Writer-director Edgar Wright has always had a way with music in his films. Look at how Queen was used to score the bashing in of zombie brains in Shaun of the Dead, or the outstanding assembly of musical collaborators he enlisted for Scott Pilgrim VS the World, which included Beck, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Metric, Broken Social Scene, and Cornelius(!).
So it should surprise no one that his latest film Baby Driver has a great soundtrack, one that he’s been thinking of for almost two decades. When Wright first heard The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” way back when, his imagination conjured forth a car chase. This was the germ of what eventually has made it to theaters as Baby Driver. As with Scott Pilgrim, music is absolutely integral to the main character, whose history as a teen car thief saw him grow a collection of left-in-cars iPods and thus, access to a variety of playlists and musical tastes that are on display in Driver’s 30-song soundtrack.
On it, the JSBX (who, naturally, kick off the proceedings) sit comfortably alongside Queen, The Beach Boys, Blur, The Damned, and T. Rex, but also with acts from other genres; some terrific funk and soul acts are represented here by Googie Rene, Carla Thomas, Kashmere Stage Band, Dave Brubeck, Martha Reeves, and The Commodores. One of the few hip-hop songs is (co-curator) Danger Mouse’s “Chase Me,” with Run The Jewels & Big Boi, the only original song on the compilation.
The best soundtracks give you a sense of discovery, and in this Driver’s does not disappoint. A number of the tracks are songs you may be familiar with from other popular culture but were just unaware of who exactly was the artist and what the title was, like Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” and Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.” Other not-so-obvious choices are the use of a few instrumentals from pop bands: the Beach Boys’ “Let’s Go Away For A While,” Blur’s “Intermission,” and REM’s “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” (in the film but sadly not on the soundtrack). Instead of the more popular “Bust A Move,” we get Young MC’s “Know How.”
This being Wright, there is a playfulness to the sequence of songs. Blur is followed by Focus. T.Rex’s“Debora” and Beck’s “Debra” sit side by side, as fits their discussion in the film. Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” and David McCallum’s “The Edge” might make people assume they’re about to hear House of Pain and Dr. Dre at first, but in good old rule-of-thirds style Wright flips the script by going to Young MC’s “Know How.” We think we’re about to hear Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” until extra drum fills and Young’s voice take command of the track.
Besides being one of the best soundtracks in years, Driver actually serves as a pretty great party album: you can leave it on when you have a bunch of friends over and it’ll do you fine. It’s a peek into the personal jukebox (or, rather, the 160GB iPod Classic) of Edgar Wright, whose musical taste is good and varied and has resulted in one of the best films of the year, a film constructed to serve existing songs as opposed to the usual, other way ‘round.
Go see Baby Driver in a theater with a great sound system. Try to spot the cameos by musicians like Sky Ferreira, Killer Mike & Big Boi, Jon Spencer, and Paul Williams. And then pick up the soundtrack after to relive the good time you just had. Just keep an eye on that speedometer.