Few movies have solidified their status through both their storytelling and their soundtrack like Top Gun has. The iconic film hangs like a backdrop of the best parts of the 80s; overzealous, cocky pilots in aviators and bomber jackets, burnt orange sunsets and gooey romance, and kick-ass rock and guitar riffs.
For all its grandiose, Top Gun is a film that has stayed so perfectly intact all these years for good reason, like an artefact to admire in a museum of Top (ha!) Things We Will Always Get Nostalgic For. It’s why people were a little apprehensive about a sequel arriving 36 years later, but why it was so damn important to nail that soundtrack. Sure, we all love a bit of Tom Cruise on a motorbike, or a group of shirtless hunks on the beach, but nothing from the film compares to the absolute thrill we get (towards aircraft, of all things) as soon as those opening chords of Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ begins.
Top Gun: Maverick sees the return of all things we loved from the original. It’s described by the cast as a “welcome back to the movies”, and the sentiment couldn’t be more accurate. Top Gun is, in all accounts of the word, a movie. It’s grand, it’s heart wrenching, it’s emotional and dramatic, and its successor follows admirably in suit. But just like the first, Top Gun: Maverick’s soundtrack is its best element, and we unpack some of the power behind it below.
Warning ** slight spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick ahead
The big romantic ballad
Perhaps nothing builds as much tension of a whimsical love than an 80s ballad, its swooping choruses and endearing devotions are marked in our society as some of the grandest displays of love we’ve ever seen, which is why a lot were attached to films. The two went hand in hand; after all, how could you really tell how much these two characters loved each other if there wasn’t a sopping old love song soundtracking the moment?
Top Gun’s big romantic track was a goldmine. Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’ was a moment of its own, battling ‘Danger Zone’ for most memorable scenes. It pops up a few times throughout the film and brings an extra level of depth to Maverick and Charlie’s romance, again welcoming that sense of cinema and drama. But how do you translate an 80s love ballad from its distinct 80s era to its modern sequel?
Lady Gaga’s ‘Hold My Hand’ was described by Tom Cruise himself as being the missing piece the film needed, “its heartbeat.” Paying the perfect homage to the familiar tone and sound of the last film, the track is an anthemic arena-sized ballad that lends itself to the big screen perfectly. And not only does it do a perfect job of enhancing the romantic tension that flows throughout the film with Maverick and his new flame Penny, but it also gives a touching nod to the love between Maverick and the loss of his best friend and wingman Goose, which is perhaps the deepest love and connection from both films.
The ‘Great Balls of Fire’ remake
One of the things Top Gun: Maverick does especially well is pay homage to the character Goose. There’s a beautiful sentiment throughout the film that reminds us that while it can never be as good as him being there, this is the best we could’ve asked for. A fan-favourite scene from the original is Goose and Maverick sitting at a piano laughing as they sing along to Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Ball of Fire.’ Goose’s young son is sitting atop the piano watching all the fun, a tribute that pops up in the sequel as we see Miles Teller, who plays Goose’s now grown son “Rooster”, in a bar behind a piano singing the same hit.
Not only is the scene a great little easter egg for fans, but it blends the two films together beautifully. And by using the exact same song, it creates that hype and admiration that was felt when you first saw it in 1986 while also providing that heart-warming nostalgia.
The right kind of mood for the beach scene
In the original, Kenny Loggins backed the infamous volleyball scene with ‘Playing with the Boys’, a fun and not-too-serious track that was exactly what was needed for a fun and not-too-serious break from the rest of the film’s emotion. The scene is meant to show that even dudes in the air force can have fun too and act boyish on the beach, and it became one of the film’s most-loved scenes not only for its abundance of shirtless hotties but for its realness and goofiness.
In Top Gun: Maverick, we see a similar scene but this time it’s football on the beach by the water, a task that Maverick has set up for his crew to become better team players. One Republic make a feature here with their track ‘I Ain’t Worried’, a catchy, summery tune that sees their trademark whistling and pop vibes fit perfectly with the casualness of the scene. Both the song and the scene feel good, representing a friendship and togetherness that serves as a break from the rest of the film’s tensity. Oh, and this time there’s a lot more shirtless hunks to enjoy.
All in all, Top Gun: Maverick sends a mighty salute to its predecessor, both with its cinema and its sound. Every aspect of the film has been designed to tell both stories beautifully, and the music sends the loudest message of all. The soundtrack to the sequel features only a limited amount of songs (the rest being original score that Lady Gaga helped with), but each one stands within its own power and truly makes the film what it is. Top Gun just simply wouldn’t be the same without ‘Danger Zone’ and ‘Take My Breath Away’ backdropping those memorable moments, just as Top Gun: Maverick wouldn’t hold the same weight if ‘Hold My Hand’ wasn’t heard echoing throughout the film.
To love Top Gun is to love its “movie music”, and it’s beyond incredible to feel that feeling when watching a movie once again.