CLOSE
YouTube
YouTube

Welcome to the Danger Zone: The Story Behind Kenny Loggins's 'Danger Zone'

YouTube
YouTube

Top Gunthe Tom Cruise-starring tale of brash Navy aviators flying with reckless abandon and a need for speed—wouldn't have its machismo without Kenny Loggins's hard-rocking (and very '80s) tune "Danger Zone" scoring the opening sequence. The song reached number two on the Billboard charts and, unlike thousands of other tunes written specifically for movies during that decade, it still stands tall today.

Long before "Danger Zone" achieved ironic fame status as a running gag on the likes of NPR's All Songs Considered and Archer, film producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson and music supervisor Michael Dilbeck were just trying to find the perfect music for Top Gun. Hundreds of songs were submitted to the filmmakers for possible inclusion in the film, and they were put together on an estimated 100 cassette tapes. Bruckheimer, Simpson, and Dilbeck agreed to listen to all of the songs together, under the condition that if any one of them didn't like a song in the first five seconds, they would move on to the next one. They weren't satisfied with any of them.

It was then that Bruckheimer and Simpson turned to Giorgio Moroder, a producer who by then had already amassed an impressive music career, producing hits for Donna Summer, and bringing home Oscars for the Midnight Express and Flashdance soundtracks, the latter of which was another Bruckheimer/Simpson production. Moroder composed and recorded two songs. Bruckheimer and Simpson didn't like them. Moroder was disappointed, but then he composed "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away" (which would win him another Oscar).

"Danger Zone"'s lyrics were written, essentially, by Moroder's car mechanic. Tom Whitlock started writing songs at 15, and after some false starts he moved to California in 1983 to advance his music career. One fateful day, Whitlock was helping his friend move some speakers at a studio in the Valley when he overheard someone stomping down the hallway cursing. It was Moroder, and he was angry; the brakes on his Ferrari were not responding to his liking coming down Coldwater Canyon.

Whitlock went to Pep Boys, bought some Castrol brake fluid, and got Moroder's Ferrari working just right. The producer liked what he saw in Whitlock and hired him to work as his assistant. During the day, Whitlock would work the phones, handle billings, and run errands.

"If the Lamborghini broke down in Venice Beach, I would go sit there all night until the right kind of tow truck was available," Whitlock said, looking back at his hustle and determination. "If I needed to sleep on the floor to get up and let carpenters in at 5 a.m., I did that. If Brian De Palma wanted bagels, I got bagels. If Giorgio's mother wanted groceries from Gelson's, I went to Gelson's. It was a blast!"

After 5 p.m., Whitlock's patience paid off when he learned how to record and witnessed the Flashdance and Scarface soundtracks getting made. He would also work on his own songs, finally getting one of Moroder's publishers' attention. When Bruckheimer and Simpson reached out to Moroder, his usual lyrical collaborators weren't around: Keith Forsey was producing Billy Idol's album in New York City, and Pete Bellote was living in the United Kingdom. But Whitlock was still in the neighborhood.

"In retrospect, I may have been a bit too clever (or obvious) with all of the allusions," Whitlock later admitted about his lyrics.

Over time, rumors have persisted that the song was originally offered to Toto, but that the band backed out either over legal issues or because they wanted the whole group to play on the track. (Kenny Loggins claimed he later found out the Toto story was not true.)

Once the two songs were approved, Moroder went to the band Berlin and its lead singer Terri Nunn (Moroder was co-producer on their previous hit, 1984's "No More Words"). He offered the band the choice between "Danger Zone" or "Take My Breath Away," hoping they would opt for the former. Nunn said Moroder intended for "Danger Zone" to be a duet between the band and Kenny Loggins, but Berlin went with "Take My Breath Away." (CBS records initially wanted Aimee Mann to record that one.)

It was Bruckheimer who came up with Loggins' name in the first place, knowing him from his work on the title track to Footloose. Still, Moroder's first meeting with Loggins was when he recorded "Danger Zone." ("We met and we did everything in one day— it was very fast," Moroder recalled.)

Loggins got the call asking if he wanted to sing "Danger Zone" when he was in the studio finishing up recording a different song for the Top Gun soundtrack, "Playing with the Boys." The only thing Loggins asked about the song, the demo of which he had yet to hear, was if it was "up-tempo" or not. When he was told it was, he agreed. Loggins thought a faster song would help him, believing he "needed some rock and roll" for his concerts.

Whitlock and Loggins met at a house in Encino, California to go over the lyrics, with Loggins adding some ideas of his own. Loggins sang the vocal a few days later at the studio. Loggins used Tina Turner as the vocal model for "Danger Zone," because he was deep into her "rock soul thing" at the time. "I think that's why I ended up singing DaaangAH zone," Loggins self-deprecatingly admitted on the DVD commentary.

Loggins would collaborate with the composer/lyricist duo again with "Meet Me Halfway," for the Over the Top (1987) soundtrack, but "Danger Zone" is, by Loggins' own admission, one of the biggest songs of his career.

"I didn't expect that song to be the type of song that would hold up for almost 30 years," he said in 2013. "At the time, it seemed like a pretty simple piece of rock and roll. I just really wanted an up-tempo thing for my show, and I thought it would be fun to have a movie song. It would kick the show in gear, and it sure did."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
MGM
arrow
Pop Culture
The Princess Ride: Here's What a Princess Bride Theme Park Attraction Might Look Like
MGM
MGM

Do you fight the urge to say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” when introducing yourself? Have you spent the past 30 years mispronouncing the word “marriage”? If so, you may be a diehard fan of The Princess Bride. The cult film (and the book on which it’s based) has inspired board games, merchandise, and countless pop culture references. Now, two theme park designers from Universal have conceived the inconceivable. As Nerdist reports, Jon Plsek and Olivia West have designed the plans for a hypothetical attraction called “The Princess Ride.

Their idea follows the classic river boat ride structure and adds highlights from the movie around each corner. After watching Buttercup and Wesley’s love story unfold, riders are taken past the Cliffs of Insanity, through the Fire Swamp, and into the Pit of Despair. The climax unfolds at Prince Humperdinck’s castle and leads up to the two protagonists riding off into the sunset. The last thing the passengers see is Miracle Max and Valerie waving goodbye saying, “Hope ya had fun stormin’ the castle!”

The ride’s designers make a living turning stories into thrilling attractions. Plsek works as a concept artist for Universal Creative, the group behind Universal’s theme parks, and West works there as a concept writer. While The Princess Ride was just a fun side project for the pair, it isn’t hard to imagine their ride bringing Princess Bride fans to the parks in real life.

For more of Jon Plesk’s concept rides inspired by classics like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), check out his website.

[h/t Nerdist]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter." She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: No team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios