One thing comic book movie fans have subtly enjoyed throughout the years is music selected for entrances, montages or even fight sequences. After all, the opening scene to the entire MCM is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the ‘funvee’ with AC/DC’s iconic “Back in Black” blaring from a now antiquated CD/Tape player before a word is even uttered. The MCM has been rich in its music, for example, highlighted by Marvel producing an entire album for Black Panther with the help of the famous Kendrick Lamar. While the Avengers theme is now as recognizable as the Indiana Jones theme from the ’80s, we will omit compositions because that would be better served for an article of its own.
A beautiful nod to its fans as well as its content, the music in the MCM ranges in its diversity of styles. The first two phases did well in their selections, however, it isn’t until the most recent two phases that fans truly get a fun variety. Though there are amazing picks in Phase 2 movie Guardians of the Galaxy one of my personal favorites. I swear when my family traveled during my childhood, my mom had a CD with most of those tracks on it. Along with the events in the movie, songs like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes always gave me the warmest feelings of nostalgia, while endearing myself to Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord’s great taste in music (as well as his mom’s). The soundtrack from that movie is a favorite playlist of mine that I keep playing in my car weekly.
While hitting all my old favorites, there are some tracks such as “Trouble Man, Left Hand Free,” and “Rubberband Man” that I was not familiar with at the time. However, they are now always in heavy rotation on my Apple Music radio. It’s incredible the effect that these films can have on these songs, bringing about renewed interest in forgotten tracks. After using Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it and other songs saw a massive increase in streams and sales. I do recall walking around a mall and seeing some teenagers starting the popular “ooga chaka” chant from “Hooked on a Feeling” and right then I knew the impact Marvel would make outside of simply cinema. To revive a nearly 50-year-old song and bring it back into cultural relevance and popularity is quite a feat.
Masterful uses of music were when we finally got to hear the ultimate ballad for Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The God of Thunder roaring out to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in Thor: Ragnarok. My most recent and cherished musical moment was Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) single-handedly taking down the TVA agents to the powerful “Holding Out for a Hero” since it gave me doubts whether she truly was a villain but also channeled a time-appropriate hit song that flowed well into the fight.
While enabling us to feel as empowered as the characters on screen, there have been song selections that encapsulated emotions on another spectrum – namely that of grief. One hilarious instance was using Whitney Houston’s rendition of the ever-classic “I Will Always Love You” which itself was known from a cinematic moment. The ballad plays during the opening sequence of Spider-Man: Far From Home while the students grieve over the losses from Avengers: Endgame. Yet right after, air horns sound off loudly and the weight of the emotion is lost. But there are two songs and moments that have always stuck out to me after their use on screen: Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” and Don McLean’s “American Pie.” If there is one reoccurring theme amongst the relationships of our heroes that we see quite often, it’s the one they share with their fathers.
While Yondu proudly adopts Star-Lord, doing his fatherly duty to save his life, we get a befitting spectacle of applause and respect from other Ravagers who had sworn him off. The choice is a slow ballad for a man with a fast whistle and was one of the most touching scenes throughout anything I’ve seen in the MCM so far. Marvel again hit the mark in Black Widow using another well-known song in having David Harbour’s Red Guardian singing lines of American Pie knowing it would work on Yelena and showing his fatherly emotions towards her too.
As a fan of “music mash-ups” Marvel gave us a fun moment in Iron Man 2 when Rhodey (Don Cheadle) first fights Tony in a suit at Tony’s birthday party. A montage of Queen – Daft Punk – Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock jammed from the DJ in the early days when the Iron Man suits still made loud hydraulic noises. The choice of “Robot Rock” is still one of the cheekiest and a personal top pick for me, the thumping bass from “Another One Bites the Dust” helped add to the weight of punches thrown from both Tony and Rhodey.
While I do appreciate the efforts in trying to date scenes by the choice of music, I always found them playing Nirvana in Captain Marvel as a moment where Marvel tried a bit too hard (that and Blockbuster). There is a bit of redemption with the inclusion of TLC, when “Waterfalls” played, only then did I feel transported back to the ’90s with my Gameboy playing Pokemon Red while watching Spider-Man on Saturday mornings.
Although the other attempt of the ’90s with the infectious “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” annoyingly made its way into the third Iron Man film when we get a flashback with Tony.
Unfortunately due to my youth, I can’t comment on the selections for the big band/swing music that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) missed out on dancing to, but having a good friend like Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) suggesting he listen to the eternal Marvin Gaye to get him back up to speed, was iconic. To circle back to it in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and even allowing Baron Zemo to make an out-of-hand comment about its significance to the community, is starting to become a trademark for Marvel. We see that again in Endgame when Steve does get his final dance to the song “It’s Been a Long Long Time,” keeping true to his date with Peggy Carter in the end.
Moving forward I am already excited by the new singles released for Shang Chi and the Ten Rings with “Run It” by DJ Snake that have beats coming out reminiscent of club music. While we know that parts of this film deal with an “underground tournament” of sorts, it seems they leaned hard into “street” music tapping into the likes of 21 Savage with “Lazy Susan,” which reminded me of early installments from The Fast and the Furious franchise of “unauthorized events”. I expect the tournament in the film to be similar in that respect, where they may get found out for hosting it and it gets raided. Although with the inclusion of Abomination that may have already secretly happened.
What I would like to see in the future is more international music used with projects like Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and Eternals. With those selections of characters, you already have a couple of cultures to reach out from. While I said I wouldn’t touch upon the composed music, I will mention Black Panther and Infinity War’s uses of drums right before transporting the scene to Wakanda gave me chills both times. Even if it is composed, I would enjoy native music when we travel to distant lands (and am hoping Thor: Love and Thunder gets really weird with it, Willy Wonka in Thor: Ragnarok was a nice tough).
In the last 10 years, I’ve jammed out to old favorites, new ones, and had surprises in between (seriously, who would have thought they would use Suicidal Tendencies, and they did it in the first Iron Man!). Now that we are in a more forward direction of the timeline I anticipate even more modern music team-ups, again in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Fantastic Four, as well as The Marvels. My iPhone has space reserved for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to make its way onto my road playlist whenever that comes out, fully anticipating a blend of old and new music now that Star-Lord has upgraded his storage capacity like myself.