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20 Greatest Tarantino Music Moments

 

 

 

Having been promised for over a decade, Quentin Tarantino's epic World War Two exploitationer Inglourious Basterds finally hits cinemas on Friday.

It's full of QT's regular trademarks - smart-mouthed dialogue, savage, splattering violence, and some of the coolest set-to-music sequences that cinema has to offer.

Increasingly, this looks like Tarantino's greatest gift - the ability to put music to images in a way which totally transforms both. Need convincing? Then take a look at our top 20 greatest music moments from QT's back-catalogue...

 

20. Ennio Morricone, ‘The Mercenary’
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)


The Moment:

This tough to watch exploitation cliff-hanger from part two of Tarantino’s kung-fu epic has Thurman’s Bride literally punching her way out of a wooden coffin to the grand, building swell of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Mercenary.

Tarantino Says: 

“Before I would always dive in and find songs and music to be my score, here I dove into soundtrack albums to pull my favourite cut off this album, and my favourite cut of that album.

Kill Bill is actually scored by some of the greatest composers in the history of movies. You have Bernard Herrmann right here, Ennio Morricone over here, Isaac Hayes over here – you know, these are the greatest composers ever, and they've written for my movie.”

 

19. Tito and Tarantula, ‘After Dark’
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)


The Moment:

In a dusty titty and tequila bar teetering on the very brink of hell, pederast and murderer Richie Gecko – played by foot-fancier QT himself – drinks whisky from the toes of Salma Hayek’s grinding, snake-wearing vamp as it flows down her perfectly curved body, in a scene scripted by QT himself.

Tarantino Says:

[The scene as written by Tarantino] “While moving her body to the music, Santanico lifts up the whisky bottle from the table, and pours the whiskey down her leg. She lifts up her foot, with the whiskey dripping from her toes, and sticks it in Richard's face. Richie, mesmerized, sucks the whiskey off her toes. The CROWD GOES WILD.”

Next: Baby Love, Theme From Ironside

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18. The Brothers Johnson, ‘Strawberry Letter 23’/The Supremes, ‘Baby Love’
Jackie Brown (1997)


The Moment:

Tarantino uses two pieces of music to shift between two very different scenes.

First The Johnson Brothers' soulful love song floats from Sam Jackson's meticulously equalised car stereo as he pulls off a brutal car-boot murder.

Then he calls Robert De Niro's Louis, who's relaxing nervously to an amateur rendition of Baby Love, the cooing vocals of the former seguing with the latter to complete the masterful clash.

Tarantino Says:

“That’s one of the few cues not chosen by me, that was actually chosen by Elmore Leonard in the original novel.

And in the book she’s singing Baby Love, because part of the character’s thing is she knows all the Motown songs, and that’s part of her way of entertaining men – getting them in her place, getting them a little cocktail, and then putting on her little Supremes dress…”

 

17. Quincy Jones, ‘Theme From Ironside’
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)


The Moment:

Each one of The Bride’s fateful flashbacks to her moment of betrayal (like the one below, as she coems face-to-face with O-Ren Ishii) are lit with the blistering siren sound from Jones’ original theme from classic cop series Ironside. It’s sleazy, ’70s, and screams danger.

Tarantino Says:

“A good majority of the cues in here, I had in mind in the writing stage.

I don't add them to the script because then they ask for more money. If I usually put anything in the script, it will be the wrong song. Then we say, ‘You're really the second choice, you know, because we really wanted The Judds!’”

Next: Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon, Battle Without Honor Or Humanity

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16. Urge Overkill, ‘Girl, You Be A Woman Soon’
Pulp Fiction (1994)



The Moment:


After the sultry dance at Jack Rabbit Slims (coming shortly), Tarantino captures the 'what next?' comedown of a sparkling night dead-on here.

Thurman's Mia puts on Urge Overkill's Neil Diamond cover (on a ridiculously retro reel-to-reel tape player) and dances nervously while snorting coke as Travolta talks himself out of getting fatally laid in the bathroom, only to find his boss's wife OD'd on the sofa. (The vid's in, um, Italian, but you get the idea).

Tarantino Says:

“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.”

 

15. Tomoyasu Hotei, ‘Battle Without Honor Or Humanity’
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)



The Moment:

Thurman’s Bride rides a motorcycle to her fateful showdown with nemesis O-Ren Ishii wearing a Bruce Lee jumpsuit, Tarantino cross-cutting between the deadly rivals to the determined bassy thumps of Hotei’s ‘Battle’ (originally from 2000 yakuza forgettable Another Battle).

If there’s a better song for preparing for a fight to the death, we haven’t heard it.

Tarantino Says:

“One of the fantastic things about working with [musical supervisor] RZA is that [he’s] has seen every movie I have, so we could just like, ‘Remember the music they use in the pre-sequence to Invincible Armour?’ ‘Oh, yeah, that could be really good’ or, ‘Remember in Two Champions Of Death that ‘do-do-da-dong!’ sound?’ ‘That would be fantastic!’”

Next: More Morricone, Woo Hoo

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14. Ennio Morricone – (Theme from The Return of Ringo/ La Resa Dei Conti/Death Rides A Horse)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)



The Moment:`

A farmer swings his axe, while in the distance we see the dust of approaching visitors. The farmer spots it, and tells his family to go inside the house, the music swells and makes us think that a gang of black-hatted cowboys are coming over the horizon. But it's a gang of jack-booted Nazis.

The scene shouldn't work, the music should be at odds with what's happening onscreen, but it both adds atmosphere, and introduces us to the off-kilter weird world of Basterds.

Tarantino says:

“Morricone is hands down my favourite composer of film music.

I use other tracks of his than just his spaghetti western stuff, but particularly in the first half of the movie I’m going for a ‘spaghetti western done with World War Two iconography’ kinda feel, and so the spaghetti western tracks in there go a long way to enhancing that.”

 

13. The 5678s, ‘Woo Hoo’
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)


The Moment:

Now this is just showing off. Real-life Japanese rockabilly girl band The 5678s play a jumping cover of The Rock-A-Teens 1959 hit in O-Ren Ishii's House Of Blue Leaves.

In one spectacular move the shot drifts away from the stage to pick out Thurman's Bride as she stalks through the building, the camera bounding over walls, through doors, and even giving us an x-ray vision reveal of The Bride getting ready for war. Dazzling.
 

Tarantino Says:

“I was in Tokyo and I had about two hours before I had to leave to go to the airport. So I’m taking a walk and I’m enjoying myself, and I see a hip used clothing store.

Now I’m not expecting to find many things that’ll fit me, but I go in anyway. And there’s this cool Japanese trio singing songs, and they’re not in Japanese, they’re in bad pidgin English, but they’re really kinda cool and groovy.

II remember the song that was playing was called Three Cool Cats. And finally I walked up to the girl at the counter and said, ‘Who is this?’ And she says, ‘Oh, that’s the 5678s.

When I got to Australia I started playing the whole album, and I loved it. And then I immediately conceived that whole big long shot that plays with the song – ‘Woo Hoo.’”

Next: Hooked On A Feeling, Hold Tight

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12. Blue Swede, ‘Hooked On A Feeling’
Reservoir Dogs (1992)


The Moment:

Blue Swede's primal, funky intro - ' OOGA-CHAKA! ' - flares up in the beating LA sun as QT's camera drifts into a car full of four of his characters dissecting pop culture on the way to a meet up ('No, Pam Grier made the movies. Christie Love was like a Pam Grier TV show, without Pam Grier'). Outwardly disposable, dramatically essential.

Tarantino Says:

“I don’t believe in putting in music as a band aid to get you over some rough parts or bad film making. If it’s there it’s got to add to it or take it to another level.”

 

11. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, ‘Hold Tight’
Death Proof (2007)



The Moment:


Four super-hot chicks ride through the middle of nowhere in the middle of night, rocking out to a pounding retro stormer buzzing through the vintage stereo. Out in the dark Kurt Russell’s murderous ride revs its engine, the film cutting to the frantic beat has he closes in on the girls…

Tarantino Says:

“The whole idea of it is that you’ve got this total momentum going. Point one is to get really realistic about what happens to people in a crash – you kinda get ripped apart. So the thing is to set up this sequence where the two cars are gonna hit each other.

The girls are oblivious until the second before it happens, but with the music I’ve got playing… I’m making the audience complicit in this crash. They want the crash to happen. It’s exciting, the girls are driving, and the audience is waiting for it, and they’re waiting for it, and… it’s like a cum shot, when it happens.”

Next: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time?)

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10. Nancy Sinatra, ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)


The Moment:

Another brilliant beginning. Heavy boots crack glass and pound on wood as the camera finds Uma Thurman's bloodied face staring up at an unknown assailant.

'This is me at my most masochistic' a gravelly voice mourns, before a gunshot that launches into a melancholy cover of Cher's hit over the opening credits. Bang bang...
 

Tarantino Says:

“Bang Bang set to Uma for the opening credits was in my mind on the set of Pulp Fiction.

The only difference is that back at that time I was going to use the Cher version. I love the Cher version – it's fantastic. But Nancy Sinatra's is so soulful, and she sings it like it's poetry.

If all you know about Nancy Sinatra is These Boots Are Made for Walkin', it gives you new respect for what a wonderful vocalist she was. She makes it her own.”

 

9. The Delfonics, ‘Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?’
Jackie Brown (1997)


The Moment

Not so much a moment as a theme, with The Delfonics' gorgeous, ambling love song saying everything that Robert Forster's sharp-but-straight bondsman Max can't put into words about his feelings for Pam Grier's foxy Jackie Brown.

Tarantino Says:

[on his enormous vinyl collection] “My biggest collection of any one genre would be my soundtrack collection.

That’s just alphabetical until you get to Z. Then I have it broken down into sub-genre. I have a whole blaxploitation section.

Then I have a whole spy movie section. And then I have a whole spaghetti western section, and a whole biker movie section – these are all subgenres that have their own sound and characteristics.”

Next: Son Of A Preacher Man, Across 110th Street

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8. Dusty Springfield, ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’
Pulp Fiction (1994)


The Moment:

Travolta's cool cat hitman Vincent Vega slides up to the boss' house to take his wife out for the evening, preening and nervous as hell. Thurman's Mia - unseen to this point - let's him in with a husky hello over the intercom and puts on Dusty , and we know he's in for a hell of an evening...

Tarantino Says:

“That section of the story where he goes over to her house, and she’s getting ready, and he’s got to take her out – I wrote that maybe five or six years before I wrote Pulp Fiction.

I just had this idea in my head for a story like that. And it was always scored to Son Of A Preacher Man – that’s how it was playing, and that was the beat of the music as he walked into the room. So that was just something that was always in my mind.”

 

7. Bobby Womack, ‘Across 110th Street’
Jackie Brown (1997)


The Moment:

Fantastically funky, understatedly cool – the jangling bass and guitars of Womack’s classic (from the 1972 blaxpoitation flick of the same name) strike up over the Miramax logo before a soulful cry eases us into the film’s first, long tracking shot of heroine Jackie, picking up momentum with the song as she struts through a airport on her way to do business.

Tarantino Says:

“More or less the way my method works is you have got to find the opening credit sequence first. That starts it off from me.

I find the personality of the piece through the music that is going to be in it. It is the rhythm of the film. Once I know I want to do something, then it is a simple matter of me diving into my record collection and finding the songs that give me the rhythm of my movie.”

Next: Down In Mexico, Little Green Bag

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6. The Coasters, ‘Down In Mexico’
Death Proof (2007)



The Moment:

There's an argument to be made that Vannessa Ferlito strutting around in short shorts, grinding in to your lap and sliding your hands all over her body would be insanely hot even if the bacground music was Mr Blobby's Christmas single, but the fact that it's to The Coaster's sleazy grinder of a tune - played from QT's very only vinyl, from his very own jukebox - makes it all the hotter.

Tarantino Says:

[On the fact the track was played from his own jukebox, Amy, in the film] “Amy’s alive and well and kicking, and doing great. There’s a Grindhouse picture book which has a listing of every song that’s on Amy, and that’s my jukebox.

If you see Death Proof again, as the camera’s panning down the song selections on it, you can tell it’s all my handwriting.

Usually what’s in my movies are straight from my vinyls – if you listen to my movies you’ll hear little cracks and pops on the soundtrack. Because I actually want the song in the movie to be from my LP, from my record collection.”

 

5. The George Baker Selection, ‘Little Green Bag’
Reservoir Dogs (1992)


The Moment:

It’s all in the rhythm – the slow motion stride of men at work, suited and booted and pounding the pavement on the way to get their hands dirty. The still image has become authentically iconic, but it’s the music – the icy bass, the tripping percussion – that bring the walk to life.

Tarantino Says:

[On not using composers] “That’s too much power to give someone who’s not me over my movie. I just assume I’m not gonna like it. I need to edit to my music, so it has that thing about it – I edit to the beat, I shoot it to the beat. I need to know what that music is. I need to choose it.”

  Next: You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie), Stuck In The Middle With You

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4. Chuck Berry, ‘You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)’
Pulp Fiction (1994)



The Moment:


‘Cool’ really isn’t enough. This one just flies –, the pouting grace of Travolta (‘Christ,’ you remember, ‘he used to be a dancer’) and the Godard-bobbed Thurman in fitted monochrome effortlessly twisting out an instant cultural touchstone.

Tarantino Says:

“Now, and this scene is funny because it's a situation is happening in the film where John Travolta and Uma Thurman are at this '50s restaurant and then all of a sudden, they have this twist contest.

And the thing is, everybody thinks that I wrote this scene to have John Travolta dancing. But the scene existed before John Travolta was cast, but once he was cast, it was like, ‘Great. We get to see John dance.’”

 

3. Stealers Wheel, ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’
Reservoir Dogs (1992)



The Moment:

K-Billy’s slow-drawl kickback radio knocks out another faultlessly cool retro tune – chilled to the point of lounge – adding to the jarring horror of Mr Blond, equally relaxed and shuffling around the warehouse hideout as he dances he way through an unflinching, ear-removing torture.

Tarantino Says:

“When you take songs and put them in a sequence in a movie right, it’s about as cinematic a thing as you can do. You are really doing what movies do better than any other art form.

And the effect is you can never really hear this song again without thinking about that image from the movie. I don’t know if Gerry Rafferty necessarily appreciated the connotations that I brought to Stuck In The Middle With You.There’s a good chance he didn’t.”

Next: Misirlou

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2. Dick Dale & His Deltones, 'Misirlou'
Pulp Fiction (1994)



The Moment:

Perfect, perfect, perfect Taratino. The opening is pure early ‘90s Americana – a grungy couple talking smart in a roadside dinner, QT’s cute dialogue riffing on small time hold-ups – and suddenly there’s action – ‘ANY OF YOU FUCKERS MOVE!’ –  and we’re ripped into a dizzying retro frenzy. 

Tarantino Says:

“The thing about surf music is that it always had a spaghetti western vibe. I never understood what surf music had to do with surfing.

You listen to the Dick Dale songs, the instrumentals – Misrilou in particular – and I don’t get what that has to do with surfing or how that evokes surfing. To me it sounds more like rock ‘n roll, spaghetti western music. And that’s what I was going for in the case of Pulp Fiction – a rock ‘n roll spaghetti western.

 

Next: The Number One Tarantino Music Moment...

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1. David Bowie, Giorgio Moroder,  ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’
Inglourious Basterds (2009)



The Moment:

We’ve just spent an agonisingly tense twenty minutes in a grimy bar, in the company of Nazis and spies barking loud threats in English and German. The gunshots are still ringing in our ears.

We’ve endured a gruesome interrogation scene in a vets’ surgery, complete with howling dogs and squelching wound sound effects. And then, suddenly, our sonic reward arrives.

Our eyes initially feast on the lush set, which sees our glorious Jewish hero Shosanna Dreyfuss lounging around in a gorgeous red dress, getting ready to face Goebbels, Goerring, and Hitler himself, who are all conveniently milling around downstairs, in the foyer of her cinema.

The music kicks in and suddenly Shosanna is moving to the beat, slinking across the frame as sleekly as a cat at midnight.

She stripes her face with make-up, once, twice, to the kick of the drum, smearing it like the war paint of an Apache.

The centrepiece scene in Basterds is the pinnacle of Tarantino’s ability to mesh music with image, because the two are so perfectly entwined, as though the soundtrack has ripped itself from the cinema speakers and lurched into the scene itself.

This isn’t just backing music – it feels as much a part of the scene as the physical props.

And if the camera had swung around to reveal Bowie crooning in the corner, we wouldn’t have been surprised.

The symbiosis is so complete that when Shosanna eventually leaves her room and steps out onto the stairs, we half expect to hear her hum a tune that wouldn’t be written for another 40 years.

It’s a brilliant moment, one that we had to exclusively talk to Tarantino about when he was in town.

Tarantino Says:


“The song wasn’t in my mind when I was writing the scene but that’s one of those times when I came up with the idea during production, we were able to play it on the set when Melanie was doing her stuff.

We worked her whole make-up dance to the music, so that was played on the set all day.

I’ve always loved that song, that’s one of my favourite David Bowie’s songs. I was always vastly disappointed by how it was used in Cat People. Because it’s not used in Cat People, they throw it at the end credits.

I was like, ‘Man, if you have a song that good, don’t piss it away by throwing at the end credits, write a whole fucking Nastassja Kinski scene around it!’

One of the reason it works so well is, and I think it’s part of my method, is that I could have hired somebody to do a Shoshanna ballad (sings) ‘Oh, she’s a Jew da da da da da daaaaaah.” It’s like two on the money.

But what’s interesting is if you can use a song that already exists, but it has a once removed quality, yet, even though you know it’s once removed, the lyrics themselves seem to be describing the character, that’s really exciting.

It doesn’t seem cheesy the way a ballad written for the thing would seem cheesy - you are amazed by how well it actually works.

In that situation, like the use of Bang Bang in Kill Bill, it can play as interior monologue, and I do think the second hand nature of that helps achieve that.”

 

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