic that it’s a non-Faltermeyer/Moroder track that receives the 12″ treatment here. «Radar Radio» by Moroder and Joe Pizzulo was originally the B side from «Take My Breath Away». It features the typical Top Gun drums, but has a somewhat 60s feel that feels a bit awkward. Faltermeyer’s moody instrumental «Memories» was the B side from «Top Gun Anthem», while his intense «Dog Fight #3» originally appeared on the «Mighty Wings» reverse. Now they are part of this set, obviously and thankfully.

Let’s turn our attention to disc one, which features no less than 78 minutes of instrumental music. Unfortunately, the variety is at times lacking, as Faltermeyer didn’t write a lot of original music for the film. Many of the tracks are instrumental versions of the songs, and as Moroder was the composer of songs like «Danger Zone» and «Take My Breath Away», he probably should have received an “additional music by” credit. The instrumentals of the songs, particularly «Danger Zone» and «Mighty Wings», really work as score music, though, so no complaints about that.

The best theme in the whole film appears in tracks 8 and 18 («Mav And Goose In Room» and «Viper’s House Pt. 2»). It’s a wonderful, reflective and melodic cue, with track 18 even sporting a clarinet sound up front. This theme could have been used more, instead of endless repetitions of «Take My Breath Away», for instance, like in tracks 9, 10 and 11, repeating the song ad nauseam. There are also two tracks running for eleven minutes each, with one of them («Board Of Inquiry») including a busy synth pattern reminding me slightly of Tangerine Dream, and the other having some heavy drum programming that Faltermeyer should use again the following year on The Running Man.

Of course, there are also several versions of the «Top Gun Anthem» here, including three demo versions from spring/summer 1985. Interesting to notice how the tune developed. «Mav Vs Viper» is a real ear-opener, as Faltermeyer suddenly quotes the 1975 disco song «That’s The Way (I Like It)» by KC And The Sunshine Band. I wonder what he thought about there. «Memories» is also heavily included on several of the tracks, and there are even hints of Harold’s Thief of Hearts suspense/action music in track 3.

The score from Top Gun has been a “holy grail” for many film music fans for decades, and this release fits splendidly with the other archival Harold Faltermeyer albums in recent years. Now we need Fletch (1985) and Fatal Beauty (1987). Knowing La-La Land Records and the love they have shown the legendary German composer, chances are high something will see the light of day sooner or later.

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The La La Land release of Top Gun is currently not available for streaming, but can be purchased on CD here.

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