The main title credits to “Top Gun: Maverick” are both surprising and confusing: “Music by Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer. Score produced by Lorne Balfe.”
That may sound like a musical mess, but aside from Gaga, all the players have connections to the original “Top Gun” or each other through previous collaborations. Berlin-based Faltermeyer scored the original 1986 “Top Gun,” winning a Grammy for the instrumental “Top Gun Anthem,” while Zimmer scored four earlier Tom Cruise films including “Rain Man,” “Days of Thunder” and “Mission: Impossible II.”
The London-based Balfe has frequently collaborated with Zimmer on various scores (from “The Dark Knight” to “Dunkirk”), scored “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” for Cruise, and and is currently working with Cruise on “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning.” The Oscar- and multiple Grammy-winning Gaga penned the new movie’s “Hold My Hand,” already touted as an original song front-runner.
So how did their musical duties on “Top Gun: Maverick” break down?
“Each of them contributed significantly,” says Randy Spendlove, president of motion picture music at Paramount. “Harold came in and was here collaborating with Hans. And when we showed the movie to Gaga early on, she wrote this amazing song, and as that evolved, we asked her to contribute to the score.”
“Hold My Hand” plays during a bar scene when Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter are having a conversation. Cues from the song are woven into the score, and the full song is played near the end with Penny and Maverick (Cruise).
Spendlove explains that Lady Gaga had “written the love theme, which is the heartbeat of the movie. Harold’s theme is the incredible epic theme that’s always been associated with ‘Top Gun,’ and all the music in between — all those action sequences, dogfights and training sequences — was created by Hans and Harold. Lorne produced all that music from all those places.”
According to Faltermeyer, Cruise asked him to participate even before shooting began in 2018. “Let’s keep the spirit of the first one,” Faltermeyer quotes the star-producer as saying. “Thank God we had the iconic ‘Top Gun Anthem’ in our bag” the Berlin-based composer tells Variety via email. “That led to determining the tone of the entire score.”
Faltermeyer’s original theme “was the first thing we started delving into,” Balfe adds. “The audience wants to hear it, but it’s got to be slightly reinvented. There are nods to it throughout the movie.”
Faltermeyer worked with Zimmer at the latter’s Santa Monica studio off and on through 2019. “I wish we could have spent more time together,” Faltermeyer adds. “Our creative moments, one on one, were limited,” he notes, citing Zimmer’s multiple film commitments (including the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” which occupied Zimmer through late 2019 and early 2020).
Balfe remembers recording Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith for the score “three years ago” and says that the entire score was recorded in Los Angeles — “remotely,” he says, mainly because of COVID restrictions, so the key players cited in the film’s end titles (including cellist Tina Guo and electric guitarist Lexii Lynn Frazier) were performing in their own studios.
While the creative efforts began in Los Angeles, with Zimmer, Faltermeyer, and later Gaga, additional work took place in London, where Balfe resides, where Cruise was working on the next two “Mission: Impossible” movies, and where Zimmer spent considerable time during the past three years.
“Top Gun: Maverick” marks Lady Gaga’s first effort at film scoring. “Hans and Gaga worked very closely,” says Balfe. “There were quite a few writing sessions. They were working on it for a long time.”
Gaga recently said on social media that she spent years perfecting “Hold My Hand.” Cruise was spotted at the singer’s Las Vegas residency in December 2019. That was the first rumblings of a collaboration happening. In her post, Gaga called the song “a love letter to the world during and after a very hard time.”
Balfe considers the song the movie’s love theme in more ways than one. “We start using that theme when it’s to do with the love of two people, but also when it’s an emotional moment, embracing the sacrifices that these pilots go through,” he says. “The love of flight was always a subject we talked about. At the end of that first sequence, when Maverick’s trying to beat the speed record, we hear a nod to that theme.”
What of the film’s music supervision? Kathy Nelson made the final credits, but at one stage, another music supervisor — KCRW vet Jason Bentley, whose credits include “Tron: Legacy” — was on board mapping out a musical template. But as things moved into post-production and the long pandemic pause set in, the process was reconsidered and changes were made.
The resulting soundtrack, out May 27, is a shadow of its 1986 predecessor, which offered Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (back for an encore on “Maverick”), Berlin’s hit ballad “Take My Breath Away” (an Oscar winner for original song), and, lest we forget, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Originally released in 1964, it saw a surge of popularity following the film’s release, and while omitted from the original soundtrack, was later added to an expanded edition.
“Top Gun: Maverick” features a new song by OneRepublic, “I Ain’t Worried,” and Miles Teller performing Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” nodding to the original film where Goose plays the song in a bar, and “Hold My Hand” — the rest of the collection is elements of score music.
According to sources, various “very opinionated” stakeholders took the reins on the music supervision. And according to Twenty One Pilots frontman Tyler Joseph, that included Cruise himself. As the singer-rapper told KROQ’s “Klein and Ally Show” earlier this month: “I was working with the music placement person for the new ‘Top Gun’ on writing a new song for them. And then I believe Tom Cruise came in and just fired everyone.”
Cruise was “intimately involved” with every aspect of the music, Spendlove affirms. “He is the vision and the custodian of the franchise. Everything goes through Tom.”