For Kenny Loggins, the highway to the “Danger Zone” has been one hell of a ride.
As he explains in his upcoming Still Alright: A Memoir, due out June 14, the iconic Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated musician wasn’t even among the top choices to record the high-octane number written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock for the 1986 Top Gun soundtrack. But, through a series of events, Loggins went on to rock the song, which became arguably his most synonymous hit, instantly cemented in pop culture as a quintessential ’80s anthem.
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Although “Danger Zone” was a solid number when Moroder and Whitlock wrote it, Loggins had to tinker with the tune — chord changes and lyrics — for the final product to be a massive hit. In fact, as he notes in his memoir, Loggins did enough to merit a co-writing credit, but that would have torpedoed Moroder and Whitlock’s eligibility to submit the required number of songs from Top Gun for Oscar consideration. So Loggins’ name was kept off the tune, and subsequently Moroder and Whitlock’s “Take My Breath Away” won for best original song. It would be more than a decade, after Moroder sold his catalog to Warner Bros., before Loggins would be properly compensated and credited as “Danger Zone” co-writer.
Loggins, who has two upcoming shows in July at the Hollywood Bowl with his former partner and collaborator Jim Messina, told The Hollywood Reporter he is equal parts elated and surprised his path has once again crossed with a serendipitous Tom Cruise project. He also sheds some light on how those random Family Guy appearances came about.
What did you think of Top Gun: Maverick? Same excitement that you experienced from the original when you first saw it all put together in the theater?
Well, I thought this was better. I like the first one a lot, but this one has an energy to it that reminds me of Indiana Jones or Star Wars. It’s really well written, a lot of character development for the new characters and a lot of Saturday matinee cliffhanging that really works for this film.
Seems like it was a safe assumption “Danger Zone” would be used in another Top Gun film. How did that come about? Did Tom Cruise personally ask?
I did not get a call, but I did Jimmy Kimmel Live! about four years ago, and Tom was on the same show. And, backstage, I went up to him and said, “So, I hear you’re going to do the new Top Gun. Tell me, is ‘Danger Zone’ in or out?” And he said, “It would not be Top Gun without ‘Danger Zone.'” I thought maybe he was trying to be nice, but he meant it, and I was very pleased.
As you detail in your memoir, the history of “Danger Zone” is somewhat complicated, from you landing the gig to the issue of proper writing credit to avoid mucking up awards consideration for Moroder and Whitlock. How did you feel when it became a massive hit?
Going in and singing it, I thought it was a real long shot, considering I hadn’t really done much like that up to that point in my career. “Footloose” is probably the closest I’d come, maybe “I’m Alright” [from Caddyshack]. But when I went in there to record “Danger Zone,” I was thinking of Tina Turner and that aggressive growling that she did. So, that’s what my performance was influenced by, Tina’s style.
“Danger Zone” allowed me to work in a different kind of persona. With “Footloose,” that’s slightly more of a Southern kind of vibe to it. Because of Giorgio’s melodic form, “Danger Zone” is definitely a different place melodically and sonically for me to sing from. It was a style that I hadn’t allowed myself to sing. The rock of “Danger Zone” is really fun for me now because the audiences are much more responsive than they were back in the day. “Danger Zone” went out of fashion for a long period of time. It was really big for a year or two after the movie, and then sort of moved out. Shows like [FX’s] Archer made “Danger Zone” fun again.
Although I am not done yet, I am thoroughly enjoying your memoir. Tell me why this is the right time for Kenny Loggins to share his story.
I have been asked if I would write a memoir a few times over the years, but I didn’t want to do it until I felt I had enough life experience to make it a fun book. And God knows now, at 74, seems like the right time. (Laughs.) If you read the last chapter, I talk about how I hesitated writing a memoir because it feels like it puts a button on your story, that’s the end. So I address it head-on in that last chapter. You just have to be ready to think of it as a chapter in this part of life now. So, this clears the table and says, “Let’s move on.”
Speaking of new chapters, when you play the Hollywood Bowl for two evenings in July, your former partner and collaborator Jim Messina will be sitting in for a few numbers. How did that come about? Sounds like it will be special.
We just came to a place where we felt we could do it again, and we got this tremendous offer from the Hollywood Bowl. And we thought, “OK, do we want to do that again?” So, we’re exploring that answer. This may be the last of the Loggins-Messina shows — or maybe not. It depends on how it goes, how strong it feels and what the vibes are in the room.
It’s difficult to go backward like that. As you’ve probably seen with many artists who did the reunion tours — they couldn’t speak to each other ever again. Someone asked, “Will you do a summer tour with Jimmy Messina?” I said, “You know, that’s like asking me if I’ll move in with my ex-wife for three months.” (Laughs.) It is not necessarily something I would leap at the chance to do — but at the same time, if the money is right and the situation is comfortable, I might consider it.
And then finally, since you mentioned Archer, I have to mention I love whenever you drop by Family Guy for a cutaway gag. How did those come about? Are you pals with Seth MacFarlane?
(Laughs.) I don’t know how it came about. I just became one of those pop culture figures that Seth likes to draw on. I have nothing to do with making it happen, it just sort of happens. It’s always fun. The kids love it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Top Gun: Maverick is in theaters Friday. Still Alright: A Memoir, through Hachette Book Group, will be available June 14.
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