In the hands of a lesser director, Baby Driver would’ve been more of an iTunes playlist than a movie. However, with Edgar Wright’s immense talent of behind the wheel, it was the knockout movie of the summer.
Baby Driver combined spectacular visuals; a series of cars race around Atlanta in hot pursuit. Add to that an emotionally engaging storyline about a young man in over his head with a criminal enterprise. It’s also got a heck of a cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey and a rogues’ gallery including Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal.
But we get the most out of the soundtrack. When you’re watching it, you’re immersed in the soundtrack, whether you like it or not. So, here are the fifteen coolest, awesomest, most head-banging songs in the movie.
15. “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” by Barry White
Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” is not the kind of song you’d expect to hear in a car chase-heavy action movie. It starts off sounding pretty suitable, with it’s pulsating drum beat building a kind of suspense and creating tension drawing you in.
But then all of a sudden, the song takes a drastic left turn and becomes a sexy ballad. That’s pretty cool, right? And Edgar Wright uses it for a very good juxtaposition toward the end of the movie, during the scene in the diner. Baby has come there to save Debora and whisk her away, not expecting to find Buddy waiting there to kill him!
Barry White doesn’t fit with that scene, but he does at the same time for that very same reason. His voice lulls you into a different kind of mood. It’s the kind of song that suits a slow, intense scene reminiscent of early Tarantino crime flicks — partly what Wright was going for.
14. “Let’s Go Away For Awhile” by The Beach Boys
As with most Beach Boys songs, there’s a haunting undertone to the whimsical tune of “Let’s Go Away For Awhile.” It can also be heard in “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” The Beach Boys are the Twin Peaks of rock bands.
There’s a disturbing and surreal quality to their songs that keeps you on edge while you’re slipping away into the trance that their dream-like melodies send you into. There’s also a jazz element to “Let’s Go Away For Awhile” that sends you swaying left and right, snapping your fingers.
All of these factors intertwine to make “Let’s Go Away For Awhile” the perfect song for the first time Baby lays eyes on his future love, Debora. The jazz alludes to the comfort he feels knowing he’s found the one. Yet, the haunting quality that lies underneath suggests the dangerous nature of this budding relationship.
13. “The Edge” by David McCallum and David Axelrod
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Wright explained that most of his musical choices for Baby Driver come from a bygone era of artists whose songs have been sampled by artists more recognizable to the modern generation. “I wanted to use songs that have been heavily sampled so that the audience keeps getting wrong-footed,” he said.
Like, when audiences hear the opening of “Harlem Shuffle,” they expect “Jump Around” by House of Pain. The same with Detroit Emeralds’ “Baby Let Me Take You,” sampled in “Say No Go” by De La Soul.
Then there’s “The Edge.” “Most folks would think is the beginning of Dr. Dre’s ‘The Next Episode’,” Wright said, “only it’s David McCallum and David Axelrod’s ‘The Edge,’ which is where that sample comes from.”
“The Edge” is more theatrical and cinematic than “The Next Episode.” It’s less recognizable to teenagers but “The Edge” is the kind of song you’d expect to hear in a dark ‘60s spaghetti western or a gritty ’70s cop thriller — or a nostalgic 2017 action musical about cars and love.
12. “Unsquare Dance” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s catchy “Unsquare Dance” plays as Doc, portrayed strikingly by Kevin Spacey, lays out the plan for the second heist and Baby gleefully tunes out. It’s a really is a cool song — legendary jazz composer Dave Brubeck’s genre is literally called “cool jazz.”
In this scene, Baby ticks off one of his criminal colleagues by playing air piano to the sounds of Brubeck on the table. The whiz kid delivers the swiftest rebuttal, revealing he knows the plan in and out, despite not seemingly paying attention.
The song was written and recorded in just one day back in 1961. Brubeck wrote the song on his way to the recording studio, got there and recorded it. Simple as that. A timeless classic.
11. “Hocus Pocus” by Focus
“Hocus Pocus” by Focus — quite the mouthful, right? — plays while Baby is forced to escape nearby cops on foot after he trashed the getaway car, killing Jamie Foxx’s psychopathic character in the process. The loud, almost tribal banging of the drum makes for good running music, but it’s the yodelling vocals that give it a cinematic point of reference.
It’s a wonderful, subtle homage to Raising Arizona — when Nicolas Cage gets caught for stealing diapers after a long foot chase. Edgar Wright himself has cited the Coens’ early comedy as one of his cinematic influences. Camera movements and placements affect how an audience interprets a movie, not just what is on the screen.
10. “Easy” by The Commodores
Better known for its chorus — “I’m easy like Sunday morning” — “Easy” is a song everyone’s heard at least once. Written by The Commodores’ lead singer Lionel Richie, it’s a ballad about being cool with a breakup. Baby plays it in the scene where he thinks he’s done with his criminal life as a getaway driver.
He walks out of the scrapyard where he’s just destroyed what he thinks will be his last getaway car. This was a clever song to use. It also serves the plot: Baby’s late musician mother (played by Sky Ferreira) covers this song.
9. “Baby Driver” by Simon and Garfunkel
The song the movie is named after isn’t a hard rock song or a head-banging hip-hop track. It’s actually a lovely, bubbly folk song not featured in the actual film. It wouldn’t be suited to a car chase or a bank robbery scene, but it does have lyrics relevant to the plot.
It plays over the end credits. If you didn’t know any better, you would think Simon and Garfunkel wrote the song for the movie. The lyrics start off by talking about a guy nicknamed Baby Driver, and his troubled parents, and how he was “born one dark gray morn with music coming in my ears.”
Then it veers off into his fascination with cars — “once upon a pair of wheels, I hit the road and I’m gone.”
8. “Tequila” by The Champs
The Champs’ hit song “Tequila” topped the charts of both R&B and pop music when it was first released in 1958. It’s an instrumental song, more rock ‘n’ roll than R&B or pop, heavily influenced by Latin American music.
The beat, inspired by Cuban mambo, fits Jamie Foxx’s request for a funky song — and lead-in to juxtapose with the firefight that follows. The version used in Baby Driver is from The Button Down Brass; a nice change of pace from the overused Champs version.
The original has been featured in Happy Days, a ride-pimping montage in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, a scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the classic ‘90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, the video game Mafia II, Oliver Stone’s JFK and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
7. “Radar Love” by Golden Earring
“Radar Love” is the Dutch rock song Baby tunes into after he jacks the old lady’s car. He’s on the lam but still finds the time to flip through radio stations to pick an appropriate getaway tune. It’s a track he had to settle for, since he didn’t pick it from his personal library. Yet for as impromptu last resort, it’s pretty perfect.
It’s about a guy driving a car who keeps referring to “baby.” Okay, the “baby” in the song is the driver’s lover, not the driver himself, so it’s not entirely perfect. But in a movie about a racer called Baby who falls in love, that’s pretty darn close. And it’s a terrific, energetic song that’s been covered by everyone from Def Leppard to U2.
6. “Brighton Rock” by Queen
When Jon Hamm’s character Buddy asks Baby what his “killer track” is — the one he picks when he needs to get pumped up the most — Baby tells him it’s “Brighton Rock” by Queen. Buddy is confused since it’s not the best known Queen song and it was on the same album as “Killer Queen,” which some would consider to be a superior tune.
But Baby has a good justification. It features Freddie Mercury’s unique and fantastic voice in full force, and its guitar solo kicks ass. It’s a sweeping, intense, five-minute opus that hits you like a truck. It’s all the more poignant when Buddy shows up for vengeance. He plays it ironically, planning to kill Baby.
But Baby manages to save himself and the woman he loves. He gets Buddy out of the picture to the sound of “Brighton Rock.”
5. “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas
The opening lyric is so iconic — “Nowhere to run to, baby!” — it conjures up the rest of the song in your head. It’s a hip pop song with an upbeat rhythm packed with tambourines and drums, so you might lose sight of the tragic meaning of the song.
It’s about a poor woman who finds herself trapped in a terrible relationship. She cannot help but love the abusive man she’s with. This is a problem so common and universally relatable, and yet so sad and unfortunate. On Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, “Nowhere to Run” comes in 358th.
It’s still played on the radio to this day, and it’s over half a century old. It’s only used quietly in the background of a dialogue scene in Baby Driver, but it deserves more than that.
4. “Debora” by T. Rex
The producers and distributors of Baby Driver are embroiled in an ugly lawsuit with Marc Bolan’s son over what he perceives to be the illegal use of “Debora,” a song by Bolan’s band T. Rex. It comes at a turning point as Baby’s love interest Debora, played by Downton Abbey’s Lily James, talks to him about their mutual love: music.
They get into what Edgar Wright calls “a whole thread about names in songs.” She believes he’s hit the jackpot with the name Baby, but as he points out, there’s many terrific movies named after her. Wright’s goal with this conversation was not just the meet cute between Baby and Debora.
He also liked “the idea of making people in the audience think, ‘Hmmm…I wonder if I have a song named after me,’” although he doesn’t think anyone’s ever written a song for Edgar.
3. “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl
The Bob and Earl song “Harlem Shuffle,” an R&B hit covered by The Rolling Stones to a lesser effect, is used in Baby Driver during the second scene. Baby walks from Doc’s headquarters down the street, bumps into his future love interest, goes into a coffee shop, picks up an order for his cohorts, and then walks back, all in one take.
The single-take approach complicated things; it took 28 takes for Edgar Wright to be satisfied. He ended up using the 21st one. It’s an impressive sequence, given the complexity. But it would be nothing without “Harlem Shuffle,” aka the coolest song to walk to.
Seriously, the next time you walk to the supermarket, put “Harlem Shuffle” in your ears. You won’t regret it.
2. “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned
If you came to this list seeking rock ‘n’ roll songs with badass guitar riffs and drum beats that blow through your eardrums, then look no further than punk rock band The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat,” because it has all that and more.
It was their second single and in Baby Driver, it’s used in the second heist — the first one with Jamie Foxx’s character Bats. They have to change cars and before driving off, Baby minutely rewinds it back because the chase turned out to be longer than the song.
This song sticks out because halfway through, the band cut out the music completely. Then the lead singer asks, “Are we really #65 in the charts?” They then get on with it. This band cares more about art’s sake than fame and vanity.
1. “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
“Bellbottoms” has to be the coolest song in Baby Driver. You can’t listen to it without banging your head to its fast, pulsating beat. It’s the first sound you hear when you watch the movie, and it kicks things off in perfect fashion.
It starts off pretty slow and erratic. Baby bangs on the steering wheel to the beat of Russell Simins’ drum. Then, as the bank robbers come running out back to the car, there’s the perfectly timed, Elvis-like, “thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Right now, I got to tell you about…the fabulous…most groovy…bellbottoms!”
Then the lead guitar goes crazy driving the pace for the rest of the chase. Edgar Wright got the whole idea for Baby Driver from “Bellbottoms.” Jon Spencer even has a cameo appearance as a prison guard.
In 1995, Wright was 21, living in London on welfare, with no aim and no idea how he was going to achieve his dream of becoming a Hollywood director. Then he put on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s album Orange and the first track, “Bellbottoms,” came on. In his mind’s eye, he saw a car chase set to the beat.
23 years later, he shot that car chase and a brilliant, carefully constructed action movie followed. Wright basically created a new genre for Baby Driver. It’s the first romantic car action gangster thriller jukebox musical ever made.
And it probably won’t be the last.