Summer of '86: The 'Top Gun' Music Editor Remembers How He Took Audiences Right Into the Danger Zone

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Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’ (Everett)

All this week, we’re celebrating the great movies that hit screens 30 years ago in 1986. Go here to read more.

Top Gun was not only the biggest movie of summer 1986, it was No. 1 at the box office for all of 1986. It might be the most 1980s movie ever made.

So much about Top Gun typifies its time: its Reagan-era sense of optimism with its tale of the talented-but-undisciplined fighter pilot Maverick (Tom Cruise); its inherent pro-America patriotism; its glossy visual sheen; its Simpson-and-Bruckheimer swagger. For those who complained that movies had become products instead of art, Top Gun was Exhibit A: It sold us Tom Cruise, the Navy, aviator sunglasses, and, maybe most of all, its soundtrack.

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If Miami Vice was an MTV cop show, then Top Gun was the MTV Navy fighter pilot movie, pairing montages with carefully curated pop songs in a way that pumped up audience adrenaline and, after the credits rolled, made that same audience want to buy those songs.

And it all worked as intended: the Top Gun soundtrack was the No. 1 album on the Billboard charts for several non-consecutive weeks during the summer and fall of 86. It spawned four hits — two by Kenny Loggins (“Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys”), one by Loverboy (“Heaven in Your Eyes”), and one mega-smash by Berlin that would go on to win an Academy Award. For a while, it felt like you could turn on MTV any time of day or night confident you’d soon see singer Terri Nunn and her dramatically wind-whipped scarves imploring you to “Take My Breath Away.”

Watch the video:

“It was the 80s, which was like the glory times of soundtrack albums and movies with soundtracks,” Top Gun music editor Bob Badami tells Yahoo Movies.

In keeping with the excess of the decade, Badami — whose varied music editing, supervising, and wrangling credits include Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beverly Hills Cop, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Mad Max: Fury Road — recalls working with Columbia Records and sifting through a multitude of musical options, sometimes within the course of a single evening at producer Giorgio Moroder’s studio, to build the soundtrack.

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“[One night], we all got together at Giorgio’s studio and we probably had 100 songs on cassette,” he says. “The whole team … we just sat in this room and played one song after the next and if someone said no, we stopped and went to the next one. We kind of shoehorned [songs into the movie] in spots. It’s just a different way of making movies now. Soundtracks just don’t exist like that anymore.”

“Take My Breath Away” and “Danger Zone” only entered the picture late in the process, after producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson indicated they weren’t happy with the state of the songs and asked Moroder, who had previously worked with Bruckheimer on American Gigolo and with both producers on Flashdance, to write some more.

Watch the video for 'Danger Zone’:

“The interesting thing about those two songs was that the lyricist was Giorgio’s Ferrari mechanic Tom Whitlock,” Badami remembers. “He won an Academy Award. Giorgio, he just was around [him] all the time and [Whitlock] was an aspiring lyricist, so he wrote the lyrics.”

Just as the guys on screen in Top Gun were competitive with each other, Badami recalls a similar spirit behind the scenes.

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“We used to have this golf game in the studio, and we had a big net and a little computer thing that would read how fast you hit this golf ball,” he says. “You could swing and hit a real golf ball and it would only go, like, 20 feet, but it would calculate how far you drive it. It became this sport. Don and [director] Tony [Scott] were very competitive. So we’d have these meetings and say, ‘OK, let’s go to the golf range.’ They’d swing as hard as they could, and Tony used to wear these cowboy boots and so he’d swing so hard he’d land on his ass. It was a fun group.”

Because nothing about Top Gun was subtle, Badami and his colleagues initially went overboard, cramming too many songs into the movie.

“We screened it after the first pass of the dub, of the mix, and we just had kind of overdone it,” he says. “A lot of the aerial sequences had songs and so we went back and we took out lyrics and rejiggered the music.”

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They eventually got it right, so much so that certain elements in Top Gun’s marriage of imagery and music — the “Playing With the Boys” volleyball scene, the tongue-kiss-heavy “Take My Breath Away” love-making sequence — now stand as signature movie moments of the 80s.

Though Badami says he had no idea that Top Gun the movie or the soundtrack would become a decade-defining phenomenon, he can see in retrospect how of their time they were.

“Wouldn’t you say that soundtrack was one of the quintessential soundtracks of the decade?” he asks.

Yes, Bob Badami. We certainly would.

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