Music in films can be very manipulative. It can make all the difference to the scene it is accompanying. What could potentially have been an unremarkable scene becomes so much more due to the fantastic music in the background. Although composers and artists are the ones who create the actual music, it is the filmmaker that ultimately decides how to use it most effectively.
Quentin Tarantino is an idiosyncratic filmmaker who knows how to create a great soundtrack to complement his films. The songs he chooses create a sense of nostalgia for what Tarantino considers to be the glory days of Hollywood, namely the 1960s and 1970s, while also servicing what is happening on screen.
The soundtracks of Tarantino films are renowned among cinephiles for containing songs that really pop out at audiences and create a unique and wacky atmosphere that only a Tarantino film can.
Tarantino films are full of great music, but here are the 15 best song uses in his films.
15. “It’s So Easy” by Willy DeVille (Death Proof, 2007)
“It’s So Easy” by Willy DeVille plays on Stuntman Mike’s car stereo as he drives into the small town of Lebanon, Tennessee. He parks at a convenience store and lights a cigarette. He looks into the car next to him and sees another group of girls he plans to slaughter with his chariot.
This scene takes place directly after the Houston police decide to let him go since they have no evidence to prove he intentionally killed the girls and they would rather spend their time and energy on relaxing and watching football.
His presence in Tennessee shows that he is still out there stalking girls, and the song displays his carefree attitude towards his violent behaviour: it’s so easy to kill.
14. “Hold Tight!” by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (Death Proof, 2007)
After the first group of girls in the film have had a great girls’ night out at the bar, they are still in a partying mood. They listen 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.
When they sing the song out loud as a group, it shows what a strong friendship these girls have with one another. However, the fast pace and the intensity of the song builds up to Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) using his car to brutally kill the girls.
The loudness of the girls’ singing builds up the tension of their imminent deaths, and not to mention the fact that they are about to literally “hold tight” as they are driven off the road.
13. “Baby Love” by The Supremes (Jackie Brown, 1997)
One of the major themes of Jackie Brown is the inability to age gracefully. Robert De Niro plays failed bank robber Louis, who has nothing going for him in life, and one of his few remaining pleasures is the company of women. He gets Simone (Hattie Winston) to dress up in a shiny blue dress and sing and dance to The Supremes’ “Baby Love”.
Besides being another 1970s RnB song, this scene shows how old the characters are. Simone is dressed and acting like a young woman, and Louis is reliving his youth when he could more easily seduce women. When they were young—babies—love was much easier to come by.
12. “Street Life” by Randy Crawford (Jackie Brown, 1997)
Yet another 1970s RnB song, “Street Life” by Randy Crawford draws from the feel of Blaxpoitation films from the 1970s that Jackie Brown is trying to emulate.
Jackie (Pam Grier) has planned to double cross both the police and arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and to keep Ordell’s money for herself. Jackie puts some books in a bag and puts some money and beach towels on top of that to convince Ordell that she is giving him all of his money back, only to later find out she has tricked him.
The song has a fast paced feel to it and emphasises the “street life” Jackie has led all her life and how she knows her scam is the best way for her to change her life for the better.
11. “Down in Mexico” by The Coasters (Death Proof, 2007)
“Down in Mexico” is a little-known sexy rock song from the 1950s, so it is the standard type of music you would expect to hear in a Quentin Tarantino film. Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito) gives Stuntman Mike a lap dance on a dare, and she goes all out with it.
Butterfly sensually sways her body and lip synchs to the song’s lyrics. The tune fits in with her sensual dancing and the arousal Stuntman Mike is feeling.
10. “Long Time Woman” by Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, 1997)
After Jackie is caught smuggling a large amount of money into the country, she is arrested and locked up. The fashionable Jackie is now wearing an unflattering prison uniform and she knows her freedom is in jeopardy.
The song “Long Time Woman”—a 1970s song about a woman who has faced many hardships and trouble with the law throughout in life—plays in the background, perfectly describing the situation. Ironically, the song is sung by Pam Grier herself, originally on the soundtrack of her 1971 film The Big Doll House.
9. “Jungle Boogie” by Kool & The Gang (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
This funky 1970s song plays when Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are in the car driving to the apartment building to collect the mysterious briefcase.
This scene takes place just after the film’s opening credits, letting the audience know what they are going to experience for the next two and a half hours. It is the perfect accompaniment to the cool, relaxed attitude of Vincent and Jules with their conversation about how Europe is different from America.