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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s Soundtrack Might Just Beat Awesome Mix Vol. 1

gotg opening

A lone starship descends upon a desolate alien landscape. Its pilot, masked and aloof, disembarks and surveys the ruins of an ancient civilization. Geysers of soot and some unknown liquid burst from the surface with the violent nonchalance of a dangerous planet, visiting horrors upon those who would trespass its hidden depths. The pilot unmasks, showing no hint of trepidation.  He pulls back the folds of his blood red garbs to reveal a… Walkman?

Cue Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.”

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy won the adoration of audiences across the globe with that scene, doubling down with musical encores through the rest of the blockbuster hit. This nostalgic 70s soundtrack raced to the top of the charts that year and introduced a younger generation to oldies as though they were 21st-century pop. The playlist played just as big a role in rocketing the Guardians to stardom as any other component of the movie-making process, and it influenced later releases like Suicide Squad to attempt a similar music-infused action rush.

baby groot candy

But the Guardians had to make a comeback. We wanted to see the characters again, the story had gaps to fill, and the relentless cinematic universe engine must chug on. We all anxiously awaited the teased “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” and pondered what hits director James Gunn would cook up for us the second time around. All the while, we avoided the lingering thought that “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” couldn’t possibly re-create the glory that was “Vol. 1.”

How could it? “Hooked on a Feeling,” “I Want You Back,” and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” are timeless songs, and none were done the disservice of being relegated to background music. Songs drove the plot, defined the characters, and set the pace of each scene. Heck, James Gunn reportedly had the actors listening to the film’s soundtrack on set (the crew had to visually edit out the earbuds in post). With “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” such a fundamental part of what made Guardians of the Galaxy a hit, “Vol. 2” had two options: try to repeat the glory of its predecessor, or try to find its own glory in a different way.

baby groot dancing

And both Vol. 2 the film and “Vol. 2” the soundtrack chose the latter. In the film, this paid off enormously, delving further into the characters we grew to love and shocking our pupils with eye-popping, psychedelic colors and visual effects. In the soundtrack, I’ll confess that I walked out of the theater ready to write an article titled “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s Soundtrack Can’t Surpass Awesome Mix Vol. 1.” It seemed as clear to me as Mantis’s ugliness was to Drax.

But then I saw the movie again on its second weekend. Then I watched the first one again that same night. Then I downloaded the sequel’s soundtrack, and I am absolutely hooked — but not on a feeling!

There’s something about “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” that grows on you by the second or third listen. My first time around, very few of the musical moments stuck with me simply out of unfamiliarity with the tunes. “I Want You Back,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “The Pina Colada Song” are familiar classics to me, songs that perforated my cultural bubble despite being a few years ahead of me. When I walked out of the theater in 2014, I was humming songs I already knew.

gotg 2

But in 2017, with a blockbuster hit to work from, James Gunn could be a little more daring with his musical choices. That’s not to say that any of the songs on “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” are radical or unsafe choices, but that Gunn and Marvel Studios as a whole no longer needed to win audiences over to an unfamiliar brand. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot are practically household names these days, so they no longer needed a “Hooked on a Feeling” or a “Come and Get Your Love” to blow audiences away. This good-will safety net left room for the aww-inducing Baby Groot intro set to “Mr. Blue Sky” in slight self-homage, a brutally hilarious Yondu/Rocket action sequence set to “Come a Little Bit Closer,” or basing the entire plot of the movie around Looking Glass’s “Brandy.”

kurt russell guardians

Sure, the incredible “Fox on the Run” trailer doesn’t quite compare to the unexpected wow of “Hooked on a Feeling,” and the climax’s use of “Chain” by Fleetwood Mac works, though not as well as “O-o-h Child” and the dance-off versus Ronan. But these new songs fit the story that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 told as well as — if not better than — its predecessor. Now some of those previously unfamiliar tunes are so indelibly ingrained in my brain to heartwarming scenes with characters I appreciate more than ever.

So before you, like me, disparage “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” for falling a few bars short of an octave, give both movies a rewatch and let the new soundtrack breathe a little. Put on a little Sam Cooke, dance with a fine girl named Brandy, and treasure the wham, bam, shangalang, shalalalalala thang that is the practically perfect sequel we never thought we could hope for.