The Genius of Harold Faltermeyer

When we think of great movie composers we think of John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri, Ennio Morricone or Bernard Herrmann. The list is long but I think one composer belongs on that list and it’s Harold Faltermeyer. The pop synthesizer sound he infused gave an element of style and fun to the movies. His style is catchy and breezy and fits the films he scored. Film composers have a certain style and sound they carry from film to film and Faltermeyer is no different.

In my opinion, no one captures the 1980s with film scores better than Harold Faltermeyer. He can add a 1980s vibe to a movie even if it wasn’t released in that decade. For someone without a large filmography, Faltermeyer’s music is part of pop culture. A German, he does have a few German soundtrack albums that are not available in the United States. What he is famous for are the soundtracks to American movies.

His first score of an American film was Thief of Hearts. It’s not the catchy, upbeat style we would become familiar with in later films but it’s still his style. About half-way through the song it does sound a little like the “Top Gun Anthem.”

Beverly Hills Cop is still his benchmark and what put him on the map. The track “Axel F” was a giant hit garnering Faltermeyer various awards and huge sales for the soundtrack album and “Axel F” single. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1985. I’m sure you are all very familiar with this song so instead of posting a link to it I’m posting a link to the B-side of the single. It’s a track titled “Shoot Out.” The music is what drives the Scarface-style shootout at the end of the movie.

Unfortunately a full album of the score has never been released. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t sell. The score is great and deserves an album treatment. In addition to Beverly Hills Cop, the scores for Fletch and Tango & Cash are perfect for Faltermeyer because all three films require the characters to investigate people and locations and his music is perfect for sneaking around. Just imagine yourself poking around Victor Maitland’s estate or sniffing out drug dealers on California beaches.

In high school I did own the Fletch soundtrack on cassette and it featured two tracks of Faltermeyer’s score. One being the “Fletch Theme.” Personally, I think this main theme is better than “Axel F.”

I also owned the Top Gun soundtrack on cassette in high school. It has great songs on it but unfortunately not the score of the film. The only piece of the score is the “Top Gun Anthem,” which is certainly a stand-out. Faltermeyer adds the guitar licks of Steve Stevens to his usual electronic compositions. Certainly a departure from what he had previously done. The movie was so successful this track got it’s own music video.

After Top Gun, 1987 was a busy year for him. He composed scores for Beverly Hills Cop II, Fatal Beauty and The Running Man. Unfortunately, Faltermeyer’s music from Beverly Hills Cop II and Fatal Beauty were never released on soundtrack albums.

Faltermeyer branched out even further by scoring the science fiction film The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This film was released in the fall of 1987, the same year as Predator. It is the better film, and has the better score, but Faltermeyer creates a good dystopian sound with his music for The Running Man.

To close out the 1980s, Faltermeyer was recruited for a buddy cop film starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Tango & Cash has a lot more action in it than Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch and even Top Gun but it still has a lot of humor and Faltermeyer’s score complements humor, action and mystery.

His movie scoring talent wasn’t just restricted to the 1980s. Faltermeyer did find his way into the 1990s by scoring the movie Kuffs starring Christian Slater. The film didn’t find it’s way near the top of the pop culture totem pole. Unfortunately, Faltermeyer’s score didn’t either. That doesn’t mean it’s not good. It fits his style and the main theme could have been a radio single if the movie had been a bigger hit.

After Kuffs that was it in the United States for Faltermeyer. He decided to return to Germany and raise his family. He did score a few German films and foreign video games. It wasn’t until 2010 that director Kevin Smith coaxed him out of retirement to score his movie Cop Out. The movie isn’t that good but the score is fantastic. It’s like Faltermeyer never left Hollywood. Smith is an admitted fan of the Fletch movies and novels so it’s no surprise he wanted Faltermeyer to score his detective movie.

His main theme for Cop Out is an amazing hybrid of Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch. And I have to admit, it’s the catchiest of anything he’s done. In 2010 Faltermeyer brought back the 1980s.

If you’re interested in more Harold Faltermeyer, Amazon is a great place to find movie music by him. It has the soundtrack albums to Cop Out, The Running Man and Top Gun, which features an additional score track titled “Memories” that wasn’t on the original cassette. The Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack isn’t available on Amazon in mp3 format but it’s easily obtainable on CD from Amazon and other outlets.

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3 thoughts on “The Genius of Harold Faltermeyer

  1. I did not see Cop Out, so had not idea he did the music for it. Glad to hear that he is doing something in movies though. I have such great memories of his music.

  2. I was thrilled when I heard he was doing the soundtrack for it. I bought it before the movie came out. I recommend seeing the movie just to hear Faltermeyer’s music in the context of the film. Hopefully the failure of Cop Out won’t send him back into retirement.

    On a related 80s note, Kevin Smith even worked in the song “Bit by Bit” from Fletch to Cop Out..

  3. Great post, Six Million Dollar Jedi! I especially love Faltermeyer’s score for the Running Man…and it looks like it’s available on iTunes as well as Cop Out and Fletch!

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