Quentin Tarantino’s slavery spaghetti western Django Unchained delivers all of the usual Tarantino goodness: brilliant dialogue, over-the-top cartoonish violence, fantastic performances from Tarantino regulars Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson, and a whole lot of controversy. More impressively, the film’s soundtrack is the usual combination of familiar tunes from Tarantino’s cinematic inspirations, as well as a few original tracks from John Legend, Rick Ross, and RZA. While we’ll have to patiently wait for another year or two before those musical sequences to end up on YouTube (only to be likely taken down because of copyright infringement), let’s take a look back at Tarantino’s catalog and take a listen at the songs we’ve come to associate with the modern-day auteur.
Stealers Wheel – "Stuck In The Middle With You" (from Reservoir Dogs)
What’s the best way to get the kids interested in Gerry Rafferty? Why, scoring an ear slicing with one of his catchiest tunes, naturally. It’s really a shame that this scene didn’t do for Michael Madsen what Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta. Who know the man had such moves?
Chuck Berry – "You Never Can Tell" (from Pulp Fiction)
This is arguably Tarantino’s most recognizable scene from arguably his most popular movie. It not only made him a household name, but it reinvigorated the career of John Travolta, who had been struggling in years prior in talking baby movies. And don’t get me wrong, I love a talking baby movie. But I’d much rather see Travolta cutting a rug with weird hair.
Bobby Womack – "Across 110th Street" (from Jackie Brown)
Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s biggest stand-out. It lacks the gritty or cartoon violence of his other films (it contains, total, just four measly, relatively bloodless murders), and the focus is entirely on plot, dialogue, and the acting. And while there’s no big dance sequence, the opening credits are fantastic. All it takes is a few tracking shots and Pam Grier to set the tone of the film, and Bobby Womack’s soulful voice ties it all together.
The 5,6,7,8′s – "Woo Hoo" (from Kill Bill Vol. 1)
It’s refreshing when Tarantino pulls out a new song from his jukebox. In the first half of his samari epic, Tarantino brings the old school into the picture with fresh treatment. It seems only natural for the big musical number in Kill Bill Vol. 1 to involve a band that mashes up a wide selection of sounds and elements. It’s the musical equivalent of a Tarantino film, really.
Bernard Herrmann – "Twisted Nerve" (from Kill Bill Vol. 2)
Kill Bill marked the first time Tarantino picked up classic scores from old films, and Bernard Herrmann’s "Twisted Nerve," the theme from the 1968 psychological thriller of the same name, became, in turn, a Tarantino classic. (It even makes a cameo in Death Proof as Rosario Dawson’s ring tone.)
The Drifters – "Down in Mexico" (from Death Proof)
Death Proof, one half of Tarantino’s Grindhouse collaboration with Robert Rodriguez, stands on its own feet as a perfect action thriller as well as a quintessential Tarantino flick. In one of the film’s best (and sexiest) scenes, Vanessa Ferlito delivers perhaps the best lapcdance in cinematic history to a terrifying (and weirdly sexy) Kurt Russell. It should come as no surprise that the jukebox playing this jam is Tarantino’s own.
David Bowie – "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (from Inglourious Basterds)
Here’s another case of a song written for a movie being appropriated for one in Tarantino’s own oeuvre. Wisely using the long, slow-building version of the Giorgio Moroder / David Bowie collaboration from Paul Schrader’s 1982 erotic thriller (as opposed from the shorter, radio-friendly version from Let’s Dance), Tarantino builds the tension and nearly gives away the film’s ending. (Hint: it involves a lot of flames.)