In Space Can Anybody Hear You Sing?

Director James Gunn (right) and composer Tyler Bates

Close collaboration between director James Gunn (right) and composer Tyler Bates has resulted in two hit soundtracks and a pair of very effective scores for the Guardians of the Galaxy films. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Motion Pictures)

The tune-driven Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 mega-hit has spawned a new generation of ’70s music lovers. “One of the first things I always hear from fans is how much they loved the music,” says franchise star Chris Pratt, who as hero Peter Quill (aka Star Lord) takes a narrative journey propelled by a Walkman. “People just loved the Awesome Mix Vol. 1, and at the end of the first movie Quill gets Awesome Mix Vol. 2 from his mother, which is a harbinger of things to come,” Pratt says.

As with the 2014 original, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 again sees its story amplified by the song choices of director James Gunn. Taken as a whole, fans consider the Guardians soundtracks as something like another character in the films. The wave of enthusiasm that drove the sequel to $351 in U.S. box office gross in just three weeks has resulted in sales of 216,215 copies of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2 since the album was released April 21.

And, once again, the songs play an integral role in the story. How important? “So important that it’s actually part of the film’s title this time around,” notes Gunn. The plot of both installments unspools against a sonic backdrop set up as the songs contained on the Awesome Mix tapes that contain Quill’s mom’s favorite tracks. After jamming through Vol. 1 and songs like The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” in the first film, young Peter receives Awesome Mix Vol. 2 as a gift from his mom on her deathbed, with instructions not to open until she’s gone.

“The songs are a little bit deeper in some ways; a little bit less pop in some ways. Some of the choices are a bit more eclectic,” Gunn says of choices that include Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (complete track lists for both films can be found below). “Quill’s mom made the first tape for a slightly younger boy, and she made the second type for a slightly older boy, so in many ways the songs reflect the story.”

The nature of the Vol. 2 selections might account for the fact that the Mix Vol. 2 soundtrack is selling at a slower pace than its Awesome predecessor, which is on its way to multi-platinum with sales of more than 1.7 million copies.  Although who knows how the commercial scenario will play out? Awesome Mix Vol. 1 has been on the Billboard soundtrack chart virtually since its release three years ago. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in three weeks outgrossing its predecessor’s entire haul, there’s no telling where the soundtrack sequel may end up.


And Gunn, who also writes the scripts, seems to have chosen the songs based more on emotional power and narrative functionality than sales appeal. “Like in the first movie, I wrote the songs into the script. They are a part of the storytelling. Each song is very specific to the scene where it’s placed,” he explains.

Each song serves a purpose. “Some are meant to be humorous. Some are meant to be an ironic contrast to the action scenes. Some are meant to carve more emotional moments, but each accentuates sonically what James is trying to do visually,”  says Marvel vice president of production and development Jonathan Schwartz, who served as a producer on the film.  “The way the mix tapes come about is by James writing the songs into the script.”

The music also plays an integral role on set with Gunn playing the actual songs during the scenes on the shooting day. It a process that the actors have come to embrace and enjoy. Likewise, with the score, composer Tyler Bates says he is sometimes asked to supply key sequences early so Gunn can use the music on set to help set the mood for the actors.

“I’m onboard from the script phase,” says Bates, who also scored the 2014 film. “Just as in the initial creative phase, I’ll write the themes that he films to. On set, you’ll see the cast will be using earbuds that are digitally removed later. But they’re acting to the score. They move to the cadence of the music, so its impact is really tangible.”

“It puts everyone on the same page rhythmically,” Pratt agrees, noting that since the film is going to be cut to the music, it makes sense to act to it. Sometimes Gunn would just play the music through speakers, and other times, “we’d  have it in a small receiver inside our ear.” Pratt actually says he’s begun using the technique on other projects.

“I’ve started incorporating music into my performances more and more, and that comes from my experience on the first movie with Tyler Bates score. It allows you to step out of the way and let the music take the lead. It’s a really important thing as an actor to understand that it’s okay to do very little in a moment where music is going be filling the empty space.”

Actress Zoe Saldana, who plays the orphaned assassin Gamora, says she also found the music aids helpful. “It makes the whole process of accessing emotional beats or sense memory much easier. When you have a song that fits the tone of what’s really going on between two characters who are having a moment with each other, it just takes you there so quickly, and moves you internally.”

gotg_awesome-mix-vol2-coverGunn credits Bates for a lot of film’s musical energy, often looking to him for ideas as to how the songs will work as segues in and out of the original score.  Crafting a heroic score that can live and breathe among so many popular songs is in many ways more challenging than working with a blank canvas, he says. “Tyler Bates has absolutely outdone himself, and we’re giving something very special to people with the music in this film, both the pop songs and the actual score.”

“Music is more of a subconscious thing; it connects to a different part of the brain than words or pictures do,” says actress Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, Gamora’s sister. “That’s why I think people respond so well to it. There are loads of new songs on the new soundtrack that I’ve never heard before, so I feel like we’re going to introduce some cool, older tracks to a new generation.”

And more fun awaits. At the funeral scene that concludes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Peter Quill is presented with a gift someone purchased for him at a junk shop years before, a Zune (cheeky reference to Microsoft’s failed bid to compete with the iPod), loaded with songs.  “Heading into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, expect the music to be a little different,” reports Comicbook/Marvel. “With 300 songs on his trusty Zune, Star Lord will have plenty of jams in his arsenal.”

The Guardians soundtracks are released by Hollywood Records on the Marvel Music imprint, and distributed by Universal Music Group.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2

  1. “Mr. Blue Sky” – Performed by Electric Light Orchestra
  2. “Fox on the Run” – Performed by Sweet
  3. “Lake Shore Drive” – Performed by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah
  4. “The Chain” – Performed by Fleetwood Mac
  5. “Bring It on Home to Me” – Performed by Sam Cooke
  6. “Southern Nights” – Performed by Glen Campbell
  7. “My Sweet Lord” – Performed by George Harrison
  8. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – Performed by Looking Glass
  9. “Come a Little Bit Closer” – Performed by Jay and The Americans
  10. “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang” – Performed by Silver
  11. “Surrender” – Performed by Cheap Trick
  12. “Father and Son” – Performed by Yusef / Cat Stevens
  13. “Flash Light” – Performed by Parliament
  14. “Guardians Inferno” – Performed by The Sneepers (Featuring – David Hasselhoff)


Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1

  1. “Hooked on a Feeling” – Performed by Blue Swede
  2. “Go All the Way” – Performed by the Raspberries
  3. “Spirit in the Sky” – Performed by Norman Greenbaum
  4. “Moonage Daydream” – Performed by David Bowie
  5. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” – Performed by Elvin Bishop
  6. “I’m Not in Love” – Performed by 10cc
  7. “I Want You Back” – Performed by The Jackson 5
  8. “Come and Get Your Love” – Performed by Redbone
  9. “Cherry Bomb” – Performed by The Runaways
  10. “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – Performed by Rupert Holmes
  11. “O-o-h Child” – Performed by Five Stairsteps
  12. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

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