Kenny Loggins had already established himself as a pop star – first as one half of Roots Loggins & Messina, then as a yacht-rock solo act – by the time he became the unofficial king of the soundtrack film in the early 1980s. There was “I’m Alright”, from “Caddyshack”. There was the title track of “Footloose”. And of course there was 1986’s ‘Danger Zone’, the fighter jet-inspired anthem of ‘Top Gun’ that reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped propel the film’s soundtrack to sales. over 9 million copies.
This week, “Danger Zone,” which was composed and produced by disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder with lyricist Tom Whitlock, returns to the big screen as part of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-delayed sequel starring Tom Cruise in an older version of one of his most iconic roles. For Loggins, 74, the film comes as he prepares to release a memoir, “Still Alright,” and reunite with Jim Messina for two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl on July 15 and 16. He called the other day to remember running his engine. and listening to its howling roar.
Did you know Giorgio Moroder’s music before doing “Danger Zone” together?
No. He was a very strong writer – a strength in those days – but I didn’t know that until I got into “Top Gun”. In my world, Giorgio was only well known insofar as he used the Yamaha DX7 right out of the box. It was one of the first super popular synthesizers in pop music, and all the sounds it used were original sounds that came with it. We were all trying to create custom sounds, something unique, and he just plugged it in and made a ton of hit recordings.
What does that say about him from a musician’s point of view?
That I was taking too much time and spending too much money.
It’s well known by this point that a number of other singers were in the running to do “Danger Zone” before you.
Kevin [Cronin of REO Speedwagon] told me he succeeded because the high notes were too high for his voice. I was lucky to still be able to hit those notes back then. I have a feeling Starship’s Mickey Thomas was probably the first choice. He just had that kind of white R&B/rock voice — and all the high notes in the world. But I think the lawyers couldn’t agree on that, and that’s why it was brought into play.
Can you hit the high notes now?
I can hit them now. I’ve been studying with a vocal coach for over a year to make sure I sing in a way that doesn’t tear my voice out. I had to relearn how to sing in a bel canto form that brings the sound out of the vocal cords and above. As you age, your vocal cords dry out. Things are atrophying. In 2020, I couldn’t even hit the high note in “Danny’s Song.”
You write in your book that you were imitating Tina Turner when you recorded “Danger Zone”. What drew you to his singing?
She had rocked such an aggressive attitude – the tone and the place she was singing in her throat. And his pronunciation of words. I think you can hear it especially with the way I say “danger zone” – that’s how Tina would have pronounced it. One of the things that movie songs gave me the freedom to do was be who I wanted to be, because it wasn’t really a Kenny Loggins thing. It was a movie thing. And if the film fell apart, no one would ever hear it. So go ahead. See where you can take it.
Was it one of those sessions where you do 50 vocal takes?
Much faster than that. Giorgio needed to dub the song into the film within 24 hours, so it was urgent to get into the studio. We were there to do this asshole.
You’re generous enough in the book not to be credited as a writer on “Danger Zone,” even though you made significant contributions to the song. You write that Moroder and Whitlock didn’t interrupt you because of a rule about Oscar eligibility.
I couldn’t argue with that. Besides, it wasn’t my baby. I did not introduce the idea in the room. It was Giorgio’s idea, and I was fucking with it [his song]. And he left me because he respected me. He could have said “No, no, no, the song is what it is.” But to my ear, he needed help. Not much, just a few tweaks to make it a little more interesting chord-wise. And for this bridge to go somewhere. The middle eight bars should do something that relieves the tension – gives the listener a one-minute break, then brings you straight back inside. That’s what I added to the melody.
Someone else could have threatened to sue.
I am not a procedural person. I tend to want to avoid this s- whenever you can. It may be the door to the abyss.
It’s a bit funny that the music of “Top Gun”, this most indelible American film, was led by an Italian in Moroder and a German in Harold Faltermeyer, who left their mark on the film.
I never thought of that before. Tom really… uses, shall we say, the American military connection to the film. But in the new, I think it was a wise decision not to identify the enemy. Planes have no markings. The uniforms have no markings. They are just bad guys hoarding nuclear stockpiles, and we have to stop them. It’s not the US military that overthrows the government somewhere.
One of the reasons Mickey Thomas reportedly turned down “Danger Zone” is that he thought the original film was too chauvinistic. Was that a concern in your mind?
No. For me, it was just an adventure movie. But when CNN took “Danger Zone” and used it as background music for the bombing of Iraq, I pulled the song from my show. For me, it went over the top. I didn’t want to be the guy who wrote the WWIII theme song. When I finally brought it back on my show, I tried to redefine the song as being about life on the edge of excitement. I put images of extreme sports – people jumping out of planes, snowboarders doing 360s. The lyrics are about characters doing that.
Do you think you managed to rename the song?
I do not know. But for me, how can I interpret the song, I want it to stay that way.
You don’t do much in the clip for “Danger Zone” – basically lying in a bedroom with a ceiling fan.
It was Tony Scott. I was lucky enough to use the same director as the film. How often does this happen? And that was his vision. He just wanted a smoky room, don’t make too much of a production out of it: “We’re going to use a lot of footage from the movie, so just show Kenny to be thoughtful.”
So that’s what you do.
I really don’t know what emotion I was supposed to represent. The sunglasses and the fan were the most important items.
Has your success in Hollywood changed your ideas about fame?
Well, I’ve never really been part of Hollywood. Music is the last thing on their minds; he really is the bastard son-in-law of the movies. I didn’t even get an invitation to a party.
Have you ever considered acting?
Barbra Streisand asked me if I was interested. She and I really clicked when we were working together on tracks for “A Star Is Born”. That’s when I met Jon Peters, who was her boyfriend at the time. He’s in the kitchen cooking, and Barbra and I are just playing along to scraps of song ideas. He notices how much we’re laughing together, and she says, “Have you ever thought about acting?” I said, “No, that’s not my thing,” and that was the end of that conversation. I asked Tom if they would consider putting me in a uniform and running me through a stage [in “Top Gun: Maverick”] like a joke. But they had bigger fish to fry.
Where does “Danger Zone” rank on your top grossing songs list?
It depends on how “Maverick” does. But, you know, with streaming today, the revenue streams are so different. Back then, we had a soundtrack album, we had a single, we had airplay – there’s no airplay anymore. It all depends on how it’s aired and whether it’s picked up as a pop culture zeitgeist. I would say “Footloose” is probably still at the top of the list. “Danger zone” is two or three.
What are other reliable sources of income?
Corporate gigs – these pay more than you get when playing at a performing arts center or something. But I live from my editing. It’s the thing I can count on year after year. When 2020 came around there was no other income – I couldn’t do performances. I have five children and three grandchildren whom I still help a little financially. A few of my kids went to college; my first daughter went to Wesleyan. It’s a pretty deep bite.
How is the atmosphere at a company concert?
When you’re the interpreter at the end of a week-long conference, it sometimes feels like people wish they could go home and not have to stay for the meeting where you have the special guest. And very often they want the performer to be a surprise. So you better hope people like the surprise.