Music and song can be a big part of storytelling. We’ve all seen how well musicals on stage and screen can tell a story, but there’s art to it as well. A musical has to use music and song to either move the story along or be used to reveal something about a character. It’s not easy to do well, and there are plenty of modern musicals with songs that overtake the story (LES MISERABLES) or ones that just act as jokey ‘one-off’ stories (musical TV episodes like in THE FLASH, for example). So how does a superhero movie full of action, space scenes, and cosmic stones, make music so indispensable?  That film, of course, is GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and it’s accompanying soundtrack, Awesome Mix Vol. 1. At first glance, this shouldn’t work at all — a mixtape of randomly selected 70’s pop and rock songs in a space opera? Somehow, the film not only succeeded, but the soundtrack also became the first #1 album with no original songs in history. So how do the songs fit into the film?

Editor’s Note: This list uses the order of songs used in the film and not the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 listing

“I’M NOT IN LOVE” – 10cc

This is the first song, and the first real sound in the film, creeping in over an image of young Peter Quill in a hospital waiting room. While the song only plays for a few seconds, the lines that we hear are quite telling.

I’m not in love, so don’t forget it

It’s just a silly phase I’m going through

The meaning becomes clear as Peter’s grandfather comes in to take him to his dying mother. Peter continues to listen to the song, trying to ignore the events around him. It not only sets up Peter’s use of music as an emotional balm, but it also gives his feelings on the scene around him. He is attempting to bury his feelings on his mother’s impending death. The music could represent either a desire to ignore the situation, or Peter believing that things are going to get better. Either way, it explains the moment where Peter runs from his mother’s hand perfectly. He doesn’t want to accept the reality of the situation and flees from facing it. In doing so, Peter’s character is defined for the rest of the movie — his self-involved nature, his guilt, and his slow change to doing good.

“COME AND GET YOUR LOVE” – Redbone

After that solemn opening, the movie drops us into space, and the real atmosphere of the film starts to take shape. The adult Peter has landed on an alien planet, searching for something in the ruins. Upon finding the right spot, he puts his headphones on, and… oh just watch it; it’s awesome.

This scene does a lot in a short space. It shows us that adult Peter still has his need/love of music, in good times and bad. It also gives him a sense of fun and charm that helps balance out his negative traits later on in the film. Most importantly, it sets the tone of the movie. There’s the backdrop of space and the epic feel of alien worlds. The message is clear — the film is going to be good fun, and won’t take itself too seriously. It might be the best use of music in the entire movie.

“GO ALL THE WAY” – The Raspberries

This song is only briefly used, but the effect is memorable. The opening riff kicks in just as the Milano flies off into space, a victorious Star-Lord leaving with his bounty. It’s bright, catchy and poppy, giving a sense of victory and adrenaline for what’s to come. Not much more to say than that, but a good use of a small snippet.

“HOOKED ON A FEELING” – Blue Swede

Out of all the songs promoting the film, this one captured fan interest the most. The song’s ‘ugga-chakka’ chant and the explosive chorus were used in almost every trailer on TV and usually culminated in the Guardians walking down the hall in an epic shot. It’s surprising then that this song is used in a way that’s almost ironic. Instead of during a build up scene, it’s played as the group is incarcerated. The catchy, poppy music plays as the group is stripped down, sprayed, and forced into an overcrowded prison. It’s the farthest thing from a triumphant moment.

READ: Here’s our review of Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1!

In some ways, it does mark a bonding of the group. The song starts as Peter violently demands a guard put his Walkman in lockup instead of listening to it. The guard responds by beating Peter, as the music swells behind him. At the same time, though, Rocket, Gamora, and Groot are watching the beating with growing pity. It might not have been how we expected it, but this song does manage to bring the Guardians together.

“ESCAPE (THE PINA COLADA SONG)” – Rupert Holmes

This song is a very subtle nod to the prison break. At first listen, it just sounds like a bouncy, cheesy pop song that plays as the group escapes prison. While it is that, it’s also a twist that despite the ‘Pina Colada’ chorus, the title of the song is ‘Escape.’  It’s also about a bored couple trying to avoid each other, only to get stuck together anyway. The Guardians are trying to escape incarceration together, but end up with each other anyway. A slight tip of the hat to Awesome Mix Vol. 1 for an intelligent use of music.

READ: A 90’s Pop Band deals with its cheesy hit.

“MOONAGE DAYDREAM”- David Bowie

Despite having a song from the Thin White Duke himself, the soundtrack uses this tune as a backdrop as the Guardians enter Knowhere. It sets the scene much like “GO ALL THE WAY’ did, with guitar and atmospheric lyrics, but it’s over pretty quick. Then again, given how many unique songs are in the film, having the best-known artist on Awesome Mix Vol. 1 get a minimal showing almost feels appropriate.

“FOOLED AROUND AND FELL IN LOVE” – Elvin Bishop

The second best use of music following ‘COME AND GET YOUR LOVE.’ This scene manages to both meet our expectation and twist them around. As Peter introduces Gamora to this swooning melody, and the idea of dance, we can see the warrior start to soften, as the two of them move in closer.

Awesome Mix Vol. 1
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Then Gamora whips him around, presses a sword to his throat, and reveals Peter’s exploits are well known. It surprises the audience, and it adds another layer to Peter, who has spent time fooling around, but just maybe, is falling in love? Only the sequel will tell.

“CHERRY BOMB” – The Runaways

THIS was the Guardians’ battle song, and it fits perfectly. The chugging guitars build over the snotty lyrics of defiance, as the Guardians make their plans, and suit up. Everything is timed perfectly, especially the ‘hello, daddy‘ chorus as the Guardians come together in the hallway, ready to fight. Honestly, why WASN’T this used for the trailer?

“O-O-H CHILD” – Five Stairsteps

As the people of Xander emerge from the debris of the Ravager-Kree battle, this song slowly emerges from the wreckage. As we look at the people, covered in the ash of their fallen city, the soothing chorus that ‘things are gonna get easier,’ gives us a little comfort. It’s a scene that plays like an encapsulation of the aftermath of war and the hope that comes after.

And then we remember what movie we’re watching.

OK, so maybe it wasn’t exactly like that, but what other movies could go from destruction to dance-off in a minute?

READ: Wondering what to expect from the soundtrack for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2? Click here!

“AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH” – Marvin Gay and Tammi Terrell

This is a victory song, plain and simple. As the joyful lyrics spill out over the screen, we see the Nova Corps locking away the Power Stone, Rhomann Dey hugs his family, the Guardians get their ship back, Groot sprouts from the wreckage, and Gamora even sways a little to Peter’s enjoyment. It sets the triumphant mood perfectly, and the movie could end right here. But instead, we get one more treat…

“I WANT YOU BACK” – Jackson 5

The song that launched a thousand dancing Groot toys leads into the credits.

GUARDIANS MUSIC
You’re getting yours right now. Admit it.

FINAL NOTES on Awesome Mix Vol. 1

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a comic book movie that utilizes music and sound in a way no other film of its kind does. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 truly captures the spirit of awesome comic book moments in this film. The songs either set the scene, define characters, or twist our expectations completely. It’s a joy to watch onscreen, and the selection is oddball yet familiar enough to listen to at home. In short, VOL. 2 has some big shoes to fill; hopefully, its music will not only recapture the spirit of Awesome Mix Vol. 1 but take it to new heights.

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