Few directors are as adept as Quentin Tarantino at expertly sprinkling music in their work. Tarantino has used sound to add another layer to all of his works, and he raised the bar with his 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction.
The film astonishingly didn’t win the Oscar for ‘Best Picture’, but its legacy has grown with every passing year, and Pulp Fiction has rightfully earned its status as a modern classic. Moreover, the strange eclectic nature of the soundtrack is a crucial part of the brilliance of Tarantino’s creation, and with this film, he proved he knew the value of adding the right music to moving pictures.
“One of the things I do when I am starting a movie, when I’m writing a movie or when I have an idea for a film is, I go through my record collection and just start playing songs, trying to find the personality of the movie, find the spirit of the movie,” Tarantino once explained. “Then, ‘boom,’ eventually I’ll hit one, two or three songs, or one song in particular, ‘Oh, this will be a great opening credit song.'”
He added: “To me the opening credits are very important because that’s the only mood time that most movies give themselves. A cool credit sequence and the music that plays in front of it, or note played, or any music ‘whatever you decide to do’ that sets the tone for the movie that’s important for you.
“So I’m always trying to find what the right opening or closing credit should be early on when I’m just even thinking about the story. Once I find it that really kind of triggers me into what the personality of the piece should be what the rhythm of this piece should be.”
Below we explore Pulp Fiction through the film’s five best musical moments.
The best musical moments in ‘Pulp Fiction’
Dick Dale – ‘Misirlou’
As Tarantino says, the opening credits are vital, and it’s here where the audience needs to buy into the film. The key aim of these moments is to whip up a sense of intrigue, and Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’ was an obscure song to pick, but it was the perfect decision.
The late guitarist, who passed away in 2019, was a musician’s musician, and he inspired the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend. Astonishingly, his recording of ‘Misirlou’ was largely unknown before Tarantino introduced it to a worldwide audience. Following the release of Pulp Fiction, he became inextricably linked with the motion picture, and it was the first line of his eulogies after his death.
Kool & The Gang – ‘Jungle Boogie’
When ‘Jungle Boogie’ was released in 1973 by Kool & The Gang, it became a hit, but Tarantino’s masterful eye gave it a second lease of life two decades later when he included it in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
Although the track is only played on a low volume out of Jules’ car stereo, it adds a light ambience to one of the film’s most comedic moments. It gently plays while Vincent is detailing the cultural differences between America and Europe, which he hilariously explores by using McDonald’s as an example.
Al Green – ‘Let’s Stay Together’
Al Green has a voice that makes butter melt and can improve everything. The decision to use Green’s calming ‘Let’s Stay Together’ in one of the film’s most tense scenes as Marcellus Wallace delivers some home truths to Butch, and bizarrely, the blissful track creates a delightful juxtaposition.
Similarly to Kool & The Gang’s ‘Jungle Boogie’, the track quietly sits in the scene’s background rather than at the forefront, but that doesn’t take anything away from the emphatic impact ‘Let’s Stay Together’ makes in the production.
Dusty Springfield – ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’
Dusty Springfield’s voice is an utter delight, and blue-eyed soul doesn’t get much more beautiful than ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’, a masterstroke inclusion by Tarantino.
The track plays during a pivotal moment in Pulp Fiction when Vincent meets Uma Thurman’s character Mia for the first time. He comedically awaits her arrival while she talks to him over the intercom as Travolta’s character painfully tries to act cool.
Urge Overkill – ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’
As well as the obvious selections from the film, like Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’ and Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’, Urge Overkill’s iconic track ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’ steals the show.
A Neil Diamond original, Urge Overkill take the song to a new level and provide Uma Thurman’s character, Mia Wallace, with all the opportunity she needs to deliver a killer air guitar some serious bob-swishing and an array of hip sways to create the perfect rise before the fall. The song provides one of the most obvious foreshadowing pieces in the film, yet it doesn’t detract from the song. No matter how many times you’ve seen it.
The Lively Ones – ‘Surf Rider’
While most of the inclusions on this list are from iconic artists, Tarantino didn’t restrict himself to exclusively using revered names such as Al Green or Dusty Springfield. However, he elected to give ‘Surf Rider’ by The Lively Ones the honour of playing out in the film’s final scene.
They made a handful of albums together in the ’60s, but none of their work initially made a cultural impact, and it wasn’t until Pulp Fiction they finally received recognition. ‘Surf Rider’ soundtracked the second diner scene and brought the film to a close in delectable style as it played out during the end credits.
Chuck Berry – ‘You Never Can Tell’
Pulp Fiction is absolutely riddled with incredible songs and even more incredible moments to accompany them. But perhaps one of the most potent uses of pop music comes when Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega are sat down in the diner enjoying their $5 shakes and the opportunity to dance arises.
Tarantino opts for the diner-appropriate Chuck Berry classic ‘You Never Can Tell’ and, by doing so, created one of the most iconic scenes in modern cinema as they kick off their shoes and let rip. Tarantino said of the scene: “Now, and this scene is funny because it’s a situation is happening in the film where John Travolta and Uma Thurman are at this ’50s restaurant and then all of a sudden, they have this twist contest. And the thing is, everybody thinks that I wrote this scene to have John Travolta dancing. But the scene existed before John Travolta was cast, but once he was cast, it was like, ‘Great. We get to see John dance’.”