For the last quarter of a century Quentin Tarantino has been blowing audiences away with some of the greatest tunes ever laid down on movie soundtracks. Like no other filmmaker his choice of obscure and perfectly pitched music have come to define modern cinema and the songs have since gone on to be as famous as the scenes they’re in, and in some cases better than the films themselves (Death Proof we’re looking in your direction). Love him or loath him, Tarantino can pick a tune that’ll be whirring round your brain for days. But what are the very best tracks he’s used in his flicks? The MALESTROM ploughed through Tarantino’s back catalogue and picked the top 10 that we think are true standouts.
10. Stuck in the Middle with You – Stealers Wheel: Reservoir Dogs
Long before the legendary Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty was floating around the early 70’s with Scottish progressive soft rock band, Stealer’s Wheel. Their debut album was produced by legendary U.S Producers Lieber and Stoller and Rafferty wrote a song on the album about sitting in a boardroom with a load of record executives who he’d got bored with and didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. It reached no. 6 in the US and no. 8 in the UK in 1972, although Rafferty left the band before the album was even released and Stealers Wheel soon broke up. Of course, we will all associate the song with the psychotic, Mr Blonde, Michael Madsen dancing around the policeman in Reservoir Dogs while pouring petrol over him and preparing to cut off his ear. Horrendous in thought, but perversely hilarious to watch, the scene became one of the most iconic in cinema and the making of Quentin Tarantino.
9. Commanche – The Revels: Pulp Fiction
The Revels were an American rock band associated with the surf scene between 1959 and 1962. Totally unknown to us, they hailed from California and usually played instrumentals like most bands of the time, the most famous similar UK band being The Shadows who were led by Hank Marvin and went on to support Cliff Richard. The Revels most famous song was Church Key and although obscure to all those outside of the 60’s surf scene, their records did appear on the sound track to a 1961 film called Exiles. Of course we all came to know them from the most heinous section in Pulp Fiction, the infamous ‘gimp scene’, which had some people biting their hand in disbelief and others running for the exit in tears. The saxophone on this pierces your ears and takes you to another place, which hopefully isn’t a dark cellar owned by Zed. Either way, ignore Quentin’s darkest perversions and just listen to a great track.
8. The 5,6,7,8s – Woo Hoo: Kill Bill: Volume 1
As a prelude to the bloody battle in Kill Bill, Japanese psychobilly surf rock band The 5,6,7,8s play their joyous war cry of a song Woo Hoo in The House Of Blue Leaves as Uma Thurman’s deadly Bride surveys her surroundings preparing for the blood gushing showdown. The camera work mirrors the frantic nature of the music as cameras whip round showing Uma take out her scornful rage on a room full of the bad-ass martial arts boys & girls that are The 88 Yakuza. The band at the time were pretty much unknown before Quentin heard them in a Japanese clothes store, but after their cameo here they became stars in their own right.
7. Misirlou – Dick Dale: Pulp Fiction
Misirlou is actually an ancient traditional song from the Eastern Mediterranean and very popular amongst Greek Armenian communities, with the earliest recording of it going back to 1927. You can feel its eastern Med influence burning through on listening to it. Of course to us it became known as the Pulp Fiction theme tune. The version used on the film though is from a 1962 surf rock version by Dick Dale, which popularised the song in western culture. Dale was a pioneer of the new wave of surf music on the west coast of America and worked closely with Fender to produce amplifiers that could give distorted feed back, unheard of at the time. The breakneck speed of his single-note staccato picking technique and his showmanship with the guitar is considered by many to a precursor to heavy metal and influenced everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin.
6. (Cat People) Putting Out Fire – David Bowie: Inglourious Basterds
This was the theme song to the 1982 horror Cat People, but that didn’t stop Tarantino cherry picking it to set alongside the fiery finale of his 2009 WWII film Inglorious Basterds. In this soulful scene Jewish cinema owner Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) applies her war paint to the haunting strains of David Bowie ahead of her planned fiery revenge, set to be unleashed on the top brass Nazi’s who’ll be filling her plush theatre seats. The impassioned lyrics “Putting out fire with gasoline” shrieked by The Thin White Duke are particularly stirring, and for anyone who’s seen the end of the movie obviously fitting.
5. Bullwinkle Part 2 – The Centurians: Pulp Fiction
Another California surf band arising from Newport Beach in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The song would have sounded the same as any other at the time except for the haunting saxophone they laid down on it which carries the song and makes it unique. It prompted Tarantino to use it in the iconic heroin injecting and driving scene with Travolta on his way to first meeting Marcella Wallace. Quentin went on to sum it up by saying it reminded him of rock-n-roll spaghetti western music, which is a pretty good description. But for us it takes us back to 1994 when cinema was truly exciting and dangerous.
4. Across 110 Street – Bobby Womack: Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown for many was the beginning of the end of Tarantino and the difference between his first three scripts, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and the rest is enormous, it’s a chasm. The title track, ‘Across 110 Street’ was written and sung by the legendary Bobby Womack who was still pretty unknown to young audiences when Jackie Brown came out in 1997. Womack had started in the 1950’s aged 10 singing in The Womack Brothers and by the early 60’s he was the backing guitarist in the The Valentinos with Sam Cooke. Although he battled epic addictions to cocaine and alcohol throughout his life, Bobby’s career lasted some sixty years and he even wrote The Rolling Stones first number one, ‘It’s All Over Now’, and he also played with everyone from Sly and the Family Stone to Aretha Franklin. He remained a close friend of Ronnie Wood and collaborated many times until he died in 2014. ‘Across 110 Street’ was actually a Blaxploitation film from 1972 starring the legendary actor Anthony Quinn. Set in Harlem, the film was credited for its grittiness and pushing the Blaxploitation genre forward. Womack’s track stood out a mile and not only defined the film, but defined ghetto life at the time. Truly one of the greatest soul record ever made.
3. Chick Habbit – April March: Death Proof
This brilliantly quirky tune was used in Quentin’s long forgotten film, ‘Death Proof’ from 2007 which was originally released in America as a double bill with Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Planet Terror’, and both under the title, ‘Grindhouse’. Audiences cued around the block in Los Angeles but when they were met with a double-bill weighing in at nearly four hours, word got around that it was never worth the time or the money, plus he hadn’t now made a good film since Pulp Fiction. Harvey Weinstein, who was distributing quickly saw his money going down the drain and split the films in two for their UK releases, although word had already got out and Death Proof played to half empty cinemas all over the country in the UK, unusual for a Tarantino movie even today. April March who sung the song is a little known American singer songwriter and the track is taken from her 1995 album of the same name, although the original track is French and was written by Serge Gainsborough. Either way, no one would have ever heard of the track unless QT had plucked it from obscurity and placed it on his film. It is as distinct as any he’s ever chosen.
2. Little Green Bag – the George Baker Selection: Reservoir Dogs
Of all the truly classic cult records used on a Tarantino film, the eponymous ‘Little Green Bag’ used with a slipped film frame over the opening title of Reservoir Dogs changed cinema forever. The opening titles are better than most films and the track was written in 1969 by Dutch musicians Jan Visser and George Baker about the American dollar, and not a bag of marijuana as most people thought. It was released in 1970 under The George Baker Selection and only reached no.21 in the U.S Billboard chart, making it an easily forgotten track. But when you listen to the fluidity of the iconic bass line, you wonder why this was never a world wide number one. Although one of our favourite tracks of all time, it’s our number 2 on the list.
1.Down in Mexico – The Coasters: Death Proof
Of all the Tarantino tracks dug from obscurity that ooze sexiness, raucous emotion, seduction, temptation and deep subversiveness, ‘Down in Mexico’ hits the button right on the nose as the most classic track Tarantino has ever used. Written by Leiber and Stoller and released in 1958 by a little known band of black singers called, ‘The Coasters’, the song takes you away to a deep dark place of sin and seduction to a time in Mexico, lost in 60’s. Tarantino used it in one of his best ever scenes of all time, where the actress Vanessa Ferlito gives Kurt Russell’s stuntman Mike the lap dance of a lifetime. The Coasters went on to release several well known songs such as ‘Yakety Tak’ and ‘Poison Ivy’. You can’t help but be mesmerised by their magnetic melodies: