Giorgio Moroder: ‘The lyrics were written by a guy who came to fix my Ferrari. It won me my third Oscar’
Interviews by Dave Simpson – The Guardian
‘The song is my favourite work’ … Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in the hit 1986 film that Take My Breath Away was written for. Photograph: Paramount/Allstar
Terri Nunn, singer
Before I was in Berlin I auditioned for the part of Princes Leia in Star Wars. I was 15 but looked 12. Harrison Ford was over 30 but looked 19 or 20. We sat in deckchairs to say our lines. George Lucas, bless him, sent me a letter thanking me and saying: “We chose Carrie Fisher, but we’d like to help you.” He introduced me to Steven Spielberg and all these guys. I was offered the part of Lucy Ewing in Dallas, but the seven-year contract scared me because I really wanted to do music. My mother told me to go with my heart, but my agent was so annoyed with me for turning down Dallas that he dropped me. A year later, I met John Crawford [bass/vocals] and joined Berlin.
People laughed at us at first because power-pop or arena rock were popular and we were into electronic music – Kraftwerk and Ultravox. The band name was our attempt to make people think we were German.
We loved what Giorgio Moroder was doing and begged to work with him, but he was huge: he had worked with David Bowie, Donna Summer, Blondie and on Flashdance. We could eventually afford him for just one song, No More Words. While we were working with him, he got the contract for Top Gun and wrote Take My Breath Away. He’d tried other singers on it but the film’s producers had turned them all down, so Giorgio suggested us. We hadn’t had big hits, but he could be very convincing and told them: “Oh, they’ll be huge.”
We went into Giorgio’s vast studio complex in North Hollywood, where he was doing three or four projects simultaneously with an assistant producer in every room. He would blow in and say: “I don’t like the horns. Take them out. We’ll do more later. OK, bye.” Then he’d return later: “Oh I love it! Do more harmonies!”
He added horns and guitars and made everything more lush. He kept bringing me back to simplify the vocal, saying: “People need to want to sing along.” In acting, I’d learned a lot about channelling emotion. I was alone. I’d been so busy with the band I’d not had a relationship for four years. So I sang it from a feeling of sadness and longing, and maybe that’s what resonated. At first, nothing happened and our manager said: “Terri, if this goes Top 10, I’ll get a mohawk.” But the record company kept pushing and it went to No 1 around the world, so MTV came and filmed our manager getting a mohawk.
Giorgio Moroder, songwriter, producer
I lived in Los Angeles when Harold Faltermeyer was doing the music for Top Gun, and sometimes I dropped by the studio. One day Jerry Bruckheimer, the film’s co-producer, said to me: “Why don’t you compose a song?” I did Danger Zone [recorded by Kenny Loggins] for the film and they liked it, then Jerry said they needed something slow for the romantic scenes with Tom Cruise [as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell] and Kelly McGillis [Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood].
I set a click to a slow tempo and made a rough demo playing everything. I sang the melody over it but was torn between two slightly different sections. At home, I listened again and chose the one we know. Then I went back to the studio and did a proper demo. The components are the five-note motif and the melody, and the distinctive bass sound, with a key change in the middle. I played it as an instrumental from beginning to end, and I loved it.
My Ferrari was parked behind the studio, with brake trouble. One day a guy, Tom Whitlock, came by and said he was a mechanic and could fix it. Later he said: “Oh and, by the way, I’m also a lyricist. If you ever need some words …” I was never good at lyrics, so gave him my demos. He wrote words for Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away among others, and the imagery was perfect.
On the demo, I’d done the distinctive bass sound on a synthesiser with some vibrato, but when we recorded it properly, I couldn’t recreate it, so used the bass sound from the demo. Martha Davis from the Motels sang the song first, and quite well, but the producers weren’t that excited, but when we did it with Terri everybody loved it.
Take My Breath Away is my favourite work, because of the components and the way Terri sings it. It won best original song at the Golden Globes and my third Oscar. There’s some things you forget but this one felt incredible.
- Berlin’s new orchestral version of Take My Breath Away is released on 27 November.