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Awesome mixes: Tracing the art of song selection through cinematic history

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The first Guardians of the Galaxy film begins with two pop songs from the 1970s, both played from a mixtape in a vintage Walkman. Each one conveys the mood of its scene in seconds. The first, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” expresses sadness and confusion, and the second, Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” carefree fun.

It’s a neat trick—using the emotions of a familiar song as a storytelling device—and Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel are far from the first movies to employ it. Some examples, among many: George Lucas used pop songs to telegraph emotions in American Graffiti; Martin Scorcese, in Goodfellas; and Quentin Tarantino, in Reservoir Dogs (and Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill …). But there’s something different about the way James Gunn does it in Guardians and the new Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: The characters interact with their own soundtrack. The sequel’s even named for a mixtape.

The beat is slightly different this time out. Where the first Guardians “Awesome Mix” favored glam rock (David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”), Vol. 2 leans heavily on ’70s FM radio pop: George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” and Electric Light Orchestra’s delightful “Mr. Blue Sky.” And once again, the songs do the talking so the Guardians can concentrate on kicking ass and having fun.

Tags: Music, Film
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