Quentin Tarantino's films are known for their idiosyncratic dialogue, stylish violence, homages to B-movies and excellent music. Here are 11 of Tarantino’s most memorable musical moments.
1. Reservoir Dogs – 'Little Green Bag'
Although Tarantino’s breakout debut remains infamous for its torture scene set to Stealers Wheel’s 'Stuck in the Middle With You', we’re kicking off this list with the moment that introduced Tarantino to the world: the film’s opening title sequence.
Accompanying our crew of antiheroes as they walk down the street in slow-motion, the introductory bass-line to George Baker’s 'Little Green Bag' instantly set the standards of effortless style we’d see throughout Tarantino’s career.
2. Pulp Fiction – 'Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon'
If there’s one of Tarantino’s films that’s dripping with music goodness, it’s the Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction. Almost any moment from this masterpiece could qualify here, but our choice is Urge Overkill’s 'Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon'.
A cover of Neil Diamond’s hit, the song works as a clever commentary on Mia Wallace’s (Uma Thurman) ill-fated character, who dances to the song before taking a deadly drug overdose – proving there’s just as much substance as style when it comes to Tarantino’s soundtrack selections.
3. Pulp Fiction – 'You Never Can Tell'
Of course, when we talk about Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack, it’s impossible to pick just one standout moment. Therefore we also need to highlight the famous dance scene featuring John Travolta and Uma Thurman set to Chuck Berry’s 'You Never Can Tell'.
What else can we say about this scene that hasn’t already been said? Watch it for yourself to see Tarantino at his finest.
4. Jackie Brown – 'Across 110th Street'
It’s no secret Tarantino boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema in all its forms. One of the most explicit examples of this comes at the start of Jackie Brown, which is itself a feature-length homage to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. The scene plays out as Pam Grier’s eponymous Jackie Brown, an air stewardess, glides through an airport in a sustained profile shot.
Not only are Jackie Brown’s opening credits a tribute to Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, Tarantino chooses to set his version to Bobby Womack’s ‘Across 110th Street’, the theme for a 1972 Blaxploitation film of the same name. (Grier herself was an icon of the genre, famed for films such as Coffy.)
5. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 – 'Woo Hoo'
Arguably Tarantino’s most stylishly violent flick, Kill Bill also gains plaudits for its eclectic soundtrack. One of the most notable moments is the use of 'Woo Hoo', performed by real-life Japanese rock trio The 220.127.116.11’s.
Originally performed by rockabilly band Rock-A-Teen in 1959, the frenetic performance combined with a methodical tracking shot exemplifies Tarantino’s technical brilliance. And props to drummer Sachiko Fujii for her ability to sing while going crazy on the kit.
6. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 – 'Navajo Joe'
If you thought Vol. 1 had a great soundtrack, then get ready for Vol. 2. This time, however, Tarantino upped his game by including a lot of references to old spaghetti westerns in the soundtrack including The Mercenary, Road to Salina, and, our pick, Navajo Joe.
Composed by music legend Ennio Morricone, the theme to the 1966 classic plays as the titular Bill (David Carradine) walks to his death after being bested by Beatrix (Uma Thurman). Morricone’s score lends so much gravitas to the scene, while the tone of the scene remains quintessentially Tarantino.
7. Death Proof – 'Hold Tight'
If you’re looking for pure undistilled Tarantino, look no further than the first car crash scene from Death Proof: over-the-top B-movie aesthetics, a lecture on music history, gruesome carnage, and a perfect song choice in the form of ‘Hold Tight’ by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.
The perfect song for a road trip, ‘Hold Tight’ is just one of the many obscure oldies into which Tarantino has breathed new life throughout his career. So turn it up loud and watch out for oncoming traffic.
8. Inglourious Basterds – 'Cat People'
What do you get when you cross David Bowie with Quentin Tarantino? The answer: one of the most memorable moments from the Oscar-winning Inglorious Bastards.
Set to Bowie’s song 'Cat People', the sequence is comparable to a pulpy music video drenched in atmosphere as preparations for the climactic Nazi massacre are made by Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent). With some very apt lyrics, this moody scene is a promise for greatness to come.
9. Django Unchained – 'Freedom'
Tarantino’s Oscar-winning Western cum Blaxploitation homage, Django Unchained is the story of a freed slave turned bounty hunter’s (Jamie Foxx) journey of vengeance across the American south, which leads him to confront the Brittle brothers.
Underscoring a harrowing flashback of the brothers’ cruelty, Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton’s ‘Freedom’ works as powerful and unflinching musical depiction of racism – and it’s something only the typically audacious Tarantino could accomplish.
10. The Hateful Eight – 'Apple Blossom'
Tarantino’s most recent work, The Hateful Eight is a grand Western epic. Shot on 70mm film, the project is an unbridled love letter to the genre with genre master Ennio Morricone providing the (Oscar-winning) score.
And it’s an embarrassment of musical riches – in addition to the feted Morricone’s presence, Tarantino still loads the film with additional stellar soundtrack choices including The White Stripes’ ‘Apple Blossom’. Working as a tongue-in-cheek characterisation of the scheming Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), it also doubles as a slick riding song that establishes the film’s tone.
11. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – 'You Keep Me Hangin' On'
Tarantino revels in the quixotic, dissonant contrast of jubilant pop music and savagely bloody violence. And the climax of his most recent film didn't disappoint. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a typically digressive, meandering blend of fact and fantasy, centering on the bromance between fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (an Oscar-winning Brad Pitt). Interwoven with their destiny is a revisionist twist on the life of doomed actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) whose real-life death at the hands of the Manson Family is reconfigured into something approximating a fairy tale.
The explosive eruption at the end of the movie is set to Vanilla Fudge's exuberant 'You Keep Me Hangin' On', which lends perverse amusement to Cliff's brutal dispatch of the Manson "hippies". In Tarantino's world, these psychos rock up at the entirely wrong house, leading to a typically contradictory mixture of appalled laughter and uncomfortable levels of bloodshed, as the director attempts to right the wrongs of that fateful night in 1969. The end result: Sharon lives, and Rick, who idolises her, gets invited into her house for a drink.
Tweet us @Cineworld with your favourite Tarantino soundtrack moments.
Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.