Tom Whitlock, Lyricist on ‘Top Gun’ Songs “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away,” Dies at 68
Tom Whitlock, who wrote the lyrics for the rock anthem “Danger Zone” and the chart-topping love song “Take My Breath Away” for the original Top Gun, winning an Oscar in the process, has died. He was 68.
Whitlock died Saturday at a memory care center in Gallatin, Tennessee, a spokesperson at the Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home in Springfield, Missouri, confirmed. He had Alzheimer’s disease, friends told the Springfield News Leader.
Whitlock wrote both Top Gun songs with Giorgio Moroder. Their relationship began when he fixed the brakes on the Italian composer’s Ferrari.
“Danger Zone,” performed by Kenny Loggins, was employed for the opening scene in the Tony Scott-directed, Tom Cruise-starring 1986 action movie, while “Take My Breath Away,” sung by Terri Nunn of Berlin, inspired the filmmakers to shoot additional scenes with Cruise and Kelly McGillis months later.
“Take My Breath Away” made it to No. 1 on the Billboard 100 in September 1986 and won the Oscar for best original song, while “Danger Zone” reached No. 2 on the chart. The film’s soundtrack sold 9 million copies.
Whitlock and Moroder worked on music for such other movies as Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Over the Top (1987) — they wrote “Meet Me Half Way,” also performed by Loggins — and Rambo III (1988). They also came up with the themes for the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 1990 World Cup in Italy, “Hand in Hand” and “To Be Number One,” respectively.
Born on Feb. 20, 1954, Thomas Ross Whitlock played with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils as a fill-in drummer and attended Drury College in Springfield. He moved to Los Angeles in 1983 to start a band with friends.
Whitlock was at Davlen Sound Studios in North Hollywood helping out a pal when he met Moroder, who had just bought the place.
To fix Moroder’s brakes, Whitlock “went to Pep Boys and bought a pile of Castrol brake fluid. I had my tools in my 1970 Volvo and I went out to the parking lot and bled out the old brake fluid and replaced it with new,” he recalled in a 2014 interview.
Whitlock wound up with a job as an assistant at the studio. When Moroder needed help with lyrics, Whitlock jumped in. The composer had just worked with Top Gun producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer on the 1983 hit Flashdance.
Whitlock described working with Moroder: “I would generally hang with the singer for a bit to help them learn the song and warm them up and then Giorgio would come in to nail it down and add harmonies and backgrounds,” he said.
“I always wrote the lyrics precisely to his melody — my theory was that his choices were intentional and that he had such an unbelievable knowledge of hit songs that I had no business overreaching. Sometimes he might make a change while we were singing and I would adjust on the fly — big fun!”
Survivors include his sister, Mary.
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