The sight of Terri Nunn’s signature two-tone blonde-and-black hair is reassuring. Forty-five years into her professional career, the unforgettable frontperson of new wave stalwarts Berlin is still rocking that hairdo, and she slays it. Berlin has gone through its fair share of member swaps, but four years ago, Nunn reunited with original members John Crawford and David Diamond. This summer, the group joins Culture Club and Howard Jones on tour for “The Letting It Go Show.”
Berlin has several sing-along songs that will have people on their feet, among them “No More Words,” “The Metro,” and “Sex (I’m A…).” The one audiences will no doubt be waiting for, however, is the group’s stratospheric smash, “Take My Breath Away.”
Originally recorded for the 1986 Top Gun soundtrack, “Take My Breath Away” was written by Giorgio Moroder and his Ferrari-mechanic-turned-lyricist Tom Whitlock. Versions of “Take My Breath Away” were recorded by other artists, but none were clicking with the filmmakers. Berlin was brought into the equation by Moroder—much to the disgust of Crawford, the group’s songwriter. But Berlin’s version worked so well that, purportedly, the love scene it soundtracks in Top Gun was shot specifically for the song. In turn, Berlin’s music video for the song looked like it was shot on the Top Gun set (it wasn’t) and is intercut with scenes from the film.
The Gold-certified “Take My Breath Away” sold over half-a-million copies and spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, hitting No. 1. It won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Berlin didn’t perform the song at the Oscars, and they weren’t even named as the performing artist by presenter Bernadette Peters. (She mistakenly named Melba Moore and Lou Rawls, who had stepped in to perform the song at the awards ceremony, as Berlin were on tour in Taiwan.) Whitlock had their back, however, thanking Nunn and Berlin during his acceptance speech.
“Take My Breath Away” is, without a doubt, Berlin’s calling card. In 2020, the group released an orchestral version of the song for their album Strings Attached. Of the many samples, interpolations, and covers of the song, Nunn favors EZI’s stripped-back version. In fact, Nunn invited EZI to perform the song with Berlin last year at the Canyon Club. Nunn has perfect recall of how “Take My Breath Away” came to Berlin and how they made it their own.
Enter Giorgio Moroder
We were an underground band, played on stations that were taking a chance on new wave underground music. We were not hit artists, by any stretch. It was in no way on a large scale for us yet. We knew what we were at up to that point, but we wanted more. This is what we’ve done with Berlin. What could Giorgio do with Berlin? How would he see Berlin?
When we got the chance to ask Giorgio to work with us, it was so huge. He had already done Bowie and Blondie and [the films] Fame and Flashdance and fucking Cat People. My brain was blown. We couldn’t afford a whole album, just one song, “No More Words.” The demo was like “Warm Leatherette,” very robotic. He knew there was a good song there, but he didn’t get the production at all. He knew it wouldn’t fly in any kind of mainstream way. He completely changed everything about the production and made it what it became.
John Crawford, my partner, hated it. He was like, “I’m trying to write stuff that the record label likes, that the fans will like, the audiences will like, and I’m struggling, and in comes this guy and changes everything, and it’s not my band anymore. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m losing my band.” He was not happy.
Giorgio got the job for Top Gun while we were working on “No More Words” with him. We were not the first choice, or even the fifth choice. Luckily for us, the producers hated everybody that Giorgio was trying on it, much bigger stars than we were. He said, “What about Berlin?” They said, “Well, okay, get moving because it’s getting down to the wire here.”
Giorgio was a great writer and such a talent. I was all in for him. He could have farted, and I would have sung it. But John’s like, “I’m not doing this. Fuck this guy. This is not our song.” The record label jumped in and said, “You’re doing this. You need all the help you can get. This is a movie. Regardless of whether it does well or not, your song will be on it.” We had no idea it would be a single. We were in the right place at the right time.
Not Getting Laid
Even though I love Giorgio, I wasn’t a pushover. I was kind of ego-ed out, and in a way, that’s bad. But in this case, it worked. I think one of the reasons that the producers weren’t liking what the artists were doing with the song was because the demo was very poppy. It sounded Japanese. It was supposed to be in a love scene, and it wasn’t romantic to me. I didn’t want to fuck anything listening to it.
One of the reasons that it worked, honestly, is because, at the time, I was in such a dark place romantically. I hadn’t gotten laid in probably two years. I didn’t know if I would ever find love again. My job was working well, but my personal life was in the toilet. It was just awful. I couldn’t sing it happy because I wasn’t happy. The sadness in my voice gave the song more of the depth that I think it needed. For me, the way a song works is to connect with it emotionally in an honest way.
I wasn’t crazy about Giorgio’s melody either. He just had some things going on that I didn’t get. Being a 20-whatever ego-ed out asshole, I sang it and gave it to him and said, “This is what I would do with it.” I didn’t know if we’d get the job. He actually liked it, and they loved it, so it worked out.
In the Studio
Giorgio was fucking flying at that point. He had at least three projects going while he was working with us. He had a studio complex with multiple rooms. Hans Zimmer took one of the rooms because he was also doing some of the songs for Top Gun. Giorgio would fly in for a few minutes and hear what Richie Zito came up with. Richie later became a big producer, but at the time he was an engineer working for Giorgio. He was the hands-on guy most of the time. Giorgio would come in and say, “No, take the horns out. Maybe later. Try it in the third chorus, and let it go from there.” Then he was gone. It was just in and out through the whole process.
I got to a point where I thought, “I can sing this any way I want because they love me.” I was trying stuff, like adding all this melody to his melody in the chorus, thinking I’m the coolest R&B singer of all time. Giorgio pulled me back into the studio three times and said, “Just sing the melody, only the melody. People want to sing along. They cannot remember all of these notes you’re putting in. They will not understand you. It’s not good.” After the third time, I remember talking to my mom and saying, “All right, well, it’s ruined now. It’s his song. Fuck it. I did what he wanted. Fine. It’s not going anywhere for sure now.”
The Gift That Keeps Giving
Everything changed when that song came out. We got to play in countries that we’d never been to before as a band, that had no interest in Berlin before that. It opened the door to the world for me, and still does, to this day. It’s a door-opener for my entire life. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a song that keeps going. I don’t understand why one song is forever and another song isn’t. It’s still playing, and people still call me and ask if they can put it in this movie or that TV show. It continues to change my life.