I don’t know if y’all know this about me, but I love movie soundtracks and scores. I mean, their entire purpose is to let us know how we should be feeling from one scene to the next; eerie music that raises goosebumps in scary movies, tense dangerous action scenes, love songs crescendo-ing just as the couple in a rom/com collide in an airport. Sometimes the music is all we have to go off of, in cases where there isn’t a lot of dialogue. We all have favorite movies and genres, and some of us even have favorite directors, but I absolutely have favorite soundtracks, and I cant wait to tell everyone all about them! For my first installment, I’m going to cover my favorite soundtrack that also happens to be my favorite movie by my favorite director. My closest friends and family have already had to hear me gush about how much I love the soundtrack to the 2011 masterpiece Drive, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon) starring Ryan Gosling, Carrie Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks and loads more amazing actors. The craziest part about this soundtrack/movie is that I fell in love with the soundtrack before I ever saw the movie. Like, years before. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since 2011 when it came out, but I hadn’t actually seen the movie until last September, on my first date with my now boyfriend, Ty. He’s the cinephile in the relationship, he’s taught me everything I know.
From what I can gather, a brief history of how the soundtrack came together begins with Johnny Jewel of the Chromatics being brought on by Refn to score the film. Refn picked “Under Your Spell” and “Tick of the Clock” from Jewel’s catalog, both songs possessing an electronic yet dreamy quality. “Tick of the Clock” is used in the first scenes, when Gosling’s unnamed character prepares for the opening heist of the film. It’s aptly named, as a pulsing beat with no lyrics, it crescendos and decrescendos as needed to allow the viewer and the Driver to hear a police scanner, turned down in film by the Driver in his car. The song is like a racing heartbeat, muted by the police scanner, during a tense scene trying to avoid police detection, mirroring the intensity in the car. The opening credit song “Nightcalls” by French electronic musician Kavinsky comes next, but wasn’t decided on until later. It’s the perfect song, in my opinion, to begin the film on. Coming off as a conversation between a man and woman vocalist, just as the woman’s verse begins, we get our first look at the Driver’s neighbor and love interest, Irene (Carrie Mulligan). “A Real Hero” by another French electronic artist College in collaboration with Electric Youth has to be my favorite song on the soundtrack; it makes its appearance when the Driver spends an evening with Irene and her son Benicio, viewing the city through the Driver’s eyes, taking them to an oasis of sorts to get away from the LA lifestyle, and carrying sleeping Benicio, blanketed in the Driver’s signature gold scorpion jacket, to Irene’s apartment just down the hall from him, while Irene watches dreamily. The key chorus of “You have proved to be a real human being, and a real hero” is perfect, as Gosling’s character in that moment is both of those things to this broken family from down the hall. The song is also heard in the closing scenes of the film, when the Driver has established safety once more for Irene and Benicio. “Under Your Spell” can first be heard first muted, as if through the walls in Gosling’s sparse apartment, and then loudly as the scene opens up to a party held at Irene’s apartment celebrating the return of her previously incarcerated husband. The song is literal; its dramatic chorus of “I don’t eat/ I don’t sleep/ I do nothing but think of you/ you keep me under your spell” is perfect for describing the harsh reality of the Driver and Irene’s relationship.
Cliff Martinez (Spring Breakers, Contagion, aforementioned Refn films) was later brought on to finish scoring the film, using original compositions that copied Jewel’s electronic but dreamy style. I love the blunt way he titles the songs used in the film, matching the scene they would be used for, such as “They Broke His Pelvis” a dangerous, threatening number as a mobster (Bernie Rose) recants the story of the Driver’s partner, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and his fateful run in with another more infamous mobster, played by Ron Perlman, in which Perlman’s character, you guessed it, breaks Shannon’s pelvis, leaving him with a permanent limp. Or “Hammer” which plays in the dressing room of a strip club when the Driver tracks down the mobsters that botched his final heist and dispenses justice with just a hammer.
The soundtrack had reviews just as good if not better than the film. Spin magazine put it on a list of 40 Movie Soundtracks That Changed Alternative Music alongside films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Super Fly, Suspiria (1977), Repo Man, and others. It peaked at number four on iTunes sales in its time, and in June 2012 the soundtrack was released on a 2-disc LP in several colors and designs. In 2016, however, a special anniversary pressing was re-released; only 1000 copies were made, and guess who has the best boyfriend in the entire world? Me, because we are the happy owners of not one but two copies of this beautiful soundtrack, numbers 601 and 602. 601 remains sealed to maintain its mint conditioning, though I don’t see us ever parting ways with it, as it was only by accident that we received two in the first place. 602, however, is in constant rotation. Every time someone new comes to our apartment and I get to introduce them to my record collection, it is always the crown jewel.
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