The best musical moments from Quentin Tarantino’s films

The best musical moments from Quentin Tarantino’s films

Pulp Fiction
Image: Miramax
Words by Tobias Handke

Jumping between the groovy and the gruesome.

Quentin Tarantino is back in the spotlight with the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Known for his distinct style that includes pop culture-fuelled dialogue, sudden bursts of violence, references to his favourite films and casting actors in need of a comeback, his latest film may be his best yet.

Having already claimed the biggest box office opening of the auteur’s career, the film has been hailed for its soundtrack, featuring the likes of Jose Feliciano, Neil Diamond and Deep Purple.

With music being such a big part of his films, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best musical moments from Tarantino’s filmography.

George Baker Selection – ‘Little Green Bag’ (Reservoir Dogs)

Tarantino has a knack for finding classic, forgotten tunes and giving them a new life through his audience, something he does incredibly well in his debut, Reservoir Dogs. As the opening credits roll and the ragtag group of criminals walk down the street before the diamond heist, George Baker Selection’s hip ‘Little Green Bag’ plays, creating a sense of calm before the audience is thrust into the aftermath of the failed robbery.

It’s a wonderfully shot scene highlighting the key cast members and introducing viewers to Tarantino’s inspired musical choices. It’s so memorable, even Jon Favreau paid homage to it in his debut, Swingers, replacing ‘Little Green Bag’ with Average White Band’s underrated ‘Pick Up The Pieces’.

Rick Ross – ‘100 Black Coffins’ (Django Unchained)

Tarantino’s first foray into the Western genre is an enthralling revenge tale with standout performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz. But the film’s biggest surprise comes in the form of ‘100 Black Coffins’, a hip hop track written by Foxx and performed by rapper Rick Ross.

As things start to get testy between Foxx’s Django and Walton Goggins’ memorable cowboy Bill Crash, the two exchange some wonderfully written dialogue before Ross’ gravelled voice cuts in, breaking up the tension and transitioning the scene into the next part of the story.

Chuck Berry – ‘You Can Never Tell’ (Pulp Fiction)

Even now, some two decades later, watching John Travolta and Uma Thurman get down to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can Never Tell’ fills the heart with pure joy. Thurman, barefoot and sporting a black bob cut, busts out a number of classic moves while Travolta does his best to fit in, shimmying about in a black suit and looking completely out of place. It’s an iconic scene that sums up Tarantino’s genius when it comes to giving his films a soundtrack.

Nancy Sinatra – ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ (Kill Bill Vol.1)

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is chock full of awesome musical moments, from the haunting whistle of Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Twisted Nerve’ to The 5,6,7,8’s frenetic ‘Woo Hoo’ that plays as The Bride takes down O-Ren’s henchmen. But when it comes to impact, it’s hard to go past the use of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’.

While it only plays during the opening credits, it occurs right after Bill shoots The Bride in the head and is a melancholy start to this action-packed revenge thriller. The lyrics aptly reflect what’s just occurred on screen as the credits begin to roll and we are left to ponder the fate of The Bride and her unborn child.

David Bowie – ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ (Inglourious Basterds)

This obscure David Bowie number plays as theatre owner Shosanna Dreyfus prepares to screen her edited version of Nazi propaganda film Stolz der Nation to Hitler and his goons. Bowie’s familiar vocals are welcoming, while the lyrics “putting out fire with gasoline” are prophetic, as Shoshanna plots revenge on the Nazis for murdering her family by burning the theatre to the ground.

Bobby Womack – ‘Across 110th Street’ (Jackie Brown)

An underrated Tarantino gem, Jackie Brown opens with a near two-minute tracking shot of legendary blaxploitation actress Pam Grier making her way to work as the smooth voice of Bobby Womack serenades our ears. Not only does the scene introduce us to Grier’s Jackie Brown, an air hostess and drug smuggler, but Womack’s lyrics about escaping the ghetto mirror Grier’s plight.

Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – ‘Hold Tight’ (Death Proof)

Death Proof isn’t one of Tarantino’s best, but it does star Kurt Russell as the psychopathic Stuntman Mike who likes to crash his car into unsuspecting victims for shits and giggles. Following an unsuspecting group of women, the creepy Mike convinces one of them to give him a lap dance, and in return, takes them all out in his death machine.

After disposing of one of the girls, Mike chases down the other four who are cruising along while listening to ‘Hold Tight’, something they quickly begin doing literally. Turning off his lights and driving straight into their car, we witness the graphic deaths of each woman as the jangly punk rock tune blasts out the speakers.

Stealers Wheel – ‘Stuck In The Middle’ (Reservoir Dogs)

Even today this scene is hard to watch. Michael Madsen’s psychotic Mr Blonde gleefully dances around to Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle’ before slicing off the ear of the police officer he kidnapped while escaping the bungled robbery. It’s sadistic and horrifying, with Madsen admitting after filming even he found the scene hard to shoot. Despite people walking out during the film’s initial screenings, the ear cutting scene remains integral to the story and demonstrates a key Tarantino plot device: the use of violence to both shock and move his films along. Listening to ‘Stuck In The Middle’ has never sounded the same since.