Jan 10

BERLIN – “Take My Breath Away”

FT + Popular54 comments • 5,729 views

#579, 8th November 1986, video

“Take My Breath Away” is hardly the first soundtrack ballad to get to #1. But even so it feels like the start of something, a harbinger of the soon-come glory age of the film tie-in, when balladosaurus rex bestrode the charts, roaring and beating its chest and weeping for week upon emotional week. Of course the evolution of this sonic megafauna was gradual. Play “Take My Breath Away” next to something later, and functionally similar, like “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”, and “Breath” seems thoughtful, almost delicate.

But the key species characteristics of the titan song are present: the stateliness, the sense of scale, the yearning, most of all the epic abstraction. In the parent films, after all, specific situations – fighter pilots, car racers, asteroid drillers – are just skins for archetypal ideas of Heroism and Love and Sacrifice. So the songs can drop the skins completely and just wallow in those feelings – which means you get guff like “never hesitating to become the fated ones”, but also makes criticising the lyrics feel more beside the point than usual.

What makes “Take My Breath Away” interesting, for all its bombast, is the Giorgio Moroder production. Those four-note keyboard figures, suspended placidly over its synth beds, give the song a calm, weightless feel. It reminds me slightly of Julee Cruise’s “Falling” in its sense that love is a dreamstate, a suspension of time, and for all that the lyrics evaporate on attention, their string of present participles – watching, turning, returning, watching, again and again – reinforce this. The value in “Take My Breath Away” isn’t in its weight but its stillness.



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  1. 26
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Jan 2010 #

    haha @25 makes me like it even more!

  2. 27
    Erithian on 19 Jan 2010 #

    I was thinking “Dollar – The Even More Hairspray Years” when I saw the sleeve.

    I tend to associate Top Gun in my mind with An Officer and a Gentleman, since I must have seen the films in fairly close succession. They’re both glossy US forces recruitment ads, Morning in America and all that, from that strain of American politics which had gotten over Vietnam thank you very much and was supremely confident again (you’ll still see their like night after night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, most recently Pat Robertson saying the Haitians got their due for their pact with the Devil two centuries ago – but I digress). Whereas “Officer” was one long adoration-fest for Richard Gere, I thought Top Gun at least had some leavening humour about it in the banter between Cruise’s character and the rest of the boys – although having said that I’ve seen them once each a long time ago.

    Anyway, the point is, Top Gun > Officer, and “Take My Breath Away” >> “Up Where We Belong”. The deal is sealed in the opening moments, with that sumptuous opening musical phrase, and the vocal maintains the tone while resisting the temptation to histrionics (I doff my cap once again to the wonderful way Marcello describes Terri Nunn’s vocal upthread).

    Number 2 Watch unimpressive, but further down the chart two of the best singles of the decade were peaking – at 4, Swing Out Sister’s “Breakout”, and at 9, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush with “Don’t Give Up”.

  3. 28
    Rory on 19 Jan 2010 #

    The bloke on my school bus who was obsessed with Frankie’s “Relax” was also obsessed with Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A…)”, evangelising both to the point where they were inextricably linked in my mind; revisiting the latter, it feels a bit try-hard, but it seemed daring at the time. By the time “No More Words” was a minor hit in Australia (and a number one in New Zealand), Berlin had carved out an electro-rock niche that typefied the North American notion of New Wave. When “Take My Breath Away” came along, so different from their earlier sound, it felt as if they’d abandoned their roots for the quick cash-in. Founder member and main songwriter John Crawford apparently felt the same, which may have hastened the band’s demise the following year.

    My brother owned Count Three and Pray, the parent album, and this felt like a total mismatch for it; the rest was produced by Bob Ezrin, a producer worlds away from Moroder. The song’s movie tie-in nature also prejudiced me against it; I never saw Top Gun at a cinema, only on video some years later, so the tie-in video for the song felt like a meaningless advert. That, and the crazy arm movements Terri Nunn made halfway through looked as if she was trying to flap to the moon.

    Now that its movie and album contexts are safely in the past it feels easier to assess the song on its own merits. Tom’s astute comparison with Julee Cruise’s “Falling” (a song I loved) makes me hear new things in this, as does my greater awareness of its place among Moroder’s productions; and I’m really liking it. Just as it was out of place on the album, it’s a song out of its time, as “I Feel Love” was a decade earlier. I thought I’d give it 5, but it’s at least a 7.

    Given how ubiquitous “Take My Breath Away” was in late 1986, I was surprised to see it reached only number two in Australia – until seeing that late ’86 was when John Farnham’s “Your the Voice” was swamping all competition in its home country.

    What-Might-Have-Been factoid of the day: Terri Nunn auditioned for the role of Princess Leia.

  4. 29
    swanstep on 19 Jan 2010 #

    @erithian,28: What a pain ‘Breakout’ didn’t hit #1! It seems precision-tooled for that spot in the UK. Corinne of Swing Out Sister’s *hair* alone (Best Louise Brooks ever?) should have been worth a week or two at the top. :) And SOS had really nice 12″ mixes too, esp this one Oh well. I guess neither ABC earlier nor Terrence Trent D’Arby later ever got to #1, so perhaps the point is that sophisti-pop or whatever this sub-genre is just never plays that well in the singles market-place (its fans buy albums perhaps).

  5. 30
    punctum on 19 Jan 2010 #

    #29: It’s possible; ABC, TTD and SOS all hit number one with their debut albums – but only had one top three single (“Sign Your Name”) between them.

  6. 31
    Rory on 19 Jan 2010 #

    Arrgh, can’t believe I have a glaring your/you’re typo in my comment and no 15-minute edit window left. The horro’re!

  7. 32
    Rory on 19 Jan 2010 #

    Following the “Giorgio Moroder 1978 interview: Part 1” link in the Related Articles, that “(probably) the best single ever released” you mentioned wouldn’t be one you later gave 9 to, would it, Tom? ;)

  8. 33
    LondonLee on 19 Jan 2010 #

    I’ve never seen Top Gun either, I just remember my Dad telling me he came out of it wanting to invade a foreign country.

    I do like this a lot but it’s bombast does point the way toward the use of loud, thunderous numbers by Celine in Titanic, Aerosmith in Armageddon (?) and Nickleback in Spiderman — perfect soundtracks for the senses-assaulting spectacle of modern Hollywood films.

  9. 34
    MikeMCSG on 19 Jan 2010 #

    30 Possibly Punctum but all sorts of acts scored number one LPs without a chart-topping single – Big Country, Motorhead,Curiosity Killed The Cat, Genesis, Dire Straits etc. Getting a no 1 LP was more of a matter of getting your release date right; no Nick Berry or Lena Martell was going to suddenly appear and screw up the picture.

  10. 35
    johnny on 19 Jan 2010 #

    let us not forget Charlie’s choreographed ballet to this song during the dance off on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelpha”.

  11. 36
    Tom on 19 Jan 2010 #

    #32 I meant Together In Electric Dreams I’m sure! ;)

  12. 37
    thefatgit on 19 Jan 2010 #

    Punctum @23…I remember Meg Ryan has one of the best lines in the film “Take me to bed or lose me forever!”. Of course, Kelly McGillis’s career falters after Top Gun, but Meg’s is about to er… take off.

  13. 38
    pink champale on 21 Jan 2010 #

    #37 oh god. i received an anonymous valentines card bearing that message while at sixth form (needless to say, this is the single most exciting thing that has ever happened to me) i am very glad i didn’t know it was a top qun quote!

    i’m with punctum and others in liking ‘take my breath a way’ a lot – for me it’s the stateliness and the enormous booming grandeur of the arrangement. good call on ‘falling’ but i think it’s ‘i’m not in love’ that it most reminds me of, along with the above mentioned ‘don’t give up’. i remember first really falling for this when i heard it really loud while on a fairground ride – always a good way to hear music. i’m also with witchita lineman in falling for berlin’s dastardly subliminal marketing/wish fulfilment and being surprised anew each time that they aren’t central european – the singer’s odd polecat hairdo surely helps in this regard too.

  14. 39
    Elsa on 22 Jan 2010 #

    Interestingly, Terri Nunn as a teen actress dances to Donna Summer in the film Thank God It’s Friday (1978).

  15. 40
    swanstep on 22 Jan 2010 #

    duhduh dah daaah, duhduhduh dah daaah….

  16. 41
    Tom on 22 Jan 2010 #

    #40 – really sorry for the delay on this, double column deadline week but even so I should have diverted some of my faffing about time into Popular.

  17. 42
    swanstep on 22 Jan 2010 #

    @Tom. Whoops, my apols.. I hadn’t thought about how my note might come across as snarky. I was just amused by the possibility (unrealized!) that I might be able to get others to chime in and continue my silly phonetic transcription. That and, well, we’ve had lot of discussions about intros before (how appendage-like they can be etc.), and I already hinted at #19 that I’m unenthused about this one, and…. oh, hell. My bad.

  18. 43
    Billy Smart on 25 Jan 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just the 2 TV appearances;

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with A-Ha, Bananarama, The Beastie Boys, Berlin, The Blow Monkeys, Boy George, Club Nouveaux, Cock Robin, The Communards, Curiosity Killed The Cat (1987)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Pepsi & Shirley, Berlin, Julian Cope (1987)

  19. 44
    Tom on 25 Jan 2010 #

    #42 Swanstep, absolutely no apologies needed!! There is actually a long-ish tradition on Popular of giving me gentle reminders (in the form of lyrical puns usually but a version of the intro does fine) when there’s an unannounced delay so I assumed that’s what it was and popped in to say “sorry! on its way!”

  20. 45
    MikeMCSG on 27 Jan 2010 #

    #7 And another piece of the old world fell away Ian with the peaking of “Ask” the last worthwhile Smiths record. I know not everyone agrees with this but the last few singles and “Strangeways Here We Come” LP were piss-poor bordering on self-parody.

    Also worth mentioning that Madness checked out (for a while at least) with “Ghost Train” around this time.

  21. 46
    HornchurchJohn on 11 Feb 2010 #

    For some illogical reason, I can’t stand this song. It’s just a dirge!

  22. 47
    George on 6 Nov 2011 #

    Intrigued like many on here I trawled the internet to find out what machine created that distinctive synth bass, and with it coming from the mid-80’s it should surprise no one that the most likely culprit was the DX7*. Is there anything from that period which doesn’t have it’s fingerprints on it?

    It seems Nunn was the only individual in Berlin who had any role in the creation of this song. The other members reduced to running minor errands for Morodor and Arthur Barrow**.

    *See also ‘Night Train’ by the Commodores.
    ** See also Trevor Horn’s Tea Boy/Car Valeter/Dog Walker circa 1984 (aka – every member of FGTH who wasn’t Holly Johnson).

  23. 48
    thefatgit on 20 Aug 2012 #

    Sad news from LA. Tony Scott has only gone and chucked himself off a bridge.

  24. 49
    enitharmon on 20 Aug 2012 #

    Is there a Tony McKenzie in the house? Don’t push your luck, lad! ;)

  25. 50
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Aug 2012 #

    #48 – Naw! You’re getting confused with Billy Joe McAllister!

  26. 51
    thefatgit on 20 Aug 2012 #

    I knew there was a Bobbie Gentry song in there somewhere.

  27. 52
    creation site internet marseille on 31 Aug 2012 #

    Hi there, I discovered your website by way of Google at the same time as looking for a related matter, your site came up, it seems good. I have added to my favourites|added to bookmarks.

  28. 53
    Auntie Beryl on 1 Feb 2013 #

    Berlin’s follow up, You Don’t Know, was excellent but barely played and only scraped the top forty the following January. I remember being confused and bitter at this result, but then I was 13; everything made me confused and bitter at that stage.

  29. 54
    hectorthebat on 19 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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