This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on August 6th 2014.
The very first thing you hear in James Gunn’s exquisite comic-book space opera Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t the fanfare music for Marvel studios, nor is it expository narration. It isn’t even a heroic theme for its title characters. It’s 100cc’s ethereal, soft-rock effort ‘I’m Not in Love’. A very bold statement about the film’s decidedly unique approach. Unlike most superhero films, Guardians doesn’t rely on just orchestral scoring to tell the story of its similarly distinctive heroes. In fact, licensed music is central to the plot (as in it’s actually part of the narrative here). Protagonist Peter Quill/Star Lord’s Awesome Mix Vol.1 tape provides a lot of great 70’s tracks that not only work incredibly well in their selected moments in the film, but also come together for one seriously cool album. The song choice is consistently outstanding. Not that this was a surprise to anyone who’d watched the film’s very first trailer, which so memorably used Blue Suede’s ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ to signal that this Marvel Studios epic was going to be a little bit different to the others (and also helped boost that song’s download sales by 700% at the same time).
Many have remarked that the film is one of the most enjoyable blockbusters in a long time and the soundtrack makes a hugely significant contribution in that regard. From the film’s opening credits, featuring our hero dancing to Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love,’ it’s clear that the music is frequently going to take centre stage and is going to live up to its title of “Awesome”. Without its frankly genius musical choices, the film may not have been able to endear itself to so many people. Each track serves as a loving reminder to Quill of his Planet Earth origins and additionally works to amplify the film’s considerable charm.
The nostalgia-laden vibe is also positively infectious. It’s no wonder the characters themselves break into dance on more than one occasion when there’s so much energy on display from the soundtrack throughout. Quite possibly one of the most perfect musical accompaniments to a character’s introduction, ‘Come and Get Your Love’ is feel-good rock at its best. ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5, meanwhile, may just be the best closing track to a summer blockbuster ever. It’s upbeat tempo and Motown sound will leave you with a massive grin on your face. On a side note, the decision to remaster the tracks’ recordings for the soundtrack’s release in order to make them sound like they are actually being played through a tape deck may irk some listeners. But for those ready to embrace the old-fashioned aesthetic, it’s a fantastic bonus.
As all good mix-tapes should, the compilation has something for every mood and every tone. It’s a neat little conceit that the principal character has all of these songs to go along with the various moments of his life, helping to establish a cohesion between the tracks. It also means that the whole album is inherently re-playable and has a very broad appeal. The Runaways’ ‘Cherry Bomb’ supplies the punk, rebellious attitude whilst ballads like ‘Fooled Around and Fell in Love’ are there for the more tender, intimate moments. And who is better to capture an otherworldly, space-age feel than David Bowie? His ‘Moonage Daydream’ is, in terms of both ambience and lyrics, the perfect tune for exploring Marvel’s newly expanded cosmic universe. Elsewhere ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ is still as tremendously catchy as ever.
Some of the songs may not be the most original inclusions, with some suffering from already being overplayed in the media. ‘Escape (The Piña Colada Song)’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ both come to mind. Nonetheless, they fit with the retro tone of the rest of the album and neither have ever been used better, especially the latter which actually manages to be legitimately uplifting when its time comes in the film instead of cheesy and groan-inducing (which it could have easily been if handled clumsily). It’s rare for a soundtrack to contain this manly standout tracks and it’s, by extension, near-impossible to leave the film without humming one or two of them. (Probably all of them.)
Buy the deluxe edition and you’ll also be treated to Tyler Bates’ impressive score for the film. Usually Marvel compositions are by-the-numbers but functional. Here, however, Bates does something a bit more interesting by returning to the sci-fi movies of the 70’s and 80’s, creating something purposely old-school. And it works really well. ‘Groot Spores’ in particular has the kind of awe-inspiring sense of wonder found usually in films of the past, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, whilst ‘Morag’ has an ominous Indiana Jones quality to it. In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy’s soundtrack doesn’t only work well within the confines of the film, it’s one of the most fun albums you’ll ever listen to and will be stuck in your head for a long time to come.