The arrival of a new Quentin Tarantino film is a cause for
excitement – not just for film fans but for all cinemagoers. Through a short
filmography of only nine films to date, he’s amassed much more than a cult
following. He’s one of the few directors whose films can be marketed on his
name alone, with a large built-in audience sure to create a hit, and industry recognition
that includes numerous Oscar nominations and wins. His films and characters are
known for their humour, energy, quotable dialogue, over the top violence and
essence of cool. But it’s their iconic soundtracks that tie it all together,
each one adding perfectly to the mood, feel and personality of his film. And in
the process, he’s created classics from forgotten tracks.
Starting at the beginning, three of the most iconic choices
must be considered. Reservoir Dogs
announced a brand new exciting director onto the movie scene. After a none more
Tarantinoesque opening scene with discussions about Madonna’s Like A Virgin and the etiquette of
tipping, we get an iconic slo-mo shot of the Dogs themselves, backed by Little Green Bag by George Baker
Selection. It’s a moment pariodied endlessly in film and TV since. Moving on to
Pulp Fiction, which blasts into
action with the energetic and rhythmic guitar picking of Miserlou by Dick Dale, making the film feel in your face, bold and
completely vital. And in one of his most literal song choices, the opening
credits of Kill Bill Vol.1 are
soundtracked by Nancy Sinatra’s mournful Bang
Bang, moments after The Bride’s former lover and Mentor shoots her.
Delving into movie history:
Tarantino’s love of music is matched only by his love of film – and he expertly explores both mediums with his soundtrack. When he indulged his love of Westerns with Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, he dug through the back catalogue of legendary composer Ennio Morricone to accompany the stories. Meanwhile, Django Unchained, combines songs from exploitation Westerns from the 70’s with more modern funk, soul and R n’ B by the likes of James Brown, John Legend and Rick Ross. For one of his more unusual films, Inglourious Basterds, he drew again from Westerns to complement the “men on a mission” genre, but also threw in left field choices like David Bowie’s Cat People, a song nowhere near the time period, but a purely cinematic and thematic choice. While In Jackie Brown, he paid homage to the Blaxploitation genre, including a soundtrack filled with incredible soul and funk tracks.
The unsung hero:
The secret to the success of his soundtracks? It’s not just his encyclopaedic knowledge of music history, but his music supervisor, Mary Ramos, who makes sure they have the correct rights to use them. She’s been with him since the beginning, where she earned her place by bringing Tarantino his coveted Stealers Wheel track Stuck In the Middle With You, a song his previous Music Supervisor was unable to do, and surely one of the most upbeat songs to ever soundtrack a scene of torture. Together, they were able to bring songs like Woo Hoo by the 5, 6, 7, 8’s and Battle Without Honour or Humanity by Tomoyasu Hotei to an audience that would never have discovered them, and created iconic cinema moments like the twist competition in Pulp Fiction – perfectly accompanied by You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry.
Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, takes him to the 60’s with an accompanying soundtrack to match. Keen to evoke the time period – the sun drenched Los Angeles of the late 1960’s with cultural change well on the way – Tarantino didn’t want any songs past 1969, so the soundtrack includes songs like Bob Seger’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man and Mrs Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel. They even went as far as using actual radio broadcast recordings from the time, an idea used in Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs which used a fictional radio show.
Whether to evoke a time period, or add that extra layer to complement the visuals, the soundtracks to Quentin Tarantino’s films never go for the expected, unearthing deep cuts and underappreciated classics that have largely been forgotten. His films give them an extra life, bringing a new audience who can enjoy them while showing that great music transcends decades and artistic mediums. The albums and playlists they create become great compilations in themselves and instant classics. It’s like having an expert curator picking out the songs you never knew you’d like, all without having to dig through your parent’s old record collection.
To coincide with the release of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, Tarantino has also collated a four hour playlist of his favourite songs from his movies for Spotify’s Film and TV Favorites playlist. If like us, you’ve been inspired to learn more about this master of cinema’s musical choices, you can listen to it here: