One of Quentin Tarantino‘s hallmarks as a director is his ability to craft a great soundtrack. He’s an idiosyncratic filmmaker who knows how to fuse his passion for nostalgic ’60s and ’70s funk and western music and make it complement his films.
All the music he chooses fit each scene perfectly, even when he’s mixing genres most director’s wouldn’t think of. Only Tarantino would use the biggest pop song, “Stuck in the Middle With You” in a torture scene, or a Rick Ross track in a Spaghetti western flick set in 1858. This is what makes Tarantino great.
With the release of his ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino took over Spotify’s “Film & TV Favorites” playlist to share his favorite songs used in his films. He also released a ’60s-themed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood soundtrack, alongside an in-depth podcast where Tarantino explains the musical choices he made in the film track-by-track.
To dive deeper in his genius ear for soundtracking his films, we’ve decided to make our own list of our ten favorite music moments in Tarantino films. From Kill Bill Vol. 1‘s opening score of Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Bang Bang,” to John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing the twist to “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry in Pulp Fiction, and plenty more.
Check it out below.
Song: Tupac feat. James Brown – “Unchained”
Following the legendary dinner scene that delivered more tension then the USA vs France 2008 Olympic Swim Relay final in Beijing was followed up by a bloody shootout finale with an ole’ fashion gunfight, more scene-stealing lines from Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, and a rap-infused funk song we never knew we needed in a western film.
As Django goes full Van Der Linde gang during “the Battle of Shady Belle” mission in Red Dead Redemption 2, audience members are hit with a surprise mix of James Brown’s “The payback” and Tupac’s “Untouchable.” The bloody gunfight alone makes it one of Tarantino’s best, but the Tupac and James Brown mix is a god tier mash up that deserves a 5 star run on DJ Hero (expert level). It will forever distill this film moment in our brains forever.
Song: Urge Overkill – “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman”
Mia dancing to this cover of Neil Diamond’s 1967 hit after going out to the ‘50s diner with Vincent, is peak Mia. Ir shows off the characters carefree personality at its best. Her carefree attitude mixed with his professionalism is the perfect contrast that works so beautifully on screen. The scene above puts both personalities on display, as she dances around the room while he’s in the bathroom convincing himself not to make a move on her.
Unfortunately, Mia’s carelessness also builds up to when she snorts Vincent’s heroin, thinking it is cocaine.
Song: Santa Esmeralda – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
Music has always been a great tool to build tension within a scene. Tarantino proves to be a master craftsman at it during the final fight scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1. With the whole film leading up to Black Mamba crossing Cotton Mouth off of her revenge hit list, nothing builds the scene up more than Santa Esmeralda’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Only Tarantino could perfectly use a disco, flamenco song to soundtrack a ninja battle.
Tarantino smartly uses the lengthy-building instrumental that takes place midway though the song to parallel the sequence of the fight. As the music builds, so does the fight, which leads to an unfortunate turn of events.
Song: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – “Hold Tight”
Tarantino greatly shows the relationship between the first group of girls in the film Death Proof in the car crash scene. After a night of partying, the girls collectively dance and rock out to “Hold Tight!” by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich on the radio, after Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) calls the radio station to request the song. It’s a fun way to show they shows similar interest and chemistry between the group.
However, the fast pace and the intensity of the song also builds up to Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) using his car to brutally kill the girls, which leads them to actually “hold tight” as they get driven off the road. How ironic.
Song: Chuck Berry – “You Never Can Tell”
Who could possibly forget this scene? John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s chemistry in Pulp Fiction is unmatched, and the dance scene will forever be proof. When the song starts playing, the two of them are having fun and flirting, and slightly competing with one another to see who keeps up with the dancing, almost like a mating ritual.
Speaking on the moment, Tarantino says, “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.’”
Song: The Brothers Johnson’s – “Strawberry Letter 23”
In one of Tarantino’s signature trunk scenes, The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” is featured heavily. Its soothing sounds set up the audience for a calming, relaxing ride, but ultimately turns into a cold blooded murder scene. The use of “Strawberry Letter 23” soulful sound lulls us into a relaxed state before we all realize the actual motive of Ordell Robbie, to troll us all.
Tarantino won’t take credit for the terrific use of “Strawberry Letter 23” stating that it was actually chosen by Elmore Leonard in the original novel, Rum Punch.
Song: Stealers Wheel – “Stuck in the Middle With You”
Leave it to Tarantino to take one of the most lightest, breeziest songs ever written and use it for an eery graphic torture scene. The lighthearted track helps add a layer of fear and tension as psychopath, Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde dances and sings along before torturing a police officer. Who listens to a pop hit before cutting someone’s ear off? That person has to be crazy!
It’s a terrifying and haunting scene, and will go down as one of Tarantino’s best.
Song: George Baker Selection’s – “Little Green Bag”
Tarantino knows how to craft awesome opening credit title scenes. The Director ushered in a new wave of coolness in the first few minutes of his film debut, Reservoir Dogs. As a bunch of gangsters in black suits walk to rob a jewelry store while simultaneously putting the Blues Brothers to shame, comedian Steven Wright’s droll voice as a faux radio DJ leads us into “Little Green Bag” by George Baker. The slow motion visual, the black suits, the jive track, this is one of the coolest scenes ever.
Song: David Bowie – “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”
Tarantino loves telling a good revenge story, and in Inglorious Bastards, Shosanna is the focus of that arc. As she gears up for her big night to wipe out Nazi’s during a movie night, her preparation is soundtracked by David Bowie “Cat People”, a song that served as the title track for Paul Schrader’s erotic horror movie Cat People. Somehow it fits perfectly with Shoasanna’s plans. Ironically, Bowie sings about “putting out the fire”, as Melanie Laurent’s character is about to set ablaze to the Germans.
Song: Nancy Sinatra – “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”
The opening scene of Kill Bill, with the bride beaten and bloodied by Bill in black and white is truly harrowing. Then, after she’s hit with a fatal gunshot to the head, we cut to black and Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” starts playing as the credits roll. The scene is beautiful, eery, upsetting, calming, dark, and captivating all in the first few minutes of the film. The song is quiet, but also chilling, setting up the motives and tension for Uma Thurman’s character to go on bloody journey for revenge. It’s easily one of Tarantino’s most memorable scenes to date.
For Quentin Tarantino’s full Spotify “Film & TV Favorites” playlist, stream below.