Off the Beat: Music is the reason for the success of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

In Arts & Entertainment, Columns, Film & TV, Music
In "Guardians of the Galaxy," Peter Quill's mixtape soundtracks the sci-fi film with completely '60s and '70s tracks, creating a unique atmosphere that defines the movie's success. (Courtesy of Hollywood Records)

There are few movies defined by their soundtracks alone. “Saturday Night Fever,” “Flashdance,” and “Dirty Dancing” are among the best-selling records of all time. Music in these movies defined the era of the film by using current and original songs. “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1” is a compilation of the classic tracks used in the film, the first No. 1 movie soundtrack to be entirely comprised of old tunes.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” brought the alien worlds and its little-known sci-fi comic lore to screen. It owes a great deal of its success by featuring a mixtape in the center of its story. “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” juxtaposed ‘60s and ‘70s tracks against beautiful spacescapes and action sequences in the first film.

If you can learn a lot about a person by his or her playlist, the music in the 2014 film paints a picture of a tight grip on Peter Quill’s childhood and his roots on Earth. His “Awesome Mix” serves as a guide to the melodies of the past, which the character struggles with moving forward from as he plays it over and over throughout the adventure. 

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill opens the film while dancing to the 1973 rock classic by Redbone, “Come and Get Your Love.” He uses a Walkman from his childhood, the only thing left from his short time on Earth.

The soundtrack is a character in and of itself, expressing much of the unsaid emotion between main character Peter Quill and his mother, whom the movie didn’t have the time to expand in any other way. The music serves as a voice for their relationship throughout the movie, being the closest connection he has to a normal life.

A song such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell contextualizes a mother’s assurance to her orphaned son, as Star-Lord reminisces about her and their shared passion for music throughout the film.

The most memorable scenes are the rare mix between this soundtrack and the movie itself. The humorous tune, “Escape (the Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes, plays while Quill attempts to steal his cassette tape back from a prison guard who kept it when they got arrested. Scenes like these enable moments of pop-culture absurdity that catch audiences by surprise, especially those who are used to more typical space adventure films. It fittingly reflects Quill’s quirky personality by having comical music counteract the film’s more serious elements.

“Awesome Mix Vol. 1” serves two purposes as the viewer watches it for the first time. First: as a connection to the past for those familiar with the songs and might have grown up with them. Second: as a means of discovery for a younger audience who may have never been caught listening to the “Jackson 5” or “The Runaways” before.

Without the carefully placed music in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the movie wouldn’t hold up the same way and certainly wouldn’t have been as uniquely likable among audiences. All of its songs were just as accessible before the film’s release. However, this specific compilation of music is original as a whole by creating its own vintage feel.

Music is often disconnected when watching a movie, but in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it’s usually coming from a physical source that the characters can hear as well. The franchise brings an oddly authentic touch to its “superhero” by giving him a playlist composed of songs that make the audience feel closer to the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” travels across theaters this Friday, fans are especially excited to hear the new soundtrack that accompanies the film. “Vol. 2” includes songs by Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison and Cat Stevens, which adds a different mood to the music in another predominantly classic rock collection. Only time will tell what emotional story it will leave audiences and if it will provide the same impact as the prior collection.

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