Ever since Mr Brown detailed his non-conformist interpretation of Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ over lunch and the Reservoir Dogs took to the street in their Rat Pack suits to the choogling groove of ‘Little Green Bag’, music has been central to the cinematic oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino. His deep-diving soundtrack albums have been among the best in the genre, but which are Inglorious and which the top Dogs? Let’s rank ‘em up.
10. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
Replacing Vol. 1’s soundtrack chief RZA with his director friend Robert Rodriguez for Vol. 2 – and paying him just $1 for the privilege – Tarantino produced his only real dud of a soundtrack in the Kill Bill Vol. 2 OST. Johnny Cash, Charlie Feathers and Ennio Morricone cuts provided the steamy Western vibes, but too much of the record could count as mood music and ‘About Her’, Malcolm McLaren’s manipulated, string heavy version of The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’, was a drag and a half.
Best music moment: The Bride facing off against Ellie in a trailer-based samurai fight, full of evil revelations and blink-and-you-miss-it eye extractions, to the tense drama of Morricone’s ‘A Silhouette Of Doom’.
9. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Turning his lens to the pre-rock’n’roll era for the first time placed obvious limitations of Tarantino in terms of collating soundtrack albums full of brilliant ‘70s funk tunes. For his wartime assassination flick, then, tracks from Morricone and other spaghetti Western composers do much of the atmospheric heavy lifting and most of the melodic stuff is lifted from European recordings of the period. That said, Billy Preston’s ‘Slaughter’ holds up the blaxploitation end and… hang on. Is that The Dame?
Best music moment: Heroine Shosanna Dreyfus getting gussied up to off a bunch of Nazis to the tune of David Bowie’s ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’. Now that really is what you call a Berlin period.
8. Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007)
Half-arsed, by-the-numbers pulp movie; actually pretty engaging soundtrack. Between Smith’s fiery 1969 take on ‘Baby It’s You’ and T Rex’s ‘Jeepster’, the background thrum of murderous engine on Texan dirt road is firmly established. And the likes of ‘Eddie Floyd’s ‘Good Love, Bad Love’, Joe Tex’s ‘The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)’ and The Coasters’ ‘Down In Mexico’ could easily be clicking into place on some decrepit roadhouse jukebox.
Best music moment: Jungle Julie and pals are happily rocking along to Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick And Titch’s cheery Beatledelic hit ‘Hold Tight!’ on the radio as Kurt Russell’s motor-psycho Stuntman Mike smashes gorily into their car, comprehensively ruining the chorus.
7. Django Unchained (2012)
Combining two of Tarantino’s core obsessions – Westerns and African-American culture – Django Unchained proved fertile sonic ground. Dramatic spaghetti Western soundtrack cuts mingled with retro country tracks like Jim Croce’s ‘I Got A Name’ and specially composed contemporary soul and rap tunes from Rick Ross, John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton.
6. Jackie Brown (1997)
Due to the movie being something of a blaxploitation homage, Tarantino’s third soundtrack was rather more one-note than its predecessors. But by including choice cuts from soul and R&B legends such as Bobby Womack (‘Across 110th Street’), The Delfonics (‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’) and Bill Withers (‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)’), the Jackie Brown soundtrack set a classy and classic tone far above and beyond the wacka-wacka funk of Shaft and its ‘70s TV cop show emulators.
Best music moment: The title sequence, in which Tarantino juxtaposes ‘Across 110th Street’ – Bobby Womack’s portrait of the pimps, pushers and junkies of the Harlem ghetto – with the titular Jackie Brown strutting to work as an air hostess. Shit, we sense, is not going to stay airport security friendly.
5. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Tarantino had been chasing Ennio Morricone to write music for him for almost two decades before he relented. Having previously turned down requests to contribute to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and score Inglorious Basterds – forcing Tarantino to turn to his previously recorded work for Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained – the maestro finally provided the full dramatic score for Tarantino’s wintry Western murder mystery The Hateful Eight. Throw in some dialogue snippets and a handful of songs by David Hess, Roy Orbison and The White Stripes and you’ve got one of modern cinema’s greatest meeting of sonic minds.
Best music moment: Morricone’s name emblazoned proudly across the screen in the opening credits as his central theme blares menacingly, the camera draws back from an icy crucifix and a stagecoach full of bastards charges out of the snowy wastes.
4. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Largely curated, produced and arranged by Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, the first half of Tarantino’s samurai western double-feature mingled RZA’s own Shaolin rap production with a vibrant mix of cinematic soul, dank country, big band jazz and classical soundtrack orchestrations. Short on the sort of timeless retro pop cuts that had made his earlier soundtracks stand out, it was Tarantino’s most conventional movie record at that point, although it contained its fair share of iconic moments. The Bride and O-Ren Ishii clashing katanas in the snow to the tune of Santa Esmerelda’s disco flamenco take on ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, for instance, was a prime piece of Tarantino’s convention-defying use of cinema music.
Best music moment: Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ became something of a theme tune for Uma Thurman’s vengeful assassin The Bride, soundtracking the bloody aftermath of her ill-fated wedding in probably Tarantino’s most impactful opening sequence.
3. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
Insisting on only using music recorded before 1970 to best capture the heady yet horror-filled summer of ’69, Tarantino effectively created an extensive and immersive mixtape of ‘60s counter-culture pop, rock, folk and country both refreshingly obscure (Bob Seger’s ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’, Buchanan Brothers’, ‘Son Of A Lovin’ Man’) and reassuringly familiar (Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’). Dotted through with retro radio ads, jingles and weather reports (“mostly sunny tomorrow…”), it really did feel like turning the dial and coming across the perfect station for cruising Sunset in a sharkfin convertible. Tarantino trivia: Paul Revere wrote his song ‘Good Thing’, included here, in the same house where the Tate murders took place.
Best music moment: Big time spoiler alert: Charles Manson’s Family having their murderous plans foiled by Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio, by means of angry dog, angry dog’s dog food, telephone and flamethrower.
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Alongside – and likely inspiring – the Trainspotting soundtrack, Pulp Fiction’s 1994 OST was a benchmark record in the shift away from soundtrack albums stuffed with chart-friendly MOR big ballads back towards the glory days of Morricone, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Tubular Bells’. The days when a film’s music was a fundamental strand of its storytelling that epitomised its style and attitude, but also a stand-alone collection of superb songs in its own right. Pulp Fiction is a near faultless example; its Dick Dale surf vitality (Tarantino described surf music as “rock’n’roll spaghetti Western music”), funk strut, sultry country darkness and cornball swing utterly encapsulated the pulp pop culture seediness of Tarantino’s masterpiece. Add in the snippets of dialogue from Jack Rabbit Slims, the gimp dungeon, and Ezekiel 25:17 and you can virtually play the movie in your head while listening.
Best music moment: Uma Thurman overdosing to Urge Overkill covering Neil Diamond’s ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’.
1. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Before Pulp Fiction truly popularised the immersive ‘90s soundtrack, Tarantino – along with the music supervisor on his first two films Karyn Rachtman – had perfected it on his very first try. Arranged in the style of a radio show dubbed K-Billy’s Super Sounds Of The Seventies Weekend, which ran through the movie too, the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack remains arguably the finest example of a movie’s aesthetic captured on tape. From the itchy gangster funk of ‘Little Green Bag’ and Joe Tex’s ‘I Gotcha’ through to Harry Nilsson’s corny/catchy ‘Coconut’, the retro-suave vibe of this theatrical diamond heist caper oozed through an immaculate collection of sounds that, like the film, represented the ’90s getting nostalgic over the ’70s’ idea of the ’50s. A cultural boh-oymath.
Best musical moment: Mr Blonde’s psychopathic jive along to Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’.