Quentin Tarantino is One of the biggest criticisms of the director is that he is too derivative and thus not original. In many ways that might be exactly why many people love his films. For me – it’s always the soundtracks. Tarantino’s use of music is incredibly well thought-out. If being derivative is a bad thing, at least it produces some of the most thoughtful soundtrack selections in film history. And these are some of the best:
1. Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” – Jackie Brown
It is no secret that this is my favourite Tarantino film. Most of that love is due to the perfection that is Pam Grier, but a lot of the love also goes out to the incredible soundtrack. The songs dip and bob between soul, rap and rock. While there are plenty of songs worth mentioning, it is Womack’s soulful “Across 110th Street” that completely captures the feeling of the film and the characters. It is used in the opening sequence, but more powerfully we see the titular character Jackie Brown singing along as she drives towards her uncertain future at the end of the film. Totally powerful and completely right.
2. Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” – Reservoir Dogs torture scene
In his second directorial turn, Tarantino uses this Scottish classic during which Mr Blonde tortures a bound policeman. Like many good, terrible scenes a song is used for sharp contrast of pain and pleasure. It’s usually a song that many people have good memories attached to or feel a certain way about the song from the way it fits into culture – lyrical content aside (American Psycho’s use of Huey Lewis and the News or “Singing in the Rain” during the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange would be other great examples). Tarantino said that during auditions he wanted the actors to either use “Stuck in the Middle With You” or choose one themselves but there really wasn’t any choice better. There really isn’t.
3. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich “Hold Tight” – Death Proof crash scene
Death Proof is one of those Tarantino films that have fallen on the wayside, which is kind of shame because it’s pretty fun. And it’s got a killer tracklist. Smith’s cover of “Baby It’s You” and a lap dance to “Down in Mexico” by the Coasters (oh and that AMAZING credits tune by April March) are just some of the stand outs in a really solid list of songs. Arguably, though, the most memorable scene is early on in the film to Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich’s (say that two times fast…or at all) “Hold Tight.” The chorus of repeated “hoooold tiiiiiight” seems to only be mocking the young girls as they hurtle towards their impending doom.
4. Luis Bacalov and Rocky Roberts “Django” – Django Unchained opening credits
“Django” was originally written for the 1966 Italian spaghetti western starring Franco Nero (who also makes a small cameo in the 2012 film as the rugged Amerigo Vessepi). There really could be no other song to open a film that pays homage to the Westerns of the 60s. The song in grand and sprawling: an epic song shown against the harsh tribulations of American slavery.
5. Chuck Berry “You Never Can Tell” – Pulp Fiction Rabbit Jack Slims’ twist contest
This is a scene that needs no introduction, but if you’ve had your head in the sand for two decades you’re missing one of the best dance scenes in any John Travolta – neigh – any film. There is a constant coolness that runs through the characters of the 1994 film and Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega are the coolest while twisting away to this classic Chuck Berry tune. Many songs could probably replace “You Never Can Tell” but would it ever really be the same?