As Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright can tell you, you know you’re doing something right with your film soundtracks when disco legend Nile Rodgers tweets to say how much he loves the ‘White Lines’ zombie scene in Shaun Of The Dead.
Their new film, The World’s End, is the third in a loose trilogy that provides the final statement on the theme of perpetual adolescence that Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz both mined for hilarious gold. “We said that we’d call it the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy as a tribute to Krzysztof Kieślowski,” explains Wright. While the Polish director’s films were based on the colours of the French flag and the political ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, the three flavours of Cornetto represent the British filmmakers’ genre-hopping pastiches. That’s red for the gore-splattered Shaun Of The Dead, blue for police spoof Hot Fuzz and green in The World’s End for an apocalyptic end-of-the-world pastiche that pays homage to classic British sci-fi like John Wyndham’s ‘The Day Of The Triffids’.
What we do know is that when Pegg, Wright and co-star Nick Frost sat down to write a film about a group of mates who return to their teenage haunts for the pub crawl to end all pub crawls, they knew immediately that they needed a soundtrack packed with tunes by Blur, The Stone Roses and a host of other bands with the power to catapult their characters and much of the audience back to their adolescence.
“We decided really early on that all the music you’ll hear in the film would come from between about ’88 and ’92,” explains Pegg. “Apart from one track by The Doors, we’ve stuck by that. We started rummaging around our record collections and looking at old NMEs to see what was around.”
“It’s true,” adds Wright. “I looked through the NME singles of the year lists from ’88 to ’94 then cherry-picked the best stuff to make a playlist that we listened to while writing the film. It’s a very NME-centric compilation album – I mean there’s Primal Scream, Blur, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, James, The Charlatans, Teenage Fanclub, Pulp, Inspiral Carpets, Silver Bullets, then Kylie Minogue, The Sundays and Suede all on there. That’s just the beginning. Music powers the film along in quite a few places. It revolves around the songs.”
In the film, Pegg’s character’s dream of reliving a failed pub crawl from their youth is an extension of the fact that his character is trapped in a cultural time-warp, as Wright explains: “Part of the idea with Simon’s character, who always wants to keep the party going forever, is that he basically had this amazing night in1990 and never wanted it to end. He’s sort of living by these hedonistic anthems, especially from the ‘second summer of love’. I like the idea that these songs that have never really gone away. They’ve become real anthems, and Simon’s character uses these songs as like his Bible. He lives by these songs and the soundtrack is crucial. When you see the song list at the end of the credits you’ll think: “Fucking hell, they’ve spent a lot of money on the soundtrack!””
While many of the biggest bands from that era, like Blur and The Stone Roses, are now a fixture on radio stations and on the live circuit, Pegg and Wright knew that relatively obscure songs would help catapult people right back to a very specific moment in time.
“‘Here’s Where The Story Ends’ by The Sundays’ takes me back to being a student,” says Pegg. “‘I’m Free’ by the Soup Dragons is anchored in that time, and while something like Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ has become an absolute proper classic, it still has its roots in that period of music which was very formative for me. It’s that age where you start to go to gigs a lot and start to discover music that’s not necessarily on national radio. Soul II Soul’s ‘Back to Life’ really reminds me of that era, as do band like Inspiral Carpets. More obscure stuff that isn’t in the film like Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine came out of that sort of odd baggy time when dance and indie were starting to mix together.”
Wright adds that when they came to put the film together, a lot of the music fitted the film’s air of nostalgia perfectly. “A lot of them are deadly on point in terms of the theme of the movie. We’ve got ‘So Young’ by Suede, ‘I’m Free’ by Soup Dragons, ‘There’s No Other Way’ by Blur and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ by Pulp all in there. All those songs are either about youth or about looking back, and even the Kylie Minogue song we use is completely on point because it’s ‘Step Back In Time’. We created this massive 300 song playlist that we used to listen to whenever we wrote the script, and there were certain songs like ‘Join Our Club’ by Saint Etienne that just worked perfectly. It was fun to be very specific about the time frame and say: “This is the time when they were at college and this is the mixtape they would’ve had then.””
In a world where YouTube and Spotify playlists have become the norm, the film pays tribute to the noble art of the cassette mixtape. As Wright explains: “There’s a prologue in the film: three minutes at the start that say: ‘In 1990…’ and then you flash forward to the present day. You see the characters as teenagers, and then as adults. Both in the prologue and throughout the movie Simon’s character has a mixtape which Paddy Considine’s character made for him back in 1990. That starts the soundtrack of the film and then it sort of takes over.”
The idea of a man clinging to a friend’s mixtape was inspired by a real incident from Wright’s own life: “It actually happened to me. I went down to a wedding with a friend of mine from school in his car, and he was playing this AC/DC song on audio cassette and I said, “Oh my God, I haven’t heard this in ages. Didn’t I put this on tape for you?” and he goes, “Yeah this is it! This is the tape!” That exact dialogue is in the movie, but it really happened! In my friend’s defence, he had got it out as a joke, he didn’t just have it in the car. In our movie, Simon’s character has never let the tape leave the car.”
Like the characters in The World’s End, we’re rapidly running out of time. Before we let Pegg and Wright go to save the world again, there’s just time to ask the ultimate question. If you really were locked in a pub with the four horsemen of the apocalypse on the horizon, what would you stick on the jukebox?
“Jeez, that’s a massive question!” replies Pegg. “Well, The Beatles obviously. Probably the whole of ‘Revolver’. I just love them, I mean, if I was going to listen to music at the end of the world then it would have to be significant music, and you can’t get much more significant than the Beatles.”
Wright, on the other hand, would go out in a blaze of rock’n’roll glory: “I think you’d have to go out on a hedonistic note. I think if you were gonna start drinking and having sex with lots of people, probably ‘Screamadelica’ is your option. Go out with a bang, you know? Those song are party anthems for a reason.”
Originally published in NME, 20 July 2013.