It is rare for a film and its soundtrack to be so in sync to the point that you can’t remember one without the other. Top Gun fits this category well. After all, its storyline is straightforward. A naval pilot gets accepted to an elite flight school and tries to take the lead as the best of the bunch while also indulging in a fling with his instructor. Although there is an evident lack of plot twists or complex dialogues, there is one thing that raises Top Gun’s quality from a cheesy and forgettable installment to a pop culture landmark: its selection of ’80s hits. From Kenny Loggins to Berlin, the melodies suited the moments onscreen to utter perfection, giving the audiences a pang of thrill as they immersed themselves into the whole process of turning on the engines, buckling belts, and putting on the sunglasses before another takeoff.
Although the highly anticipated sequel has Lady Gaga and One Republic originals to spice things up, it is hard to think of a better array of tracks than the ones included in its revered predecessor. Selling over 10 million copies and earning an Academy Award for Best Original Song, there are no doubts that the music in the 1986 film will be forever regarded as its most iconic trait.
Imagine walking down a supermarket aisle or turning on the radio in a drive back from work and having “Danger Zone” blast through the speakers. It would be hard to not stop and think about Top Gun’s memorable opening shot set on a dimly lit air airstrip, with multiple navy workers waiting for the cue before the plane landing. In the span of two minutes, launching an aircraft never looked so cool, with all the gear and the evident excitement of the crew involved in the prepping process. It showed viewers who were oblivious to the naval aesthetic that being a pilot was a big deal and worth a few moments under the spotlight. It is even hard to imagine another track to replace this one. Knowing that Bryan Adams and Toto were approached before Loggins to join the soundtrack, its safe to say that Loggins was the most suitable one. After all, you might be in a day-to-day scenario, but the sudden confidence boost and thrill that the song gave you while watching that first scene resurfaces in a heartbeat whenever it begins to play.
This same magic touch of a glam rock anthem chimes into other highlights throughout the film. A clear example is another favorite from Loggins’ repertoire, “Playing with the Boys,” setting the tone for that notorious volleyball scene. Tom Cruise’s Maverick, alongside his fellow companion Goose (played by Anthony Edwards), are in an intense match against their adversaries Iceman (Val Kilmer) and Slider (Rick Rossovich). Shirtless and sweaty, the sequence might feel like an exaggerated push towards an eye candy flash for female audiences but the reason why it still works is the tune accompanying it. It is an upbeat song that intensifies that comical machismo energy, thus making it prone to the multiple parodies along the years. That being said, the scene doesn’t take itself seriously and neither does the music in the background.
Although the hits above contributed to two of the film’s memorable moments, there is one ballad that knocks everything out of the park: “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. A song that continues to sweep people off their feet, Berlin’s track made quite the impact on that motorcycle chase turned into a full-on love confession. It’s when Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) finally reveals to Maverick that she couldn’t be transparent in her evaluation of his flight for the fear that others might notice that she has fallen for him. If it weren’t for the synths kicking in, the romantic aspect wouldn’t have been the same. Having it present there when the characters surrender to their impeding desires was all that it took to make the momentum worth the wait.
Yes, when you think of Top Gun, your initial thoughts might turn towards Loggins and Berlin’s iconic hits, but it doesn’t mean that the film is exempt from other short and sweet music occasions. Let’s just take a second to reminisce on Maverick serenading Charlotte at the bar with “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” It was the perfect way to introduce the eventual paring. Right from that moment, we can tell that Maverick will be that cocky pilot thinking that he can get what he wants at any time, while Charlotte makes it clear that she plays hard to get and will not surrender to his pride. Although she gets to a point in which she falls in love with him, their relationship goes through multiple phases before it consolidates. At the end, she even surprises Maverick by playing the song again in the jukebox at the bar. As he looks around the room to check if she is around, given their history with that tune, Maverick smiles when he sees her again, and they share a happy ending.
Taking a trip down memory lane, it is easy to affirm that the key moments in Top Gun were made better because of the soundtrack. If it weren’t for “Danger Zone” at the beginning, the flight sequence wouldn’t have been as thrilling to watch. If it weren’t for “Playing with the Boys,” that volleyball scene wouldn’t have been so corny that it has been recreated multiple times onscreen. If it weren’t for the beautifully arranged “Take My Breath Away,” Maverick and Charlotte’s love declaration wouldn’t have been as epic. Lastly, if it weren’t for the presence of “You’ve Got That Loving Feeling” in the couple’s initial encounter and their last conversation in the film, their romance wouldn’t have reached full circle. Having these songs from the ’80s in each scene that they were included in was the IT-factor that Top Gun needed to embellish its cliché storyline and make it a phenomenon worth cherishing years on end.
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