If you haven’t heard of The Damned then Baby Driver will change that. The legendary British band spearheaded the punk rock music scene during the late 1970s and their second single, "Neat Neat Neat", features on the eclectic soundtrack of Edgar Wright’s critically-acclaimed crime caper.
It’s not the first time the 1977 hit - from their debut album, Damned, Damned, Damned - has broken into the pop culture mainstream. The song makes a brief appearance in The Simpsons episode "Love, Springfieldian Style” and can also be heard on the jukebox during the third segment reimagination of the film, "Sid And Nancy".
“You kinda know you’ve made it when you’ve been heard on The Simpsons,” original Damned drummer, Rat Scabies, tells Screen Rant. “It makes me feel like what we do has some kind of value. It's a very positive feeling.”
In Baby Driver, "Neat Neat Neat" gets the respect that epic bassline deserves during a pivotal robbery scene. “I loved the song, and thought that the menacing bass riff that opens the track would be a great song for a robbery scene,” Edgar Wright told us. “The bass intro is so good, indeed, that the character of Baby rewinds the track when his squabbling crew have screwed up their cool exit from the car. Baby cues up the track a second time so the gang can get out when those drums hit.”
It’s a brilliant moment and the perfect song to soundtrack the tense robbery carried out by Baby (Ansel Elgort), Bats (Jamie Foxx), Eddie (Flea) and JD (Lanny Joon) - a scene, Edgar explains, was written with that particular track in mind:
It’s a very dynamic track. Great guitars, bass, drums and with that nagging Dave Vanian verse. It’s just got a sinister groove that explodes into a raucous chorus and feels like a great action scene waiting to happen. So I had to write the scene to match the coolness of the single.
Wright credits Kirsten Lane, the film’s “amazing clearance person,” for securing permission to use the track, though founding band member Captain Sensible admits they didn’t have anything to do with it. “I would like to say that our record label is proactive and seeks out places for our songs to go, but that's not the case,” he told us at British Summertime Hyde Park. “The true answer is somebody working on the film liked the song. I have to go see it now!”
Likewise, Rat has yet to see the film but finds its use in Baby Driver “very flattering,” especially as it’s their original version used rather than a cover. The same was not the case for the 1995 movie Batman Forever, which featured The Offspring doing a version of "Smash It Up" - heard when Robin (Chris O’Donnell) steals the Batmobile for a joyride. “It was a bit strange,” Rat explains. “On the one hand it's nice that a band like The Offspring are big enough fans to do that for this huge movie, but on the other hand, when the check finally arrived, we realised we’d never earned that much from anything we've already done ourselves. We couldn't make that song that popular or that big, it was a bit sad.”
The Damned were popular enough during the early 1980s to be invited onto to The Young Ones for a special musical appearance. The BBC comedy of manners, created by Ben Elton, the late Rik Mayall (who also starred) and Lisa Mayer, featured an episode titled “Nasty”, which the band wrote and performed the song for. “At the time it was such a new show, it was so groundbreaking and no one expected that to happen,” Rat remembers:
“People were fighting with themselves to get on. Originally, they wanted us to cover The Beatles song Help! but the trouble is you don't make any money, so we thought we'll write one especially thinking this could be a nice little earner, and it kind of worked out better for everybody. That was a really important turning point for the band, it became obvious we should move forward, and looking at us in this vampy stuff, we thought 'this looks pretty cool,' and of course we adopted that look.”
After that 1984 appearance, a year later The Damned went onto write “Dead Beat Dance” for the horror film The Return of the Living Dead, as well as three songs for the American TV series, Miami Vice, between 1986-87. The latter, Rat explains, was because they had “got into a lot of debt with the label so they wangled us onto the show.” However, it was because of The Young Ones that Edgar was first acquainted with their music, which he began listening to more and more during his teens after coming across their early singles “New Rose” and “Neat Neat Neat”.
“These first two singles are furious and incendiary, but it was the second single, 'Neat Neat Neat', with its memorable badass bassline that really stuck out for me," Wright recalls:
When I put it in the script, not everyone knew the song, but Flea absolutely did. As a bass player, he definitely knew that track inside out and when he saw it was in the film he said, 'That bass line, man’. Later, when I had finished the first edit, I was watching The Damned documentary, Don’t You Wish We Were Dead, and at one point Dave Vanian was grumbling backstage about The Damned not being used in any 70s documentaries or in any movie soundtracks. When he said that I leapt up and was so excited for the band to see the scene. So I hope they are very happy.”
It's safe to say, they very much are - and who knows, maybe they might appear again in the potential Baby Driver sequel too.