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

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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."

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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Marvel vs. DC: This Map Shows Each State’s Favorite Comic Universe
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Disney/Marvel Studios

Which comic book company is the best: Marvel or DC? This is a perennial argument on middle-school playgrounds and Reddit threads, but this map, courtesy of USDish.com, might just give us a definitive answer. The information here is broken down by state, using information provided by Google Trends to give us a clear winner of not only the most popular comic book company but also the most popular individual hero in each state (let’s show a little respect to Indiana for championing the Martian Manhunter).

According to the map, Marvel is the most popular publisher in 37 states, with DC trailing behind at eight, and five additional states coming to a 50/50 stalemate. The totals weren’t a blowout, though. In certain states like Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, the favored company only won by a point. And just because a state searches Google for a specific publisher the most doesn’t mean an individual character from the opposing team isn’t its favorite—Hawaii is listed as favoring Marvel overall, yet they love Aquaman on his own. Same with DC-loving Maryland showing Black Panther some love (helps to have a big movie coming out). Take a look at some of the most notable state preferences below:

So how did Marvel amass so many states when there are just as many DC TV shows and movies out there? Well, according to Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in social media, the answer lies in the depth at the House of Ideas.

“While Superman and Batman may be dominant characters,” Selepak said in a statement, “the DC Universe offers few other well-known heroes and villains and when these other characters are presented to the audience in film and on TV, they often are less than well-received.” This is opposed to Marvel, which launches new heroes on the big and small screen seemingly every year.

Does this map tell the whole story? That’s up for debate. When it comes to comics sold, DC and Marvel are always in a close battle: In January 2018, DC had six of the 10 best-selling comics of the month, placing four of the top five. Marvel, meanwhile, had three, while Image Comics had one with The Walking Dead. In terms of overall retail market share, though, Marvel eked out DC 34.3 percent to 33.8 percent.

This is a battle that's been raging since the 1960s, and for an industry that thrives on a never-ending fight between good and evil, we shouldn't expect the Marvel vs. DC debate to be settled anytime soon.

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