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Enduring Earworm: Harold Faltermeyer and “Axel F”
We Dive Deep Into a Classic Tune Featuring the JX-3P
We were sitting in the Palo Alto Square movie theater halfway through Beverly Hills Cop when I noticed my father scribbling furiously on a napkin. This wasn’t an anomaly. As an AI professor and robotics engineer at nearby Stanford Research Institute, he'd often put notes down to reference later. Equations, bits of code, the occasional sketch—it usually looked fairly esoteric to me. Still, I could tell this was something different. Instead of computer language, there was a staff and music notes. You see, Dad was also an accomplished piano player and recognized a great tune when he heard it.
“What are you writing?” I asked.
“I don’t want to forget this melody,” my father replied. “It’s really great.”
The 23-note earworm he didn’t want to lose was “Axel F,” the inescapable theme song from the classic ‘80s romp starring Eddie Murphy as the maverick cop, Axel Foley. Both energetic and oddly haunting, the song is a staple of its decade of origin. The composer behind this oddity was a music industry veteran and Giorgio Moroder-protégé named Harold Faltermeyer.
Born in Germany, Faltermeyer collaborated with Moroder on the seminal Midnight Express score among others. Eventually, he paved his own path, lending his ample melodic talents to what reads like the ultimate ‘80s party guest list: BillyIdol, BonnieTyler, BobSeger, Laura Branigan, and Patti Labelle.
Faltermeyer went on to win Grammys for his work on both the Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun soundtracks. He also cemented his synth-pop legacy in 1990, when he co-produced Behaviour with the Pet Shop Boys, superfans of the legendary producer’s work. Seeking a more analog sound, the duo enlisted Faltermeyer and ended up with an album they called “more reflective and musical-sounding” than their previous output.
Roland synth sounds abound on the iconic recording of “Axel F.” A Jupiter-8 created the famously cutting tone of the lead line, but the underdog JX-3P was in there as well, supplying chordal support. The unequivocally catchy song was a massive worldwide hit reaching number one in 1985. “Axel F” also enjoyed a somewhat infamous second life in Crazy Frog’s 2005 remix, a version which currently has more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube.
An instantly recognizable track, “Axel F” remains relevant in today’s ‘80s-crazed music landscape. Acts like Poolside, Robyn, and CHVRCHES are carrying the torch for the kind of bubbly keyboard-infused pop craft Harold Faltermeyer was churning out on the regular in the early days of “The Me Decade.”