'Deadpool' Director Tim Miller and Songwriter Chip Taylor on the Film's Soft-Rock Centerpiece, 'Angel in the Morning'

Deadpool
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

A promo shot from the movie "Deadpool."

“There'll be no strings to bind your hands / Not if my love can't bind your heart.”

That’s the first thing you hear over the Marvel logo in the No. 1 movie in the country, Deadpool. As '80s pop country singer Juice Newton sings about an illicit love affair she just can’t shake in her 1981 hit “Angel of the Morning,” Ryan Reynolds’ f-bomb blasting anti-hero gets busy kicking ass.

It makes zero sense on the surface, and yet director Tim Miller says that the song was the only track considered to open the superhero flick that grossed another $55 million over the weekend to easily hold on to the No. 1 spot after its record-setting $150 million-plus opening.

“It completely made sense to me from the first time I read it [in the script],” Miller tells Billboard of the seemingly incongruous musical cue cooked up by screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. “I loved the quirky contrast of having such a sweet and life-affirming song mixed up with all the crazy, abstract violence. I thought it was genius.”

Because he’s “old,” Miller, 50, says not only was he familiar with the early MTV soft-rock staple, he also recalled how formative a role it played during his junior year of high school. “Like everything else that happens in the years you first start getting laid, it is indelibly imprinted on my psyche,” he said. “I don't have the compendium of musical knowledge Rhett, Paul and Ryan do, but I like a good ballad. My James Taylor albums sat quite comfortably next to my Rush and Aerosmith collections.”

The reason the sweet-and-salty juxtaposition works so well, in Miller’s mind, is not only thanks to its contrast, but also because it isn't (just) a gesture of wink-wink irony; the fact that a carload of bad-ass, gun-toting mercenaries are cranking up the Juice gives you a small window into their souls. “[It] makes them feel a lot less generic and more than a little sympathetic... to me anyway,” said Miller. “Even the bad guys have feelings!”

And while Miller figured that maybe Newton and the tune’s original author, legendary New York songwriter Chip Taylor, would feel a bit “conflicted” by his repurposing of their best-known work, both tell Billboard they were totally on board.

The “Angel" Origin Story

Taylor (aka “Wild Thing”) is a stream-of-consciousness kind of guy who looks for the “chill” when he’s working on new tunes. “That day I was playing chords over and over and humming nonsense melodies when ‘they’ll be no strings to bind my hands’ came out and I had no idea what it meant,” he said of the afternoon in 1967 when the mysterious lyrics to “Angel” popped into his head.

“It gave me such a physical chill that I wrote it down... it came so fast after that.” He’s not sure where the line came from, but he recalled watching a black-and-white war movie the night before with his wife Joan and being touched by how “sad and beautiful it was at the same time.”

Connie Francis’ team initially passed “Angel” over because they thought the affair angle of the lyrics was too risqué, but the tune became a hit for Billie Davis in 1967 and then again the next year for Merrilee Rush, whose version is one of the best-known, alongside Newton's.

The song has been covered over the years by everyone from Dusty Springfield to Nina Simone, Olivia Newton-John, The Pretenders, and, of course, Newton, who sold more than 1 million copies of her version. It’s also appeared in more than a dozen films and TV shows, including Girl, Interrupted, Jerry Maguire, Modern Family, Charlie’s Angels, The Leftovers and Charlie Wilson’s War

Some in Hollywood are already bracing for the inevitable slew of snarky caped crusader films, according to Vulture, with their inevitable retro-cool soundtracks. But Taylor thinks “Angel” worked so well in Deadpool not because it’s kitschy, but because it’s real. And, while he admired the way Guardians of the Galaxy integrated throwback music into the plot to create a unique sonic fingerprint for its mixtape-loving hero, Miller thought Deadpool did it its own way. “We were all concerned it would look like we were ‘copying’ them [though the music choices in Deadpool were in the script 10 years ago],” he said. “But at the end of the day... who gives a shit? It works and it's great to see some of those great older songs introduced to a new generation.”

Newton Totally Gets It, And Loves It

“It’s a phenomenon, you just can’t deny it,” said Newton of the track that she’s not embarrassed to say helped pay for the house she lives in. “And it’s really flattering that they chose it for the movie. That song has such staying power!”

Like Taylor, Newton said when she picks a song to sing it has to make her “skin move,” and “Angel” certainly had that effect on her and producer Richard Landis. “As soon as we finished it Richard and I thought we had captured something special,” she said. “I’m blessed to have an association with that song.”

With a new generation learning to love “Angel” -- a vinyl edition of the soundtrack album is coming soon -- Newton said she’s “so thankful” that Reynolds and company picked her version. She was planning to check out the movie over the weekend, but had already seen the intro thanks to her daughter, who grabbed the first few minutes on her phone opening weekend and promptly sent them to mom.

“It was definitely an interesting place to put it,” said Newton, 64, who shared a few gushing tweets from new and old fans who are loving her unexpected resurgence. “That showed some creativity and I don’t produce movies but I understand that when you build an album and you’re sequencing songs it has to make sense and so they saw it in that position and… hallelujah!

“You have to be prepared for the stuff you put out in the universe and you have to be prepared to own it,” she said. “I’m prepared to own this one!” 

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