Being Thowback Thursday, we thought we would take this opportunity to look back through the vault and rediscover a classic record. Ahead of Friday’s release of the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight, we thought it was about time we revisited the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece: Pulp Fiction.
From the very beginning, Quentin Tarantino’s films have been as much about the music as the dialogue. From Little Green Bag in Reservoir Dogs to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell and Cat People in Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino has continued to expertly compile soundtracks curated in part from his own vast library of music.
The anticipation for his next film, The Hateful Eight, increased dramatically when it was announced that legendary composer Ennio Morricone would score the film with his first Western soundtrack for forty years. While The Hateful Eight is not out until after Christmas, the soundtrack is released on 18th December. Until then we are going to look back at Tarantino’s most iconic and stylised soundtrack to date.
Pulp Fiction was one of the biggest films of the 1990’s and its stylistic influence remains strong to this day. When picking actors, Tarantino often looks to use those whose star has faded and to bring them back to centre stage. Pulp Fiction did this for John Travolta, revitalising him in the public’s perceptions. In a similar way, Tarantino’s soundtrack choices allowed incredible songs like Son of A Preacher Man and Kool & The Gang’s Jungle Boogie the opportunity to be loved by a whole new generation.
On the soundtrack, a selection of the film’s most memorable dialogue is interspersed between the tracks, giving a sense of the roller-coaster pacing of the film. With this dialogue and each song being so central to the scenes they are taken from, the soundtrack offers a vivid audio journey through the most memorable moments of a two and a half hour film in just forty one minutes.
The soundtrack starts with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s conversation that culminates in holding up a diner. This leads into the credits and Dick Dale’s Miserlou, as iconic a piece of film music as there has ever been. The 60’s surf feel lends a sense of action and excitement without giving anything away about what is to come – be it first watch or first listen, all we know is that it is going to be something special.
Travolta’s character, Vincent Vega, and Samuel L. Jackson’s, Jules, share a hilarious exchange about the differences between America and Europe. The ‘Royale with Cheese’ dialogue is one of many memorable scenes from the film that are intertwined with the music on the soundtrack, giving the album its own unique vignette style, much the same as the tone of the film. While their discussion continues, Kool & The Gang’s Jungle Boogie plays on the car radio, leaving no doubt as to the decade in which the film is set.
Let’s Stay Together adds a soulful side to things as Bruce Willis’ character, Butch the boxer, has his story arc introduced. In the film, mob boss Marsellus Wallace is in the process of fixing a fight while this song plays in the background. It is quite a long scene with little visual variation. This allows the song to set up the personality of Butch in contrast to the scheming criminals. On the soundtrack this is all vividly brought back by the song alone, demonstrating the deftness with which Tarantino curated this collection.
Bustin’ Surfboards by The Tornadoes delivers more instrumental surf rock. It doesn’t have the immediacy of Misirlou but is certainly visceral scene setting. Carrying on, Ricky Nelson’s Lonesome Town is a sweet ballad that says a lot more about the characters than it might seem at first; ‘in the town of broken dreams/the streets of regret/maybe down in Lonesome Town/ I can learn to forget.’
The first few seconds of Son of a Preacher Man are sultry and alluring meaning they fit like a dream for Mia’s introduction. She is hardly in the scene and yet the song tells us everything we need to know about the character. The Jack Rabbit Slims Twist Contest is arguably the definitive scene of 90’s cinema and so it is only right to have the scene’s dialogue introducing Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell on the soundtrack. As with so many of these songs, it is now culturally hard-wired into the film and our memories of this iconic bit of cinema.
Mia’s overdose sequence plays out around Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon. This cover version brought the band a lot of attention. Simply, it is an astonishing version of the song: passionate, sinister and beautiful all at once. It is an instant, timeless classic. Mia’s singing and dancing are full of charm that display the innocence in her character.
Next up, Maria McKee, fresh from the smash hit Show Me Heaven a few years earlier, delivers the only original song with If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags). The sparse track contains echoes of the era but is essentially a mood piece in the same way as the instrumentals.
The Statler Brothers’ country song Flowers on the Wall is deliberately disjointed from the rest of the album. In the film it is the song Butch sings in his car just as he is spotted by Marsellus who is crossing the road in front of him. For this reason, it would have made more sense to place this before Comanche in order to maintain the film’s chronological order.
Personality Goes a Long Way brings us back to the diner with more dialogue in which Vincent and Jules are in a discussion about eating meat. Finally, The Lively Ones’ Surf Rider mirrors Miserlou by leading into credits as the beginning and end of the film loop back around to join each other, both naratively and musically.
The album finishes with Samuel L. Jackson’s now trademark speech Ezekiel 25:17. Pieces like this and instrumentals like Bullwinkle Part II are what sets Pulp Fiction apart from so many other film soundtracks. The range of classic songs vividly recalls the finest scenes and characters in the film. The dialogue sits in between, guiding the story. The fact that it feels like an experience rather that a collection of signposts proves this is much more than a thrown together compilation. This soundtrack is essentially an abridged audio version of the film and, therefore, an all-time great.
The Morricone soundtrack to The Hateful Eight is released on December 18th.