The king of '80s synth-pop, Harold Faltermeyer captured the spirit of that decade like no other composer. Here, Faltermeyer recounts for Empire the origins behind the decade's two most iconic themes.
Beverly Hills Cop
"There were two forces back then: Don Simpson, the crazy guy who he had these tremendous ideas all day long, and Jerry Bruckheimer, the business man. They were kind of yin-and-yang. Working with them wasn't easy: they always looked under every stone to see what was underneath, poking and pushing you to the limit. It could be stressful, but on the other hand the outcome was – and is – great. They had a feel for music - especially Jerry. He even had the more distinct musical knowledge, and a great ear.
Whatever was new, Jerry was into... pop music, rock 'n' roll, although he adored classical as well. He adored Soft Cell, especially Tainted Love, so he had a very artistic and avant-garde taste in music. He was on top of everything.
Jerry had loved the way I used synthesisers on my first score, Thief Of Hearts, a very Tangerine Dream kind of thing, and decided to introduce me to Marty Brest. 'I want you to meet him', he explained, 'because we're doing another movie'. It was Beverly Hills Cop. I was the first guy they asked because they didn't know who else was willing to do something so experimental – American comedies had always had orchestral scores and it was an absolute novelty to go with this sparse electronic music. But Marty was open to electronics, and Bruckheimer and Simpson supported him. It worked and it became iconic.
I listened back to my first attempts at Beverly Hills Cop a couple of months ago and thought, 'Well, it was not so great.' But when I look back now and remember that first sketch of Axel F, I knew that was going to be it. It was initially called 'The Banana Theme' because of the scene it accompanied. I'd tried several things – a collage of three or four little cues – and the more conservative guys in the studio kept telling me that it wasn't working. I gave it one more try and all of a sudden I was more or less against the world.
The first theme for Axel F emerged on my fourth or fifth attempt. I played it and it was the usual thing – nobody wanted to commit. Then Marty Brest heard it and – I'll never forget this sentence – he said, 'I think it's delicious. This is exactly what this movie needs!' He turned it around. Don and Jerry were happy – everyone was happy. I told them what I was going to call it and Bruckheimer replied, 'What do you mean, Axel F! Why don't you call it Axel Foley's Theme?' I explained that in Germany we had a hip way of abbreviating things and that Axel F was a great way of abbreviating it. He said, 'Well, it might work in Germany, but not in the States.' I think he was proved wrong!
I'm very proud of the track. When I saw it in Monsters Vs. Aliens I knew it had become a huge anthem. I even had the Crazy Frog ringtone on my phone for a couple of weeks, but it got annoying.
"I was stunned when Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson told me I was doing the soundtrack for Top Gun. Of course, my agent said, 'Just do it, don't even ask.' We'd had a huge success with Beverly Hills Cop, after all, and we hadn't become enemies, so why not do another one? I remember the way Bruckheimer pitched it, because he had a great way of expressing himself. 'You have to know that these guys are sitting in their planes waiting for the take-off clearance', he explained, 'and they're listening to Billy Idol with their Walkmans on'.
I knew exactly what they were after – not another version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark with a big orchestra, but something rock 'n' roll, something different. So I tried to develop and compose themes and images towards rock 'n' roll. When I came up with the first part of the Top Gun Anthem, Bruckheimer asked me to dinner with Tom Cruise and Don Simpson. Did I have a theme, they asked, and I told them that I did but that it wasn't recorded yet. Tom said he'd like to hear it, so they took me to a studio with a huge grand piano and I played it to them. Simpson, who was sitting in the control room, just said, 'I love it.' It was like old Hollywood – a stunning moment. No fancy demo, no nothing. Just the four of us in a studio in LA.
I'd have loved to have written more songs on Top Gun, but because they changed the cut every day, scoring was intense and there wasn't much time to work on songs. It was pretty easy to change dialogue, because the pilots had the oxygen masks on, but it wasn't as easy to keep changing the score. These day you can time-stretch with elastic audio but back then you had to write cues from scratch. We also had to fly to Chicago to work with Cheap Trick. It was very intense work so I didn't get the chance to write more songs unfortunately, but Giorgio Moroder is a very clever guy and he delivered a couple of great songs, like Danger Zone with Kenny Loggins.
At one point we had almost finished the score, but then the film had its first previews and because the ratings were not so great, they had to re-edit it. That led to another set of scoring so I almost did the score twice in the end! We had to re-record things, but the major themes in some of them – this whole stuff when Maverick gets rid of his thoughts of flying after Goose's death - I think are great. I still get fan mail asking which synthesisers I used on this track or that track.
We didn't even get another platinum or double platinum record each time we sold a million more Top Gun albums. We just got a little jet airplane with Velcro on the back that said 'one million' or 'two million' and stuck it on the original platinum CD. That's how big this was. This was the time of the iconic soundtracks when you could have huge success with soundtracks. It was fun being in the music video for the Top Gun Anthem too. We got picked up from LA at five or four o'clock in the morning in a big RV and driven out to Chino Air Force Base, where everything was set up and Tony Scott was watching. I remember Steve Stevens, our guitarist, standing on the wing of a jet. It was great.
The last time I watched Top Gun was with my kids. We watched it recently because they wanted me to show them what we did - my son is a sound engineer, so he's in the business - but I'll be getting the 3D version for the next time we watch it. I was proud as hell that a little guy from Germany got the opportunity to write a score for an epic drama, for such an American thing.