Save The Culture - Top Gun Soundtrack

Nominated to #SaveTheCulture by VentSpleen, Neil Vogler loses that lovin' feelin' as he listens to the Top Gun soundtrack...


I’d like to thank the ever entertaining VentSpleen for tagging me into this #SaveTheCulture business. I was strongly looking forward to seeing what obscure delight he had waiting for me. What strange and underappreciated gem had he rescued from the dusty, forgotten vaults for me to enjoy, appreciate and re-evaluate?

Uh. He’s given me the Top Gun soundtrack to listen to. Right. Well, I respect the man and his opinion so let’s get into it, shall we? (Insert your own ‘Danger Zone’ joke here).

Aah, Top Gun. How fondly we remember you.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can make you believe things that aren’t true, and were never true. It can make you feel things that aren’t there, and it can over-ride your objectivity and overwhelm your critical faculties. It can fool you. It can make you remember that things were good, even when they actually weren’t.

Folks. Objectively speaking, the movie Top Gun is pretty damn good.

The Top Gun soundtrack... isn’t.

It’s surely no surprise that one of the most testosterone-fuelled movies of the Eighties has a soundtrack full of cringe-inducing cock rock, right?

OK, perhaps I’m being too harsh. What we have here is an album that is mostly packed with cheesy Eighties music clichés, all swelling synths, badly judged rawk innuendos and roided up, overlong guitar solos. It is a motion picture soundtrack that uses only bright primary colours to paint a picture for the listener, and resists subtlety and nuance at every turn. It has not aged well.

As a museum piece, as a historical curiosity, or as a novelty record, I can see how this soundtrack is not without its guilty pleasures, if you’re predisposed towards this sort of thing. And of course, as a companion piece to the actual movie, it’s sure to remind you of that great scene where Maverick does that thing and the music kicks in and you want to punch the air in triumph. But honestly, it’s the sort of soundtrack album that Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s characters in Step Brothers would listen to in their garage as the two of them practised kung fu moves.

Without the undeniably great film to keep you occupied, in 2016 it’s also a bit of a chore to get through in its entirety. I spent most of the time listening to it shuddering and thinking “Please make it stop”.

There’s an ever-increasing amount of nostalgia for the Eighties, and, having lived through and fully experienced the decade, I still don’t properly understand why. I do have a theory, though: perhaps it’s because the Eighties was the last decade that really seemed to be pushing the boundaries and to have a unique identity all of its own. The decades since then seem somewhat pale in comparison, due to our ever-increasing capacity to repeat ourselves and recycle ideas, themes, stories, fashion, music, and attitudes. The Nineties took forever to find their feet and develop an identity of their own, and it was at least 1992 before it started to feel like its own decade and not simply bolted-on extra time for the Eighties to fully burn out. And the Noughties didn’t truly develop until the turn-of-the-millennium fear had subsided and the iPhone was released – that’s when we all suddenly went Ah, okay, we’re going to be a tech-obsessed society then! And the Teens, or whatever the hell we’re calling this current decade... well, so far the Teens seem to be characterised by backwards-looking, tribalistic politics and the dumbing down of everything that didn’t seem like it could be dumbed down any further. Oh, and remakes.

But (as usual) I digress.

Look, the abundance of affection for the Eighties is fairly baffling to me on a personal level, but understandable in context. Undeniably there was some great music made during the decade, and I own a great deal of it and am passionate about it. Sadly, most of the great music of the Eighties is not on the Top Gun soundtrack. What you get instead is a whole lot of Kenny Loggins. Kenny is talented and very good at what he does, make no mistake. It’s just that, unfortunately, these days what he does leaves me kind of cold.

We’re deep in “bad and obvious” lyric-land on this soundtrack, as the songs “Lead Me On” by Teena Marie, “Heaven In Your Eyes” by Loverboy and “Through The Fire” by Larry Greene all very ably illustrate. Elsewhere we have titles like “Danger Zone” and “Mighty Wings” (by Kenny Loggins and Cheap Trick respectively) and, though these might be the two songs that stick in your head most from the original movie, neither song is exactly a tune for the ages. Harold Faltermeyer – an amazing guitarist, by anyone’s standard – shows up with Steve Stevens at the end to play the “Top Gun Anthem” but even that track revels in all the worst excesses of Eighties rock production, and Faltermeyer’s guitar just feels like it goes on and on and on, overdone, overcooked, and slightly masturbatory in its execution. And I speak as someone who likes guitar solos and has the utmost respect for his ability.

I suppose the hard truth is that I am simply too much of a dyed-in-the-wool music snob to fully enjoy and engage with this record, but that’s my problem, not yours. Also, I cannot tell you how much I dislike ‘Take My Breath Away’ by Berlin. It’s cloying, sentimental, cheesy and I am 100% certain there is a room in hell that only plays this and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ (another song I hate, that thankfully is not on this soundtrack) on a loop.

But hey, if you’re in the mood to put on a bandana and sleeveless vest and go practice your high-kicks in the garage, or you’re looking for a record to enjoy in an ironic way with your boozed-up mates, the Top Gun soundtrack could be for you. It just isn’t for me.

Before I end this look back I should probably mention that there is a ‘Special Expanded Edition’ of this motion picture soundtrack available nowadays. I didn’t have a copy of that to review, but it apparently includes a few non-Eighties tunes, such as Jerry Lewis’ comedy-fest ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and the Righteous Brothers seemingly endless dirge ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’, both of which are obviously referenced heavily in the film, but neither of which are necessarily essential inclusions. On the other hand, you do get the absolutely peerless Otis Redding classic ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’, which is, in the truest sense of this overused phrase, a genuinely timeless classic that still sounds amazing and fresh and vital today. Otis was a genius and that song is untouchable. Would it be enough to rescue this soundtrack from cheesy oblivion though?

No, in my opinion. On top of the extra tunes I’ve mentioned there’s also another Faltermeyer wibble-fest and a remix of the Kenny Loggins tune ‘Playing With The Boys’. It all adds up to a collection of music that works great in context, but is far less successful as a standalone playlist of songs.

But hey, at the end of the day, what do I know? My ego has been writing cheques my body can’t cash for decades now. 

For my contribution to #SaveTheCulture I’d like to nominate the captain of the AlbieMedia ship himself, Steve Taylor-Bryant, and I’d like to introduce him to the stunningly underrated (and criminally underappreciated) Karl Hector and the Malcouns, and their absolute masterpiece of an album ‘Sahara Swing’. It’s an astonishing record that fuses jazz with all kinds of tribal rhythms and soulful grooves, and it’s ram-packed with innovative and surprising beats and arrangements that delight me every time I listen to them. It’s also, I should mention, funky as all hell, and in my opinion deserving of far more international praise and recognition. But it is, I should say, a challenging listen for some…

Images - IMDb,

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