My Love Is a Mixtape: a Review of Peter Quill’s Mom’s Musical Taste (and of Guardians of the Galaxy)

by Betsy Scott

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You can check out the full Awesome Mix Vol. 1 Soundtrack here.

Side 1

After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, I was stumped how to review it. My review would be a paragraph at most, I thought. Yes, it’s funny. It has great special effects. The makeup is amazing: I got lost in all the tiny hairs in the ridges on one alien’s head, let alone the intricate swirls of Drax’s tattoos. It’s good; go see it.

If you do choose to see it in a theater, think about the experience you want. It looks fantastic on a big screen, but you’ll miss a lot. I went to a screening filled with geeks, and I caught only every other joke because we were laughing too loudly or cheering. The first thirty minutes or so is all exposition through dialog; many details of the Marvel universe as well as character background are dumped on the audience. Pay attention. The film moves fast.

Side 2

We meet the future Star-lord, Peter Quill, as a boy in 1988. He is in the hospital where his mother is dying, presumably of cancer as she is hairless and weak. He listening to a tape on his Walkman when his grandfather comes to bring him to his mother’s bedside. She dies before he is ready to say goodbye. Adult Peter’s Walkman is presented as an amusing relic, especially in the trailer for the movie, but it is more than that. It’s the emotional anchor of the entire movie.

Peter’s mother made him mixtapes of pop songs she liked, most from the seventies before he was born. People of a certain age will remember making mixtapes for themselves or for friends. There’s an art to it. The tracks have to have a flow, perhaps a theme. Sometimes you’d want to juxtapose two very different songs for effect. I knew someone who thought the “four corners” (the first and last song on each side) were important. We created covers for our cassettes- pictures cut from magazines and drawings at first, then printed ones carefully cut and folded, with full track listings inside. The cliche is certain songs can bring us back to certain moments, but it is so very true. “Pictures of You” by The Cure will forever be the soundtrack to my mother’s death in 1988 (the coincidence is not lost on me). My sister and I even made a music video for the song.

So obviously, the soundtrack of the movie is the mixtape Peter’s mom made for him. As someone who still makes mixes, albeit as playlists, this resonated with me and I realized I was critiquing her choices more than the film itself:

Track 1: “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc

This is a weird selection for a mother to put on a cassette for her son. Sure the melancholy tone fits the scene (his mother’s death), but it’s just a weird song; thankfully it doesn’t get to the creepy part where the woman whispers “big boys don’t cry.”

My suggestion: “O-O-H Child” by The Five Stairsteps

Unfortunately, this song is (mis)used humorously in a later moment in the film, but I think it would have worked so well here. It’s a song that to me is both uplifting and incredibly sad. And the lyrics would be heartbreaking here, a mother’s good-bye to her child.

Track 2: “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone

This song is used in a small but really well-done moment in the movie. The first time we see adult Peter he is scavenging on a dead planet, scanning and seeing the psychic traces of people long gone (what a lovely metaphor). He dances through the ruins to this song on his Walkman. It’s one of the rare scenes that takes its time and really shows us who a character is. I wish there were more scenes like this.

Track 3: “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Suede

Otherwise known as The Song from the Trailer, it’s a funny little song that’s surprisingly infectious (witness that it briefly appeared on a list of iTunes’ most popular tracks after the trailer debuted). The scene is a little less humorous in the context of the story, though. When Peter shouts “Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Suede, that’s mine!” it’s with the possessiveness of any rabid fan: “That song is mine! It can’t possibly mean as much to you as it means to me!”

Track 4: “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes

Although it works well in the moment as a joke, I still really, really, really hate this song. I also can’t imagine a mom putting this in a mix. What’s next, Margaritaville?

My suggestion: grudgingly, I’ll allow it, but I think “Pop Musik” by M would have been just as good.

Track 5: “Go All the Way” by Raspberries

Really? A song about teenage sex? No mom is putting that on a mix tape.

My suggestion: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee

Elton John is synonymous with the seventies. I’m offended that he doesn’t have a single song on the soundtrack. Plus, I think Gamora would dance to this.

Track 6: “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie

Don’t get me wrong: I adore David Bowie and I love this song. It’s a bold choice, as it’s not one of his more popular songs, and it has some appropriate lyrics. I understand not wanting to be obvious, but…

My suggestion: “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie

My god, such a wasted opportunity.

Track 7: “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways

I am so torn on this one. On the one hand, it’s The Runaways, one of my favorites. But its inclusion took me out of the film. The director needed a kick-ass song from the right era for the gear-up-to-fight scene, but you don’t learn about The Runaways from your mom, no matter how cool she is. You learn about The Runaways in eighth grade from that proto-goth kid who might be a cutter.

My suggestion: “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy

I think it’s the right amount of heavy, without straying too far into either metal or punk. Plus the title refers back to the jailbreak scene at the beginning of the movie.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Track 8: “Ain’t No Mountain” by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell

The first song on the second mixtape, the unopened gift from Peter’s mom (doesn’t she deserve a name, by the way?), is appropriately uplifting: a beautiful final message as well as a celebration of the Guardians’ victory and new friendship. No complaints here.

Track 9: “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5

Of course the audience wants Groot, who sacrificed himself to save his friends, back. What better song for a sapling to groove to?

Comments

  1. I like this critique because of the thought you put into the different songs. However I can get the borderline inappropriate songs on there — I’ll confess as a parent, I’ve let my kid listen to Nicki Minaj at times (with some fast forwarding through some songs) or other things. The meaning of the songs may just fly over young Peter Quill’s head until he’s older.

    And I’ll admit, to owning about six copies of Hooked on a Feeling thanks to various soundtracks. That song is just addictive.

  2. Betsy Scott says:

    To be fair, my parents didn’t monitor what I watched or listened to at all. I am basing what is (in)appropriate on my siblings, who are far more strict than our parents were about these things.

    Also, I really hate that Raspberries’ song, but I feel one burning hatred per review is enough and the Pina Colada song is much more deserving.

    • The Pina Colada song cracks me up. It’s made barely tolerable when you realize that both the narrator and his partner are a bunch of cheaters.

      I get your criteria, but I think for me it’s a matter of what parenting styles were like when we were kids (aka “Go outside and don’t come back until it’s dark”) and now (where if we even THINK about doing that, we’re horrible parents that should be set on fire). Not to mention, I think some references would fly over a then 9-year-old’s head. This is how I got away with watching Blazing Saddles at age 7.

      And I will say that the use of “Ain’t No Mountain” at the end with the montage was perfect — it set up the players for the sequel and also had such a nice hopeful feeling.

  3. lightflow says:

    My theory, and I guess the director or someone has made comments that tends to support it, is she’s telling about her love affair with his father. The second mix tape ends with “oh child” because he was born. And then “Ain’t No Mountain” because his father promised to come for him. Like you say, mix-tapes were so much more than the songs we put on them, there were reasons and sometimes telling of a story, and I think that’s what she was doing. Or trying to. In a way that a young child could piece together later and not be freaked out at the idea that “starlord” wasn’t just some nickname she gave him.

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