My Favorite Soundtrack: 'Pulp Fiction'

Tarantino's gleefully sick sense of humour thrills thanks to expert music choices. What better example is there than in his most iconic offering: 'Pulp Fiction'?

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Mar 19 2014, 5:00pm
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Listening to a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack is like opening a box of luxury chocolates: you can’t lose. It's a guaranteed taste sensation. No messing around with orange crèmes, no Mounds, none of that shit that gets left till last. Every film has its own flare, its own little je n’ai sais quoi. Remember the time Rick Ross cropped up in the middle of Django Unchained, or when “Stuck in the Middle With You” was used to soundtrack a man having his ear scalped off? Tarantino gives no fucks. His soundtracks are eclectic yet predictable, dark but then also very funny, and as with every box of chocolates there’s a favorite. My Tarantino favorite, ladies and gentlemen, is Pulp Fiction. But you already knew that.

It’s the caramel fudge bar of musical delicacies in your box set, the cherry on top of the cake—if the cake was made of heroin and severed limbs. From the blasting opening bars of "Misirlou" (a song I refuse to let the Black Eyed Peas ruin) to the now infamous dance sequence in Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Pulp Fiction is a thoroughbred horse of movie soundtracks, its sonic prestige helping to shape some of the most memorable scenes ever filmed. Pulp Fiction’s blend of rock n roll, soul, western, and balls out, no-nonsense pop music cements the film's icon status. The music effortlessly soundtracks Tarantino's patchwork of artwork, costume, and screenplay that draws from all decades of postmodern America, from the noir glamour of Uma Thurman on the poster to the 50s kitsch of the scenery.

Unafraid to play with glaring irony, much of the soundtrack’s beauty lies in the way Tarantino screws with your stomachs, by pairing the most graphic scenes with the cheekiest of surf rock selections. Mia Wallace strums along to the opening bars of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” like a teenager in her bedroom; the build up to her heroin overdose played out by the equivalent of The Distillers covering Britney Spears. Urge Overkill make her the ultimate femme fatale, just as “Bullwinkle Part II” makes John Travolta the ultimate lovechild of frat boy and gangster, as he shoots up and cruises round LA, an intoxicating image of American braggadocio.

Tarantino, as always, manages to bring in an intensely black humor via his soundtrack at the most eye-popping of moments. Nowhere is this more funny/unsettling during Marcellus Wallace’s rape scene, as the boisterous and unforgiving “Comanche” rolls itself out behind Bruce Willis struggling to choose a murder weapon. You can’t help but smirk as he upgrades himself to from a chainsaw to a samurai sword, before standing aside for Wallace to blast Zed right in the crotch. The balance of brutality and comedy makes no sense yet makes perfect sense, a fucked up marriage of music and screenplay.

In contrast, the film noir romance and mystery that’s brought to relationships formed between characters has music to thank for as much as the acting. When the dialogue becomes minimal, diagetic sound takes over. As Marcellus and Butch make pacts in a seedily red lit bar, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” serenades them over the radio, giving what is already a never tenser situation the feel of a first date. Then there's Mia and Vince who begin and end the hottest love affair that never was as Chuck Berry guides them through that dance, the pair soundlessly locking eyes in a moment of cinema magic. Tarantino’s use of music softens the blow but hardens the effect: how else could you watch rape, overdose and violent murder and come away from it with a song in your heart and a hankering to sit down and watch the whole thing again?


Responsible for bringing surf rock back into the mainstream and giving Urge Overkill enough of a one hit wonder to base a career around, the soundtrack features, not only songs, but scenes from the film, minute long clips of speech that you probably learned and repeatedly recited since the mid 90s. From the simpering love confessions of Ringo and Yolanda, followed by Samuel L Jackson hollering “YOU WILL KNOW MY NAME IS THE LORD WHEN I LAY MY VENGEANCE UPON THEE”—which freaks the fuck out of me when my iPod's on shuffle—but in context they’ve become some of the most recognizable lines in modern cinema. Whether it’s the slow jams you first found in your parent’s record collection or the ominous, quiffed up surf rock that sounds weird if you hear it played anywhere outside of a kooky 50s homage diner, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack will sit smug in musical history, knowing the weight it has on film buffs and music snobs alike.


Tamara's on Twitter - @tamararoper

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