When the 1986 action drama Top Gun jets back into IMAX theaters on February 8th, a new generation will hear ASCAP composer Harold Faltermeyer’s score in its full digital glory for the very first time. Faltermeyer’s highly melodic, synth-based music for Top Gun, Fletch, Beverly Hills Cop (he wrote “Axel F”) and more defined blockbuster film scoring in the mid-‘80s and earned him Oscar nominations and two Grammys. We spoke with Faltermeyer about how he captured Maverick, Iceman and all the rest in music.
Take us back to the mid-‘80s. What sorts of trends in film scores and the wider music world were important to you at the time?
Well, this was the time of soundtracks being great weapons in film business. Being involved in electronic music from the beginning, I realized that synthesizers became more and more common in film scoring.
I got my first opportunity writing a score from Jerry Bruckheimer. He called me to score Thief of Hearts. While working on that movie, he introduced me to Martin Brest, who was close to finishing Beverly Hills Cop.
We agreed to explore the use of very spartan synth sounds combined with driving beats and catchy melodies for the score. It turned out to be the right decision; the score itself became a huge hit.
What do you remember about the direction that the film’s producers wanted you to take on the Top Gun score?
Jerry [Bruckheimer] and Don [Simpson] once came to the studio, mentioning their new film, Top Gun! They said: “Harold, you have to imagine that these pilots are sitting in the F-14, waiting for their call while listening to Billy Idol through a walkman!” I guess I understood what they meant, and started to compose the score with a rock 'n rollish, very hard-driving style.
Actually, Billy Idol was recording next door and I remember him coming into my room while composing the "Top Gun Anthem," saying “Harold! That's great stuff!” Later on, I could convince his guitarist Steve Stevens to contribute his art to the track and the result was this phenomenal performance, which even got us the Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance!
What convinced you to choose Steve Stevens as the guitarist on "Top Gun Anthem?" What do you remember about recording the piece with him?
I was a longtime fan of Steve Stevens's guitar work on the Billy Idol records. We recorded the track in New York and it was just stunning to see how virtuosic and sensitive Steve’s playing was.
These days it's common to demo a score on the computer before recording the full version with live players. How was the process different back then?
Back then we didn't have these fancy sound libraries with stunning orchestral sounds as we have today. So our demos were quite shady and we had to explain in words and gestures what we were trying to achieve. Today’s demo scoring is quite luxurious for the directors and producers.
You worked with Giorgio Moroder for several years before you broke into film composing. Did you and Giorgio collaborate at all on Top Gun, or were his songs and your score totally separate?
To score Top Gun was a very time-consuming journey and there was close to zero time left for writing songs. We got hundreds of song offers from third parties but none of them really qualified for the Top Gun soundtrack. Giorgio noticed that situation and turned in one song after the other, which was highly appreciated by the producers.
The Top Gun soundtrack is full of songs. How did that impact the score you wrote?
Of course the songs narrowed down the score. However, there were enough scenes where songs just couldn't replace the score.
Why has there never been an official Top Gun album released with your full score? Is that going to change at some point?
I know that the studio seems rather protective about that. I should try again to convince them, since there is obviously a constant demand!
What is it about the Top Gun score that has allowed it to stand the test of time?
I think it is the combination of unique sounds and catchy melodies, tied to this great movie!
Find out more about Harold Faltermeyer at his website: www.haroldfaltermeyer.net
Top Gun was released in IMAX 3D on February 8th, 2013. Find showtimes and tickets here.