Baby Driver: A Movie for Music Freaks - by "Wild Jon" Peterson

A MUSIC FREAKS DREAM MOVIE!  I’m not big on the “Action Film” genre.  I mean, I love “Die Hard” and “True Lies” as much as everyone because those films are the ‘gold standard’ with dynamic character relationships and great dialogue.  

But you’ll never catch me at a ‘Fast & Furious’ or Mission Impossible franchise movie, nor did I even see ‘The Italian Job.’ Crash & Bang means nothing to me without a killer plot, great acting and the right amounts of romance and comic relief.

So I was reluctant when my friend and fellow movie, music & TV super fan Karena Liakos came to me singing the praises of one of the Summer’s big action films, BABY DRIVER.  But the hook for me that piqued my interest was how much she was singing the praises of the music soundtrack and how it “cut to the beat” of the action in both a thematic and very cinematic way!

I knew that Edgar Wright was a talented young director from 2004’s killer zombie send-up SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but I never was expecting something like this.  It scores on every level (Action, Comedy and Romance) in a big way!

The plot is fairly simple… a young guy  (Ansel Elgort) is the ‘wheel man’ driver for white collar crime boss (Kevin Spacey) who hooks him up with various gangsters (Jon Hamm and Jamie Fox) who perform dramatic stick-up robberies while he (The “Baby Driver”) zooms, bobs and weaves the getaway car through the streets of Atlanta, GA.  

Lots of directors have used music as a “foreground” element: most notably by George Lucas in “American Graffiti” and “Goodfellas” (or any film) by Martin Scorsese.

The unique angle here is that our leading man (“Baby”) does virtually everything in life hooked up to is I-POD’s Earbuds.  Entire songs often play throughout the film in real time, as he skips, dances, drives around and falls in love.  

And the sound mix in the theater mimics how he is hearing the music,  If a character pulls out Baby’s IPOD ear bud, then the right channel drops out of the main speakers and is heard as tinn-y  ambient sound, mimicking Baby’s “first person” perspective.

The plot reason for all this? He was in a car accident as a child that resulted in severe tinnitus.  So he needs music to mask the hum & pink noise in his ears/head.

A complete song list and link (with corresponding plot action) is provided below.  But the highlights for me included:

  • “Baby” dancing around the city to Bob & Earl's “Harlem Shuffle” while lyrical references and street life action are perfectly synced to the song.  A/V Synergy and visual choreography!

  • A gangster tries to make a prick out of Baby for listening to music during a robbery prep meeting while “Baby” is listening to Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers.  The thug even reads the song title “Egyptian Reggae” from his IPOD screen to embarrass him.

  • The instrumental “Let’s Go Away For A While” from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds LP plays as he admirers a pretty young waitress. (That title is thematic in foreshadowing their dreams of escape.)

  • The waitress is singing Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” as she works.  “Baby” doesn’t know the tune, asks her the name of the artist, and then runs out to local record store to buy it.

  • The waitress “Deborah” and “Baby” discuss human names in song titles. She knows “Debra” by Beck, but he teaches her “Debora” by T-Rex.  Being a dumb millennial who knows nothing about Marc Bolan and only sees the artist name on his small IPOD screen, Baby doesn't see the ‘dash’ in T-REX and tells the waitress that the musician’s name is “TREX”

  • Then there is the GETAWAY MUSIC, including “Neat, Neat, Neat” by The Damned, “Brighton Rock” by Queen, and “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.

  • Of course, the film ends with the obligatory “Baby Driver” by Simon & Garfunkel.


Another use of ‘foreground music’ in the plot revolves around the fact that Baby carries around a tiny handheld recorder, catching snatches and snippets of character dialogue from everyday life, and then runs home to digitalize and manipulate it into mix tapes with looping, drum machines, etc.  This becomes a critical part of the film’s climax when Kevin Spacey finds out that he has been taping him.

A 95% ROTTEN TOMATOES rating says it all… as everything about this film is firing on all pistons.  This great action film is also a great comedy and romance movie!   It was written and directed by Edgar Wright, who also had a lot to do with the soundtrack selections (think of how Quentin Tarantino hand-picked every song in “Pulp Fiction").  With superb cinematography from Bill Pope and great ensemble cast, this movie not only has vehicular mayhem, but is also a MUSIC FREAK’S DREAM!