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Racing Through Baby Driver’s Badass, Decade & Genre-Spanning Soundtrack

Written by Michael Carr on October 19, 2017

The recurrent theme of all the resounding critical acclaim recently lavished on Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, has been the film’s innovative, charming and just downright damn impressive use of music.

Focusing on Baby (Ansel Elgort) – a getaway driving wunderkind who drowns out his chronic tinnitus with a constant curated playlist of pop music – Wright tells the story through the character’s own ears, with the soundtrack coming courtesy of his collection of second-hand iPods.

We hear what Baby hears, Wright famously reverse engineering the scenes to follow along in time with the music. Gunshots and engine screams punch through the action as Baby comes up against his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and bank robbers Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) all while trying to win the heart of Debora (Lily James) as the soundtrack takes us on a journey through everything from Barry White to Beck.

Alongside pioneering the shoot-a-long, Wright – working with longtime collaborator Steven Price on the music and producer Danger Mouse on the two-disc soundtrack itself – has also put together one of the most music literate soundtracks since Tarantino made 1994’s Pulp Fiction(1994). Bouncing from the obscure, to the well known and back around again to the almost forgotten, the film’s idiosyncratic selection of tracks is as dazzling to the ears as the director’s choreographed action is to the eye.

Spanning multiple genres and decades, it all takes some navigation for even the most well-versed music nerds among us. So much so in fact that we here at Music Feeds thought you all might need some help with a fast – very fast in fact – wrap up. Just think of us as musical GPS.

And so, with no further ado, join us as we go racing through Baby Driver’s badass, decade and genre-spanning soundtrack.

NOTE: Spoilers ahead! So do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy of Baby Driver right now, here.

‘Bellbottoms’ – The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

The soundtrack to the first heist and apparently the song that inspired the whole film, this amped up and streamlined rock and roll number just bleeds car chase out of every pore. A lot of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion songs do actually, as their name somewhat suggests. The New York City natives have built a reputation on the back of their “explosive” sound and live performances since forming back in 1991. (If you don’t believe me check out their amazing, theremin solo-filled performance of ‘2 Kindsa Love’ from Recovery. Jump to 1:30 for the insanity)

‘Harlem Shuffle’ – Bob & Earl

Famously covered by The Rolling Stones and Bobby Womack on Dirty Work (1986), this classic soul number was made for the movies. And Wright deploys it to full effect in Baby Driver, using it not only to set a playful tone but also to establish the film’s music-driven style by matching the action, and even the scenery, directly to the song’s lyrics and instrumentation. It’s masterful stuff.

‘B-A-B-Y’ – Carla Thomas

This is the song that Debora recommends to Baby after they first meet/he stalks her and finds out where she works. Ah, young love. Sexy, sultry and soulful, this is the kind of song recommendation teenage you was dying to get from that special someone, and the scene of Baby dancing around his apartment to it perfectly captures the feeling of finally getting one.

‘Easy’ – The Commodores

There is a classic piece of acting wisdom from Stanislavsky that goes along the lines of “play comedy like it’s tragedy, and tragedy like it’s comedy”. I’d like to suggest it is Wright’s use of this classic track by The Commodores that acts as the musical equivalent of said piece of advice. Juxtaposing the song against a pretty emotionally heavy scene with Baby, Wright manages to give weight to the act and Baby’s experience without an awkwardly dramatic shift of tone.

‘Debra’ – Beck

This is the second song recommendation Debora gives Baby, and it’s even sexier than the last. Sung from the perspective of a would-be Casanova who wants “to get with you, and your sister”, to anyone who is only aware of Beck for his most recent work, this track – along with the rest of Midnight Vultures, the album it’s taken from – is proof positive that this Scientologist has a sensual side. Not only that, it’s is an absolute jam and has some of the funniest J.C. Penny references ever written.

‘Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up’ – Barry White

The scene where we hear this Barry White classic is, for me, the standout musical moment of the whole film, and a fitting way to cap off this trifecta of sensuality with the two Debora/Debras above. Baby arrives at the diner where Debora works to whisk her away, and the instrumental opening kicks in as we see Buddy standing in their way. The romantic music builds as Bud sings along with the music, ”I’m never, ever gonna quit, quitting just ain’t my thing” – it’s magic filmmaking.

‘Brighton Rock’ – Queen

This is Baby’s “killer track”, he reveals to Bud before their final heist. “The one with the killer guitar solo,” Buddy says of the song, Wright foreshadowing (SPOILER ALERT) what’s to come next, sound-tracked by the very song. The perfect bookend to opener Bellbottoms, this track is blistering speed and carnage incarnate, showcasing a furious side of Queen we often forget about when drunkenly singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody.

‘Hocus Pocus’ – Focus

This song might just be the strangest thing to come out of the whole Prog Rock movement. Yodel-Prog. That’s right, your ears aren’t lying, that is a man yodelling along with a percussion-driven ’70s prog rock track. And yes, your eyes aren’t lying either, that is his real hair. The yodelling starts around 40 seconds in, but wait for the yodel solo around 1:50 for the real good stuff.

‘Baby Driver’ – Simon And Garfunkel

Used for the closing shot and end titles, the song from which the movie takes its name is, a rather perfect, one to close proceedings. Wright’s use of it vaguely calls to mind the end of ‘The Graduate’, although this version is more wholeheartedly happy and without the lingering cynicism.

Baby Driver is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.

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