One of the worst side effects of the massive changes that technology has brought to the music business is the death of movie soundtracks. Back in the days before iTunes, a good movie soundtrack acted as a professionally curated mix. It could expose you to a band that you didn’t know but should (The Band on the second Big Chill soundtrack), to lost songs that needed to be rediscovered (“Sweet Caroline” on Beautiful Girls), to emotional film memories that always let you have a good cry (“(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”, anybody).
Nowadays, though, movie soundtracks don’t really have much of a purpose. Given that most people just steal music, why would a movie company spend a lot of time putting one together properly? Everybody is just going to get the one stand-out song from iTunes and leave the rest. But the soundtrack’s disappearance has made both our film and music lives a bit poorer. Soundtracks used to not only expose us to new music, but give us insight into the sensibilities of our favorite directors.
However, one director still gives a damn. Quentin Tarantino not only continues to see the value in a soundtrack, but he’s probably the best ever at putting one together. Most famously, he consistently rediscovers lost songs and moves them into classics territory. But he also puts together soundtracks that inform the films they accompany.
So, what would a Best Of (yet another lost album form) look like?
1.) Little Green Bag – George Baker – 1969 – Reservoir Dogs
Let’s kick it off where Tarantino did. Little Green Bag has all the hallmarks of what was to come. It’s a song nobody had ever heard, but would hear a lot from that moment forward. It was inextricably tied to an awesome scene, but not overwhelmed by it. It made you feel like a badass if you listened to it while driving or walking down the street.
2.) Baby It’s You – Smith – 1969 – Death Proof
A Tarantino hallmark… finding an obscure cover of a tired song that kicks serious ass and makes you reevaluate whether the song actually sucks.
3.) You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry – 1964 – Pulp Fiction
Another of his go-to moves… taking a deep cut from a legend and daring you to say it shouldn’t be considered among his best.
4.) Battle Without Honor or Humanity – Tomoyasu Hotei – 2000 – Kill Bill, Vol. 1
The biggest knock against Tarantino is that he just steals and repackages old material. When you basically take the plot of Kubrick’s The Killing for your first movie, that’s bound to happen. But I doubt it’s something that keeps Tarantino up at night. Because he’s also prone to straight-out taking music from other flicks, whether it’s soundtracks (Ennio Morricone has become a recent favorite) or songs he thinks he can do better with, like this one from a 2000 Japanese movie.
5.) Son Of A Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield – 1968 – Pulp Fiction
Now, I wouldn’t say that nobody knew this song, but most people didn’t and now most people do. And there’s literally nobody in the world that doesn’t like it at least a little.
6.) Long Time Woman – Pam Grier – 1971 – Jackie Brown
From an obscure movie (The Big Doll House). From a forgotten artist. Featuring a driving funk groove. Prototypical Tarantino.
Often, Tarantino soundtracks have a particular theme or genre he wants to explore, such as Reservoir Dogs and one-hit wonders of the ’70s. Jackie Brown (both movie and soundtrack) was his love letter to blaxploitation… you just know that he’d been holding onto this song forever to use in a Pam Grier movie someday.
7.) (Bang Bang) My Baby Shot Me Down – Nancy Sinatra – 1966 – Kill Bill, Vol. 1
Definitely the right choice to kick off Side Two (kids, records and tapes used to have two sides and you’d have to flip them halfway through… nevermind). Plus it led to a great live cover by the Raconteurs.
8.) Stuck In The Middle With You – Stealers Wheel – 1972 – Reservoir Dogs
Tarantino’s most iconic scene paired with arguably his best rediscovery.
9.) Midnight Confessions – The Grass Roots – 1968 – Jackie Brown
Just a flat-out great psychedelic rock song.
10.) Flowers On The Wall – The Statler Brothers – 1965 – Pulp Fiction
Just a flat-out great classic country song.
11.) Hold Tight – Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch and Titch – 1966 – Death Proof
You know when Tarantino feels like he’s about to unleash an awesome song, because he’s not exactly subtle about it (Mr. Blonde turning up the radio with Stuck In The Middle With You). In Death Proof, he precedes this song with a three-minute discussion about it. He’s gotta be sure he’s bringing some shit, but nobody’s ever accused Tarantino of not having balls.
12.) Chick Habit – April March – 1995 – Death Proof
This English version of a Serge Gainsbourg song ends Death Proof and ends the mix as well. Plus, there has to be a song with a surf/rockabilly vibe, which is a Tarantino hallmark.
Bonus Track.) Cat People(Putting Out Fire) – David Bowie – 1982 – Inglorious Basterds
Neither Inglorious Basterds nor Kill Bill, Vol. 2 make the list. It’s not that they’re not well-considered soundtracks, but they’re filled with Spaghetti Westernish atmospheric songs that aren’t well-suited to be pulled onto a mix (a pattern his upcoming Django Unchained is likely to continue).
Cat People is an example of Tarantino highlighting a track. It’s pretty jarring in the film, and I’m not sure that I like the song. But it’s interesting, which is something Tarantino still has going for him after almost twenty years.