There’s no franchise in the superhero subgenre as linked to music like James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy. More than a traditional score, the pop music Gunn infuses in his space opera comic book movies have become synonymous with the Guardians movies’ identity. As much as there is anticipation for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, there has been equal hype around what will be on the last soundtrack — the Awesome Mix Volume 3. Thankfully, ahead of the last installment, James Gunn and Marvel Studios have officially released the soundtrack ahead of the movie.
Before we get into what’s featured on the track list, a quick note about needle drops in movies. There’s a unique relationship between movies and soundtracks. If done well, songs enhance any given scene as subtext, tapping into a given character’s internal or external circumstances. It can even give the audience a further insight into who a character is — for instance if a song is introduced diegetically as a character turns on a song, it could express the type of person they are. Some of the best directors are uniquely known for how they curate their soundtracks together. Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, and Wes Anderson are just a few well-known directors who do this exceptionally. And then, there’s James Gunn and the Awesome Mix.
Gunn’s soundtracks are intrinsically linked to the trilogy. They are the Guardians’ calling cards, the distinctive sound that makes the Guardians as we know them today. It’s the music they’re willing to dance off to in order to save Xandar and the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser. The second you hear the opening notes of The Spinners’ “Rubberband Man” play in Avengers: Infinity War, you know exactly who’s about to appear on the screen. They are the guardians of the freakin’ galaxy (only they don’t mean freakin’)
It’s been six years since Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 came out, and ever since then, I’ve been waiting for Volume 3 and, by proxy, the Awesome Mix Volume 3. See the tweet for proof. Now we’re finally here, which marks the end of an intergalactic family we’ve known and loved for years. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 is very clearly a send-off of this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy under the tutelage of James Gunn as he goes off to run DC Studios. As a reflection of this, Awesome Mix Volume 3 is going out with a bang — 17 tracks that will chart the course for our favorite Guardians of the Galaxy one last time. Let’s unpack the tracklist.
Right off the bat, it’s interesting to note the variety of genres represented in Awesome Mix Volume 3. The first two were based on the mixtapes Peter’s mom, Meredith, made for her son before she died from cancer. These soundtracks primarily pulled from popular 60s and 70s rock, grounding the extraterrestrial activity in music more familiar to us. At the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Kraglin gives Peter a Zune loaded with at least 300 songs, a major upgrade. Not only can we assume that the songs from Awesome Mix Volume 3 come from the Zune, but also the Zune introduced Peter to new music in the 80s, 90s, and up to at least 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War takes place.
That’s not to say that the soundtrack doesn’t feature its fair share of that classic 60s and 70s sound we’ve grown accustomed to from the previous Guardians movies. Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone,” in particular, has echoes of Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” and Raspberries’ “Go All The Way.” Heart’s hit song “Crazy On You” has already been featured in a flashback in Captain Marvel showing a young Carol Danvers, so to see its inclusion here could be a coincidence or a hint to a potential cameo.
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In every Guardians of the Galaxy movie, there is a scene between Peter Quill and Gamora that involves listening to music and dancing. In the first movie, it was “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” In the sequel, “Bring It On Home to Me.” In Awesome Mix Volume 3, “Reasons” by Earth Wind Fire sounds very similar to those tracks, and therefore, the candidate for a third (and final) dance between Gamora and Star-Lord.
The last song representing the 70s rock songs of the soundtrack is Alice Cooper’s cover of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” The song itself is a popular vaudeville song covered by the likes of Harry Fox, Prince’s Orchestra, and Judy Garland, most famous for singing about places over the rainbow. It’s a song filled with regret, looking back at the time spent looking for something better. I wonder if this is indicative of one character or all the Guardians at the end of their time running.
Awesome Mix Volume 3 officially switches gears into the 80s with hits like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” from Beastie Boys — thank you, James Gunn, for not making it “Sabotage”! Songs like The Replacements’ “I Will Dare” and Faith No More’s “We Care A Lot” keep the 80s rock alive and sound like they could be used during some action scenes. “This Is The Day” by The The keeps 80s New Wave alive, but lyrics like “This is the day your life will surely change” has me worried about when this track could hit. Another 80s song from Awesome Mix Vol. 3 is X’s “Poor Girl,” which could be in reference to Gamora, the missing girl from the Guardians family.
Speaking of songs that could be directly connected to a character, Radiohead’s acoustic version of “Creep” is one of two songs that derive from the 90s. It’s the first track found in Volume 3, and it has direct ties to Rocket. Based on what we’ve seen in previous trailers, audiences are going to get Rocket’s backstory of how the High Evolutionary created him in a lab; in the past, he’s exclaimed that he didn’t ask to get made. He carries so much anger in him, so if there were any song to reflect that angst of feeling like an abomination, it’s “Creep.” The other 90s song present is Spacehog’s “In The Meantime,” which is also featured in the official trailer. This isn’t the first time trailer music has crossed over into the movies; what makes us worried is how the lyrics touch on saying goodbye and crying for someone after they’ve gone.
Haunting lyrics continue to foreshadow in The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” Though it was released in 2002, it has a David Bowie, ethereal sound to it while featuring lines like “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die? It’s hard to make the good things last” or better yet, “Do you realize that happiness makes you want to cry?” James Gunn knows what he’s doing picking songs with lyrics like this; whether or not it will be used in a scene featuring death or a goodbye remains to be seen.
Moving into the modern era, Ehamic’s “Koinu no Carnival” is based on Chopin’s “Minute Waltz,” and after listening to it a few times in a row, it sounds like it could score a funny chase or escape scene. Now the rest of the modern songs used are kind of a conundrum, not because they’re bad songs, far from it, but they are songs I’m very interested to see where they land. For instance, The Mowglis’ “San Francisco” is a fun, indie hit that isn’t well-known by the masses — for the record, I knew about them because I devoured their album Waiting For the Dawn. It could be used to set the scene location, or it could be used ironically. We don’t know. The same could be said for Florence + The Machine’s hit song “Dog Days Are Over.” It’s such a fun song to dance around to; maybe it could be used ironically in a scene or a chance for the Guardians to let loose for one scene of what should be an emotional movie.
Speaking of emotions, let’s talk about the last track on Awesome Mix Volume 3. The choice to close Awesome Mix Volume 3 with “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone — the Guardians’ song. It’s the song that played as Peter Quill danced around, and the title sequence kicked off in 2014, ushering in a new type of Marvel movie. It’s a song so directly connected to the Guardians that Avengers: Endgame made it a point to recreate the scene with the music while Nebula and Rhodey look on as Peter Quill just dances and sings along to himself. This song means everything to what Guardians of the Galaxy would come to mean, not for the MCU but for James Gunn. This was his initial stamp, telling the world, “I’m doing something different here; come along with me.” And now, this will close the book on his time with Marvel Studios and our time with the Guardians he introduced us to. I’m not emotionally prepared to sob when this plays one last time.
The Awesome Mix was first introduced to Peter Quill to help him cope as his mother’s cancer claimed her life. It continued to ground him as he traveled across the galaxy with the Ravagers. It created a bond between him and his found family. The Guardians of the Galaxy may leave us after Vol. 3 comes out, but the Awesome Mix Volumes 1-3 will always bring audiences back to Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Kraglin, Mantis, Nebula, and Gamora.