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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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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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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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