By Syd Smith
I’ve always thought my soundtracks do pretty good, because they’re basically professional equivalents of a mix tape I’d make for you at home.Quentin Tarantino
Today let’s cherry-pick a track from each of Tarantino’s nine movies that he’s written and directed, and see what type of funky mix we end up with. We aren’t going to be skimming the fat off his soundtracks that overlay his typical two to three hours of film. Instead we are going to be chewing on the meat and bones, the songs that instantly take you back to the scene they’re in. So in no particular order:
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”: “California Dreamin'” by Jose Feliciano
“California Dreamin’” is a go to song to list off when talking about ‘60’s music, originally done by The Mamas & The Papas. However, the cover by Señor Feliciano is a nice change of pace from the commercialized version, it has more freedom, more soul, and it feels more like an actual intimate live performance in some dive bar. This song comes on the radio once Cliff (Brad Pitt) drives off after beating up a hippie. Why did Brad Pitt beat up a hippie? Well, go see the movie and find out. Let’s just say Manson cult hippies like stabbing knives into whatever they can find…
“Death Proof”: “Riot In Thunder Alley” by Eddie Beram
This surf rock tune is a fun one to play if you are a fan of classics like Chuck Berry or Dick Dale, or if you find yourself hanging on to the hood of your friend’s car as some psychopath tries to ram you off at a 100 miles per hour. The grindhouse movie isn’t Tarantino’s highest praised work, even he said he had too much time to work on it, but it might be worth checking out if you’re a big fan of his. You can find it on YouTube without searching too hard and most of it is shot in Austin so you’ll recognize a place here and there on South Congress which adds a little more character to the movie. Favorite line from the movie hands down, “That’s what I love about Austin, it’s just so damn small.” –Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike.
“Kill Bill”: “Death Rides a Horse” by Ennio Morricone
Morricone is known for working on the soundtracks of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, “Once Upon A Time In New York”, along with a few other Tarantino flicks like “Django”, “The Hateful Eight” and “Inglorious Basterds”. The crazy 88 fight scene is one of the most memorable moments out of the two volumes, and this is the track that builds up to the chaos with a little arm decapitation, if you’re not counting the one hit wonder “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” track by HOTEI that plays as O-Ren Ishii arrives at the House of Blue Leaves to fight the nameless bride played by Uma Thurman.
“Django Unchained”: “Trinity: titoli” by Annibale E I Cantori Moderni
Used at the end of “Django” when he blows up the house, this tune comes from the 1970’s Spaghetti Western “Lo Chiamavano Trinita” which translates to They Call Me Trinity, starring Terence Hill. The ‘70’s flick is worthwhile, especially the beans scene and Tarantino’s internal catalogue of cinematic movies and their soundtracks pays off again. And I know I’m double dipping on this one but technically this tune isn’t on the OST even though it’s featured in the movie and is worth more than a mention, that’s right I’m talking about Richie Havens “Freedom”, the song made up on the spot at Woodstock that Jamie Foxx puts his hands up to.
“Reservoir Dogs”: “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel
Tarantino’s debut has a lot of good tracks, but this track is the easy winner because of the scene it’s linked to. I’m talking about the ear scene, the scene where Mr. Blonde takes his straight edge barber razor, much like the one Thurman uses to escape the grave in “Kill Bill Vol.2”, and slices off Officer Marvin Nash’s ear who is stuck to his chair in the empty warehouse. Comedian Steven Wright introduces the song over the radio as “dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite” as Mr. Blonde light-heartedly sings along before he turns Officer Nash into a modern Van Gogh.
“The Hateful 8”: “Apple Blossom” by The White Stripes
Before getting into the track and scene, it’s worth noting that “The Hateful 8” doesn’t have many handpicked tracks by Tarantino because of the genius that is again Morricone, whose compositions were nominated for this film at the 2016 Academy Awards for Best Original Score. But back to 25-year-old Jack White singing and Meg White crashing cymbals, the nonverbals of Major Warren (Samuel Jackson) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Leigh) sync perfectly with both the beat and lyrics of “Apple Blosom” as they share a stagecoach which picks up momentum along with the song at the beginning of the film.
“Jackie Brown”: “Strawberry 23” by The Brothers Johnson
Originally performed by Shuggie Otis off of his “Freedom Flight” album before the brothers electrified it, this song can be briefly heard in “Pulp Fiction” as Jules and Vincent walk down the apartment hallway but is featured in length in “Jackie Brown” and becomes another thread in connecting the Tarantino universes along with fake brands like Red Apple Cigarettes, Big Kahuna Burger and related character last names like Vic Vega (Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs) and Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction) or Pete Hicox (Hateful 8) and his great-great grandson Archie Hicox (Inglorious Bastards).
“Inglourious Basterds”: “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie
This gem from Bowie plays when the movie’s moving towards its climax, you know, SPOILER, (you’ve had a decade to see it so I’m not sorry) when Hitler and his Nazi friends get incinerated alive in a movie theatre which is fitting as the chorus is “And I’ve been putting out fire with gasoline.” Now this is another song Tarantino has chosen from another movie soundtrack and this time it’s surprise, “Cat People” the movie, which I want to say is the rated “R” version of “Cats The Musical” but in reality the ’82 flick is so strange there’s no use in comparing it to “Cats” even though it came out during the same time the musical became popular. Anyways, the point is Tarantino uses the song better than Paul Schrader in “Cat People” who tosses it in at the credits like an after dinner mint.
“Pulp Fiction”: “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry
If I’m sticking to the script of linking iconic scenes to their music, the dance scene at The Jack Rabbit Slim is the first one that comes to mind when thinking Tarantino movies. It’s hard to pick a favorite otherwise thanks to a soundtrack with a lot of great tunes, from Al Green to Dusty Springfield, but this tune is one you can’t forget. So next time you and your cool cat friends are sipping milkshakes into the dawn mosey on over to the jukebox put on some Chuck Berry, kick off your shoes and twist and boogie baby like you’re in a Tarantino picture.
Final Mix (minus the tenth movie, and future projects, let’s be real here.)
“California Dreamin’” by Jose Feliciano
“Riot In Thunder Alley” by Eddie Beram
“Death Rides a Horse” by Ennio Morricone
“Trinity: titoli” by Annibale E I Cantori Moderni
“Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel
“Apple Blosom” by The White Stripes
“Strawberry 23” by The Brothers Johnson
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie
“You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry