SoundTreks | Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1
Comic-Con has come and gone like a hurricane of fire, leaving the geek world scorched and spent by a whirling blitz of trailers, news, announcements, and general geekery. One of the bigger news stories to come out of Marvel was that their snarky space-faring adventure film Guardians of the Galaxy was to be adapted into a theme park attraction at Disneyland called Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout. Guardians of the Galaxy, readers will likely recall, was an enormous hit, garnering not only critical praise and financial success, and was quickly canonized by the geek community as one of the best Marvel movies; handily making it, some argued, one of the best sci-fi films of all time.
Even the film’s soundtrack record – called Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 – sold incredibly well. Indeed, it holds the distinction of being the only soundtrack record in history that was constructed entirely of previously-released material to ever reach #1 on the Billboard charts. Although “#1” might be relative; the record moved a relatively small 426,000 units. To officially go “Gold,” an album must sell 500,000 units. Of course, factoring in digital downloads, ringtones, and YouTube views, the record may as well have gone Diamond (i.e. 10,000,000 units).
In case you haven’t seen the film (and yes, there are people who haven’t), the central conceit behind the soundtrack record is that it was constructed for the film’s lead character, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) by his dying mother as a keepsake. Peter was gifted the cassette when he was a mere boy, and he carried the mix with him everywhere he went – including into deep space – for 20 years, all the while listening to it incessantly. The only thing the audience knows about Peter’s mom is that she’s dead, and that this is the sort of music she wanted her young son to hear.
Many of the readers may be familiar with the record, but for SoundTreks, the time has come to take a step back and do a little bit of casual analysis. We shall now listen to the mixtape as a mix, and see how it functions as a record, what sort of taste it belies, and perhaps extrapolate what type of person Peter’s mom really was.
Track 1. “Hooked on a Feeling” – Blue Swede
The first thing we need to acknowledge about Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is that it was constructed in 1988 by a white adult female. Presumably, all the tracks on the tape were taken from her own personal collection of records, so these were all songs she was familiar with. That none of the songs on this record are from 1988 – few of them are even from the 1980s at all – means that Peter’s mom was a classic rock junkie. This was also before the release of Ally McBeal or Reservoir Dogs, so Blue Swede’s 1974 hit “Hooked on a Feeling” – popularized in the modern era by that TV show and that film – was simply part of Peter’s mom’s classic rock rotation. Given her age, it’s surprising she didn’t pick the 1968 original by B.J. Thomas, arguably the best version.
A modern audience, however, is likely familiar with Ally and Reservoir. Which means the inclusion of “Hooked on a Feeling” might feel like a ringer to a modern music supervisor. Indeed, as we move forward, we’ll find that this soundtrack includes a lot of ringers that have been previously included in other films.
Track 2. “Go All the Way” – The Raspberries
Something we may glean about Peter’s mom from this soundtrack is that she might have been something of a square. Sure, it’s quite hip to present your 10-year-old son with a mix tape full of classic rock, but listening to this 1972 track by The Raspberries begins to evoke an embarrassing parental phenomenon: The unhip hipster parent. You’ve likely seen a dad or mom – or have a dad or mom – who did this to you several times throughout your youth. You wanted to sit and listen to the hippest, newest record, and your parent would break into the room, listen for about five seconds, declare it to be garbage, and then say the magical totemic phrase “You want to hear some real music?”
Of course, to your unhip parent “real music” was simply the records they listened to at your age. And to them, that was great. To your ear, it’s ancient and corny.
Peter’s mom had an ear for the corny. The Raspberries are not hard, and they have a markedly elevator-esque tone. There’s plenty of groove and bass to enjoy yourself, but there is certainly an overwhelming overtone of wussiness about this song. Peter’s mom like adult contemporary. No kid likes adult contemporary.
Track 3. “Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum
The first recorded appearance of “Spirit in the Sky” was in a 1986 film called Montgolfier of Death. It has since appeared in over 60 other films and TV shows. This is not an obscure cut, and one might be tempted to call a moratorium on including it in film soundtracks at all. It’s a great song, yes, but enough. Maybe move onto Greenbaum’s excellent “The Eggplant that Ate Chicago” instead.
But what kind of mom listens to Norman Greenbaum? A hippie mom, I think. “Spirit in the Sky” is a post-psychedelic rock song that is only barely buzzing its way into the ethos of 1970s rock. Peter’s mom, then, is a post-flower child, or at least wishes she was one. By that, we can glean several things: She was a peacenik, she was about love and happiness, probably ate health foods, and had a penchant for the arts. This was not a hard woman.
Notable: “Spirit in the Sky” does not appear in Guardians of the Galaxy. It was featured in the film’s trailers, however.
Track 4. “Moonage Daydream” – David Bowie
Peter’s mom owned Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. That’s pretty hip. She may have been a square aging hippie mom, but she still got some of the edgier stuff from time to time. I imagine she and a friend listening to this record a lot together on hazy afternoons in 1972.
I’m also beginning to realize: Peter’s mom stopped collecting records at a certain age. This is a natural phenomenon. At what age did you stop paying attention to pop music, and start collecting older stuff almost exclusively? I think a recent study pegged that age at 26. Or 31. I forgot.
Track 5. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” – Elvin Bishop
Elvin Bishop’s 1976 hit has previously appeared in at least 15 other feature films before this one. It is, however, so bland and nondescript, you’d be forgiven for thinking it had never been used before. This is a dull, dull song that belongs to that most hated of genres: 1970s soft rock/adult contemporary. There are scads of boring love songs from the era that hit #1, and I can’t imagine that Peter’s mom was listening to any of them ironically. We may, with our modernity goggles, have a broader ironic context for certain pop songs of the past – no one sincerely likes “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” do they? – but at the time, they were presented and shared sincerely.
So Peter’s mom was an uncool hippie who collected all the hot records of her youth. Judging by her taste, I would say she was born in 1955 or 1956.
Track 6. “I’m Not in Love” – 10cc
Fun bit of trivia that may be relevant here: The album “I’m Not in Love” originally came from was called The Original Soundtrack. Poetic that it should be featured on so many soundtracks. Or it’s just a dumb coincidence.
Here’s what’s going on with Awesome Mix, Vol. 1: we are using 2014’s hipster irony to repurpose dated and obvious hits from 1970. As a record, and as a mix, there’s a lot to drive people crazy. There’s a lot of softness, a lot of wimpy vocals, a lot of songs that are so serious, it’s hard for a modern youth to take them seriously without an ironic context. The record – as well as the film it came from – is smart-alecky and winky. I think this album is meant to function, to modern audiences, as at least partly comical.
Peter’s mom had some odd taste.
Track 7. “I Want You Back” – Jackson 5
“Peter, I want you to listen to this song from 1968. It was the first song I remember really loving.”
Track 8. “Come and Get Your Love” – Redbone
There was a lot going on in the 1970s beyond soft rock and adult contemporary. There was also plenty of gentle funk like “Come and Get Your Love,” and while this isn’t as forceful as, say, Wild Cherry, there is a lot of soulful awesomeness in this one. It’s funky, has some disco violins, and provides a salve from the onslaught of one-hit-wonders this record otherwise provides. It’s tracks like this that prop up the entire record, and remind us that we’re listening to a fuller cross-section of the decade. There was funk and disco too, and a young girl collecting records in 1974 would have likely accumulated some of it.
Now if we could also have some punk represented…
Track 9. “Cherry Bomb” – The Runaways
Ah. Thank you. An obvious choice, natch, but glad to have some guts on the mix.
Given that this song is very expressly about sex – and underage sex at that – leads me to postulate that Peter’s mom didn’t necessarily have Peter in mind when she made the mix. She was simply assembling her own favorite songs, and hoping that her son would get into them. Because, honestly, what kind of parent foists “Cherry Bomb” on a 9-or-10-year-old boy?
Track 10. “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes
“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” is perhaps one of the most hated of all pop songs, regularly topping worst-of-all-time lists right next to “Margaritaville,” “MacArthur Park,” and “You Light Up My Life.” The inclusion of this song cements my theory that Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 is meant to be taken with tongue in cheek. Some of the songs are great to listen to, and those tracks keep the album from spinning off into NOW That’s What I Call Music! territory. But the greater percentage of the record is a goof on the 1970s, rather than a celebration.
It’s the same reasoning that went into including “Angel of the Morning” in Deadpool. It’s used as a joke.
Track 11. “O-O-H Child” – The Five Stairsteps
A nice heaping helping of soul? Don’t mind if I do.
Of all the songs on this mix, this is the only one I imagine was passed along from a mother to her son. This is a direct love song sung toward a child, and it is sweet and a little bit wistful.
Indeed, it may be the emotional honesty and sentimental love in this song that led Peter Quill to keep this tape and take it seriously as a sincere gift of love from a dying mother. The lede, as it were, was buried. He didn’t keep the tape so he could listen to “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” over and over, he kept it because this song promised a key to unlock his lost mother. This one song is the heart of the whole mix.
Maybe Peter’s mom was more clever about constructing this mix than I thought. As all good constructors of mixtapes know, you can’t lead with the “star” track. You need to find the perfect songs that express your perfect intentions, and then, to quote Nick Hornby, bury it halfway through side 2.
Track 12. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Who doesn’t love Marvin Gaye?
This song has been covered, re-covered, and featured in all manner of awful movies. I can’t hear it anymore without thinking of the singing-int0-hairbrushes scene in the execrable Stepmom. Good for Peter’s mom to go out on a corny note. It befits her character.
Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The movie is overall a better experience. It’s a slapstick, puckish film that came unexpectedly out of a Hollywood machine. A lot of the naughtiness feels manufactured, but there’s more here than in most superhero films, and that’s a relief. The film is silly, pretty fun, and only feels overstuffed and usual when one thinks of the actual plot.
The movie and the record are, strangely, almost entirely different animals. The record functions better when it’s seen as an addendum to the film, and is a pretty strange and almost annoying mix when looked at as a whole record.
As the product of Peter’s mom, that penultimate track cemented her sincerity. She had eclectic taste, and was not above loving the occasional bad ballad, but was still hip enough to know about Bowie and The Runaways. It’s an imperfect mix, but few mixes can be perfect. Would a 10-year-old in 1988 listen to this? Maybe once or twice, but then he would move onto Young MC or “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” or “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” or some such thing.
Here’s something I would love: A fast-forward to the next generation. Peter Quill has a 10-year-old child, and he wants to impart his favorite songs to them. He makes a mix of his own taste from the early 1980s when he grew up. Examine the decades through casual musical taste. Interesting?
Top Image: Hollywood Records
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.