Music from the Motion Picture…
Discovering Music Through Film
THE image you see above is, as advertised, from Baby Driver…
the recent film from British director, Edgar Wright. It scored huge reviews upon its release and, if you are curious about the plot; Wikipedia assess it like this:
“Baby is a getaway driver in Atlanta, Georgia. He ferries the crews of robbers assembled by Doc, a heist mastermind, to pay off a debt he incurred after stealing one of Doc's cars. When he was a child, a car accident killed his parents and left him with tinnitus, which he blocks out by listening to music on various iPods. Between jobs, he creates remixes from snippets of conversations he records while caring for his deaf foster father Joseph. While visiting a local diner, he meets Debora, a waitress, and the two start dating.
His next robbery goes awry after an armed bystander chases them down, but Baby evades him and the police. Informed by Doc that they are now "straight", Baby goes legit, delivering pizzas. During a date with Debora at an upscale restaurant, he is threatened by Doc into performing another heist at a post office.
The crew consists of easy-going Buddy, his wife Darling, and trigger-happy Bats, who takes an immediate dislike to Baby. While the crew attempts to purchase illegal arms for the job, Bats realizes the dealers are ex-police and opens fire, killing them all. Afterwards, Bats forces Baby to stop at Debora's diner, unaware of Baby and Debora's romance, and nearly kills her in a hold-up.
Doc, furious at the botched deal, tries to cancel the heist, but Baby convinces him to go through with it. He attempts to flee, hoping to take Debora and leave Atlanta, but is stopped by Buddy and Bats, who have discovered his recordings and believe he is an informant. When they and Doc hear his mixtapes, they are convinced of his innocence.
IN THIS PHOTO: A shot/promotional still from Baby Driver
During the heist, Bats kills a security guard. Disgusted, Baby refuses to drive the crew, causing Bats to beat him. Baby rams the car into rebar which impales Bats, killing him. The three flee the police on foot. After police kill Darling, Buddy blames Baby for her death, and vows to kill him. Baby steals another car and flees to his apartment. After leaving Joseph at an assisted living home, Baby drives to Debora's diner to pick her up, where he discovers Buddy waiting. Baby shoots Buddy and flees with Debora as the police close in.
Baby seeks help from Doc, who initially refuses to help. After seeing he truly loves Debora, Doc supplies them with cash and directions to get out of the country. Buddy ambushes them in the parking garage and kills Doc with a stolen police car. A cat-and-mouse game ensues until Buddy has Baby at his mercy; he fires his pistol close to Baby's ears, deafening him. Debora disarms Buddy with a crowbar and Baby wounds him with the pistol, causing him to fall to his death.
Fleeing Atlanta, Baby and Debora run into a roadblock. Debora prepares to ram it, but Baby surrenders. At his trial, Joseph, Debora, and several people Baby saved during the robberies testify in his defense. Baby is sentenced to 25 years in prison with a parole hearing after five. Baby receives postcards from Debora who promises to wait for him. Upon his release, he finds Debora waiting and they kiss”.
That is a simple premise: you need to watch the film to get a much better impression of Baby Driver. One of the reasons I have bonded with the film is the soundtrack – I have not actually watched Baby Driver myself. I have the soundtrack on vinyl and it has opened my eyes to new artists and long-forgotten songs. Aside from all the interesting plot and exposition of Edgar Wright’s film: it is the conceit and central hook that really appeals. Someone who, suffering tinnitus, blocks it out listening to music, is a perfect way to construct a varied and passionate soundtrack. Wright did this and, whilst curating, was able to seamlessly link together a wide array of genres and artists. Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle is one of the early songs one hears – Let’s Go Away for Awhile, by The Beach Boys, not long after. Looking down the tracklisting and you get T. Rex and Beck – Debora/Debra – and a bit of Blur (Intermission). Not only does one get a blast of the classic artists: modern examples such as Sky Ferreira and Run the Jewels appear towards the end. It is a quality-heavy balance that allows one the opportunity to discover (rediscover) some terrific music. To me, it is brilliant for two reasons...
IN THIS PHOTO: Baby Driver's Writer-Director-Executive Producer, Edgar Wright
The first, because it provides younger listeners/viewers the chance to discover music – artists they might not have thought of before – and, through their association with the film, go out and discover more about them. The second, when looking at the concept of Baby Driver, makes me excited to see if any more similar-themed films will crop up. I am going to feature other films in this piece but, considering the premise of Baby Driver, it seems appropriate to start here. I bought the vinyl of the soundtrack because of the music included on it. Maybe there should have been more dialogue snippets included – like Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack – but, given an almost mute sense of dialogue in place; it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. One gets a fantastic impression of the film but, more importantly, a genre-blend of artists that will open many eyes to terrific music. I know most of the songs on the soundtrack but know many will not have.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sky Ferreira, who appeared in the film (and on the soundtrack)
I cannot argue how crucial it is we preserve music from past generations: pass them onto the new and ensure we do not become slaves to the modern and machine-created. I do worry we’re too narrow with music tastes and chase after songs promoted via Spotify. That is necessary – so we can conserve and profit our best new musicians – but so many of us are genuinely spending adequate time listening to the best music of the past. I am not saying Baby Driver, and its incredible soundtrack, is powerful enough to turn the tide – that would be quite a feat, I know! What it does do is (I hope) inspire other directors/writers to feature music more prominently in film. In a sense; Baby Driver has that classic feel: the likes of Easy Rider, Pulp Fiction and A Hard Day’s Night. More-modern films like Garden State have been important platforms to promote great/underground music; Trainspotting and Superfly, diverse and hugely memorable – Help! and Purple Rain: titanic soundtracks from legendary artists.
There is an enormous emphasis on studio albums: we forget how important film soundtracks are. In a way, they are a bigger-budget way of stringing incredible music videos together. Essentially, one gets a visual treat, accompanied by a tremendous song. It is a powerful combination that appeals to all the senses; firing the imagination and lodging in the brain. Baby Driver, the way it brings so many different time-periods and artists together, has sparked something in me. I would love to see a film like that further down the line – where music is prominent and the epicentre of the piece. In the days/weeks following Baby Driver’s cinematic release; I have heard so many people talk about the music – in so many different, impassioned ways. The way certain songs augment scenes and perfectly suit visuals: how songs from different eras effortless sit alongside one another.
Edgar Wright’s knowledge and intuition helped turn, what could have been a potentially ill-judged, mismatched vanity-project, into a symphonic, explosive piece of cinema, is a credit to his talent and experience. Of course; full props must be given the actors and crew that helped make Baby Driver an engrossing and perfectly-acted piece of cinema. It is the music, for me, that draws me to the film. I have, since purchasing the double-vinyl soundtrack, reinvestigated artists like Bob & Earl; Dave Brubeck is back on my mind (Unsquare Dance appears in the film’s first-half, I believe); rekindled my childhood passion for T. Rex – discovered new musicians like Carla Thomas, Alexis Korner (and his Blues Incorporated) and Kid Koala. (I, by the way, do not italicise film/T.V. titles so I can differentiate them from music – a little aside I thought I’d bring in). I am not a fan of T.V. adverts because, I feel, they are among the most irritating things on the planet – that list is getting longer by cyclists are at the top of it!
IN THIS PHOTO: Carla Thomas
Many people have discovered music through adverts but there are few (adverts) that make me want to keep watching – the songs used are never really that striking or unexpected. I do question people who allow their songs to be marketed in that way – scoring some cheap and noxious product/service. Film is different. The artists are not hocking some crappy insurance provider or pointless product: they are helping lift and define a unique moment of film. The connection and close relationship between film and music have always existed. I am fascinated by films that employ music as a background device - a few songs that do not feature prominently; a more traditional score, perhaps – and those that put songs in the forefront. Of course, one cannot discount film scores that use orchestration as an important use of sound/music. The greats like Hans Zimmer and John Williams have encouraged many to study music and follow their heroes. To me, it is the interconnection of popular music and film that fascinates – how music can reach new audiences by featuring on celluloid. I will move on from Baby Driver to another recent example: the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
IN THIS PHOTO: A promotional shot from Guardians of the Galaxy
My parents, when watching the first film – the second instalment was released earlier this year – highlighted the incredible music that was played throughout. In that first film; one got a pre-'90s-heavy confection of selections. Everyone from 10cc, David Bowie and Blue Swede appeared on the soundtrack. The second, bigger-budgeted and, in my view, finer, featured everyone from Fleetwood Mac (The Chain) to Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home to Me. Jay and the Americans’ Come a Little Bit Closer rubbed shoulders with Parliament’s Flash Light. Glenn Campbell and George Harrison featured and, whilst remaining less-than-contemporary, the film’s soundtrack was built around a mixtape concept. Whereas Edgar Wright compiled a mixture of older and new: writer/director James Gunn went for slightly older recordings – the character Peter Quill/Star-Lord had all the songs (on the soundtrack) as part of his mixtape; hence the reason the music is not of-the-moment. In fact, tracking back to that earlier point: Wright contacted Gunn to ensure both films contained different songs. Each knew the other was working on a music-heavy release – to have both films replicate would have been a bit of a fashion faux-pas.
As it was; both films rocked out into the world in f*ck-me pumps and a head-turning outfit. Both films eschew the worst necessities of the modern music market: emphasising the importance of Spotify streams and getting those mainstream artists racking up the viewing figures. Edgar Wright, a child of the 1970s and '80s, grew up in a time when music was as much to do with hardware and the physical as it was becoming ‘popular’ and ‘cool’. I, growing up slightly later, appreciate how important it is to preserve the heritage and true value of music – I am not someone who follows the apparent-cool who lust after everything digital and Taylor Swift-endorsed. The reason films like Baby Driver and Guardians of the Galaxy resonate is their incorporation of music. Neither film employs the songs synthetically and casually: one detects a deep and studious approach; both directors crafting a soundtrack that perfectly links visuals and sounds – the near-obsessive/nerd-like crate-diving that must have gone into the soundtrack makes me smile.
IN THIS PHOTO: James Gunn/PHOTO CREDIT: NYDailyNews
The same way a wonderful music video balance the beauty and power of visuals and sonics: a wonderful soundtrack can have its scenes elevated (by music) and put an array of stunning musicians into the hands of the uninitiated. As I said earlier: my musical education has been given an additional government grant by the likes of Edgar Wright and James Gunn. In FACT; I can trace my obsession with music to those legendary film soundtracks from Quentin Tarantino and The Beatles. The former, Pulp Fiction especially, again, created a film where music played a pivotal role. Pulp Fiction – deriving its name from hardboiled crime novels and pulp magazines of the mid-twentieth century – had that neo-noir quality and aperture to it. Consequently, within the cool-as-sh*t diners and milkshake bars – the 1950s bars and romantic ideals of older America – one heard music by artists of the time. I will nod to other classic soundtracks later but, for me, 1994’s Pulp Fiction was an eye-opening experience. I was eleven when the soundtrack dropped it trousers and, as such, was awakened to some incredible songs! Tarantino’s use of eclecticism ensured he created one of the defining film soundtracks of the 1990s. Alongside Dick Dale’s now-iconic version of Misirlou; Jungle Boogie (Kool & the Gang) and Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man.
Instrumental Surf songs and classic Soul mingling with Funk and Jive – such a rich and sexy blend of sounds and sensations. Of course, it would be foolhardy to suggest Tarantino discovered and compiled all the music himself. Consultants and friends like Laura Lovelace and Chuck Kelley were instrumental in the process. Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack sold over one-million copies in 1994 (two-million by 1996) and helped launch bands like Urge Overkill – who covered Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon. Other artists, like Kool & the Gang, enjoyed a (brief) resurgence: relatively obscure songs and popular hits were bequeathed to those unsuspecting and curious. Other directors/filmmakers use soundtracks as repositories for random songs: the likes of Quentin Tarantino, in his fever-dream imaginations, helped mirror the visuals with music; music used as an extension of film – the two, partners-in-crime and thick-as-thieves.
IN THIS PHOTO: Dusty Springfield
One of the good/tragic legacies of Pulp Fiction was advertisers using Surf music – popularised and prominent in the soundtrack – to sell toothpaste, burritos, any-random-crap-we-can. Actually; that might be a savage naivety and judgement. How one discovers music should not be judged. Dick Dale and artists from the soundtrack had their music used in commercials – years after the original release of Pulp Fiction. This meant ‘outsider’ genres and niche sound being brought into the mainstream – passing that music to the new generation and, as a result, artists of the time incorporating Surf into their music. There is a causal link between epic/influential film soundtracks and the resurgence of certain styles of music. If it has that impact and quality to it – whether it passes through advertising on its way down – the music (on the soundtracks) can endure and inspire years/decades after release.
IN THIS PHOTO: Pulp Fiction's Writer/Director, Quentin Tarantino
I guess, somewhat ironically, me talking about film soundtracks, is a thinly-veiled desire to see my work get into the hands of radio stations/music magazines – this version of a C.V., in terms of ethics and questionable motives, not dissimilar to advertisers, I guess. My gamble, I know, is just that – and, the reason for writing this piece, was to argue how important film soundtracks are. Naturally, there are many film soundtracks that will be overlooked – time and my fingers are limited – but, by including some of the best, it shows how music plays an intrinsic role in film. Consider The Beatles and the impact their soundtracks had. Maybe films such as Magical Mystery Tour and Help! were not big critical hits (the former especially) – the music contained on each remains some of their best. In 1965, when Help! was released, it was a landmark period in The Beatles’ history. It (Help!) was released at a time when the band was releasing albums solely comprising original compositions. Rubber Soul was, effectively, the studio release that proved how confident Paul McCartney and John Lennon were as songwriters during 1964-1965.
The most-popular film soundtrack from The Beatles was A Hard Day’s Night. Released in 1964; it was one of few film ventures that saw the quartet roundly applauded. Less-successful efforts were to follow: this was their black-and-white masterpiece that provided a more realistic and simplistic view of the boys – no gimmicks, head-tripping visuals and bizarre conceptions. During that mid-1960s period; the band was still in a more traditional Pop headspace: their psychedelic experimentations and studio-bursting records would not arrive for another couple of years. A Hard Day’s Night is important for so many reasons. It is the first Beatles album consisting original compositions. Lennon and McCartney, sequestered in a Paris hotel room with a piano, for the most part, were focused and committed to creating a focused Pop album with short and sharp tracks. The album/film opened the American market to bands like The Rolling Stones and was a hugely important time for The Beatles. It is debatable whether the band would have taken this huge step were it not for the film’s appealing premise. A Hard Day’s Night (film) is, essentially, The Beatles being themselves: performing and larking about; a window into the personalities of the lads. Because of this; Lennon and McCartney were eager to pen a score that mirrored the music they wanted to write at the time – stepping away from covers and forging their own identity. That film, when I saw it years ago, really opened my eyes to The Beatles’ early period and the incredible strength of the songwriting.
IN THIS PHOTO: A shot from The Beatles' film, A Hard Day's Night
A Hard Day’s Night, prompted by a typical Ringo Starr malapropism, became one of the most important film soundtracks of the 1960s and helped bring The Beatles’ music to new audiences. The success of the film meant other bands/directors were provided the confidence to use music more prominently in films. Those incredible soundtracks that stuck in my young mind, from The Blues Brothers and Easy Rider, gave me a great appreciation of cinema and music. I was a big fan of music before I discovered film – I am not, by any measure, a big film fan – but connected visuals and sounds in a manner that has impacted my subsequent life. Were it not for the energised dances of Jake and Elwood Blues to songs such as Everybody Needs Somebody to Love – I am not sure I would have been as gripped and fascinated by music. Even though The Blues Brothers was released three years before I was born: I discovered it as a child and was provided exposure to some great Soul artists and music icons. By covering songs from Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker: I investigated the original recordings and, as such, expanded my horizons. I know others would have taken the same approach and, in the process, got into certain music quicker than they otherwise would have (compared to radio and T.V. promotional channels).
Easy Rider’s soundtrack, released in 1969, was heavy on the 1960s' sounds. Again; this is a film that arrived to me when I was young (too young to legally watch it) but, the same way as The Blues Brothers provided a route into Soul and Gospel: Easy Rider’s blend of Rock and Folk was a ‘musical commentary’ that perfectly scored the film’s characters and stories. Music by Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix and The Byrds were all in the mix – an exciting array of big names that made me eager to unearth more recordings; get a bigger impression of the 1960s’ best. It is, as I have said, impossible to name-check all the great soundtracks out there. Any good and worthy film understands the importance of music and how the visual and sonic mediums are best when combined in harmony. It is those films that prominently and prolifically feature music that appeal most to me – and are more instrumental in getting music, and overlooked artists, into the public forum. As a child; I watched great films like Easy Rider and A Hard Day’s Night, and was drawn and awe-struck by the music that helped define a particular scene. Those examples have been crucial to me: newer films are equally important and help me find songs/artists I might otherwise have overlooked. I know streaming sites and platforms play their part but, to me, they are more impactful for new/mainstream acts. There are many who understand the importance and place older music has: it is where current music came from and the reason it has evolved/came on the way it has.
I will end this feature but, before I do, wanted people to consider the way, consciously or not, we have bonded to films because of their music – and how, when the cinema lights came back up, the excitement we got listening to the soundtracks; purchasing them from the shop and casting our minds back to the time we heard the tracks scoring a fantastic scene. Film soundtracks are one of the few outlets where you can legitimately combine songs from new and older artists. It is a wonderful access to music’s true breadth and brilliance and, through films modern films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – and classic scores from Pulp Fiction and The Blues Brothers – new generations are discovering music they might not otherwise have been aware of. That is a wonderful thing so, to all the Edgar Wrights and Quentin Tarantinos of the world; keep up the grand work and let’s hope future generations…
IN THIS PHOTO: Lily James, in a shot from Baby Driver
FOLLOW in your footsteps.