Tarantino is known for incorporating existing songs into his films; his soundtracks are legendary. Faced with the challenge of ranking them, I’ve come up with two approaches. First, I’m going to rank the overall soundtracks of every film. I’ve been listening to them borderline obsessively for the past couple of weeks in preparation for this moment; at this point I might know the songs better than the films themselves. For the soundtracks I’m going to rank them on their own merits, on how they listen as a whole album and not necessarily how they work with the film. The track listing includes only the songs, not the included dialogue tracks. The album cover serves as a link to a review of the film. Second, I’m going to look at the music from a perspective that takes the film into account more. I’m going to rank the top ten specific songs as they appear in the films. They are judged both on the song, and their context within the film.
Coming in at number eight is….
“Goodnight Moon” Shivaree
“Il tramonto” Ennio Morricone
“Can’t Hardly Stand It” Charlie Feathers
“Tu Mira” Lole y Manuel
“Summertime Killer” Luis Bacalov
“The Chase” Alan Reeves, Phil Steele, and Philip Brigham
“L’arena” Ennio Morricone
“A Satisfied Mind” Johnny Cash
“A Silhouette of Doom” Ennio Morricone
“About Her” Malcolm McLaren
“Malaguena Salerosa” Chingon
“Urami Bushi” Meiko Kaji
These songs work a lot better in the film than by themselves in my opinion. I like Johnny Cash in general, but this particular song isn’t that great. I also kind of like “About Her,” but I much rather just listen to the original version of that song. I like “Can’t Hardly Stand It” a lot though. That’s really the only one. So yeah, I don’t have much against this music when it’s in the film, but the soundtrack by itself is not something I would seek out.
Coming in at number seven is…
“The Green Leaves of Summer” Nick Perito and His Orchestra
“The Verdict” Ennio Morricone
“White Lightning” Charles Bernstein
“Slaughter” Billy Preston
“The Surrender” Ennio Morricone
“One Silver Dollar” Gianni Ferrio
“Davon Geht die Welt Nicht Unter” Zarah Leander
“The Man with the Big Sombrero” Samantha Shelton & Michael Andrew
“Ich wollt’ ich war’ ein Huhn” Lilian Harvey & Willy Fritsch
“Main Theme from Dark of the Sun” Jacques Loussier
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” David Bowie
“Tiger Tank” Lalo Shifrin
“Un Amico” Ennio Morricone
“Rabbio e Tarantella” Ennio Morricone
There aren’t really a lot of straight-up songs on here. In fact, the only ones are “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and “Slaughter” I don’t really like either of them that much. They’re okay, but not fantastic for me anyway. My favorite here is “The Green Leaves of Summer;” I get that one stuck in my head quite frequently. It’s very haunting and I like it a lot, but it’s really the only one on this whole album. To be clear, I think the soundtrack words fine in the film, but it’s not really one I like to listen to on its own.
Coming in at number six is…
“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” Nancy Sinatra
“That Certain Female” Charlie Feathers
“The Grand Duel” Luis Bacalov
“Twisted Nerve” Bernard Herrmann
“Ode to O-Ren Ishii” The RZA
“Run Fay Run” Isaac Hayes
“Green Hornet Theme” Al Hirt
“Battle without Honor or Humanity” Tomoyasu Hotei
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Santa Esmeralda
“Woo Hoo” 18.104.22.168.’s
“Crane/White Lightning” The RZA and Charles Bernstein
“The Flower of Carnage” Meiko Kahji
“The Lonely Shepard” Zamfir
“Ironside” Quincy Jones
“Super 16” Neu!
“Yakuza Oren 1” The RZA
“Bannister Fight” The RZA
Again, there’s only really one song I like to listen to outside of the film here. It’s “Bang Bang,” but I really do love that song. That’s why this one is higher than Basterds, but really it’s just a face-off between “Bang Bang” and “The Green Leaves of Summer” and “Bang Bang” definitely wins.
Coming in a number five is…
“Across 110th Street” Bobby Womack & Peace
“Strawberry Letter 23” The Brothers Johnson
“Who Is He? (And What Is He to You)” Bill Withers
“Tennessee Stud” Johnny Cash
“Natural High” Bloodstone
“Long Time Woman” Pam Grier
“(Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm” Foxy Brown
“Street Life” Randy Crawford
“Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” The Delfonics
“Midnight Confessions” The Grass Roots
“Inside My Love” Minnie Riperton
“The Lions and the Cucumber” The Vampires’ Sound Incorporation
“Monte Carlo Nights” Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods
Now we get into the soundtracks that I would potentially listen to just like any other album. I like a lot of the songs on here, but some of them I really don’t like. The good: “Across 110th Street”, “Tennessee Stud”, “Long Time Woman”, “Street Life”, and “Midnight Confessions.” The others are all varying degrees of unspectacular or cringe-inducing. Some of them are just too seventies for me.
Coming in at number four is….
“Misirlou” Dick Dale and His Dell-Tones
“Jungle Boogie” Kool & The Gang
“Let’s Stay Together” Al Green
“Bustin’ Surfboards” The Tornadoes
“Lonesome Town” Ricky Nelson
“Son of a Preacher Man” Dusty Springfield
“Bullwinkle Part II” The Centurions
“You Never Can Tell” Chuck Berry
“Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” Urge Overkill
“If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)” Maria McKee
“Comanche” The Revels
“Flowers on the Wall” The Statler Brothers
“Surf Rider” The Lively Ones
I like most of the songs on here, and there aren’t any that I really hate besides “Let’s Stay Together.” It’s actually an album I like as a whole better than some of the others that are higher than it, but their higher points are higher so that’s why Pulp Fiction is only at four. Let me just say for the record that “Flowers on the Wall” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard.
Coming in at number three is…
“Little Green Bag” George Baker Selection
“Hooked on a Feeling” Blue Swede
“I Gotcha” Joe Tex
“Magic Carpet Ride” Bedlam
“Fool for Love” Sandy Rogers
“Stuck in the Middle with You” Stealer’s Wheel
“Harvest Moon” Bedlam
“Coconut” Harry Nilsson
This one is really short, but it packs a lot of punch. A plus side to this one, which you can’t really tell from the track listing, is that you get that DJ from the Super Sounds of the Seventies show announcing the songs too, which I love. He’s great. The other dialogue I skip over in all of these soundtracks, but the DJ’s is so good I always listen to it. In terms of songs, I’m a big fan of “Little Green Bag”, “Stuck in the Middle with You”, and “Coconut.” I mean who doesn’t like “The Lime in the Coconut” song? (Which is what that is, just so we’re clear.)
Coming in at number two is…
“The Last Race” Jack Nitzsche
“Baby It’s You” Smith
“Paranoia Prima” Ennio Morricone
“Jeepster” T Rex
“Staggolee” Pacific Gas & Electric
“The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)” Joe Tex
“Good Love, Bad Love” Eddie Floyd
“Down in Mexico” The Coasters
“Hold Tight!” Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, & Tich
“Sally and Jack” Pino Donaggio
“It’s So Easy” Willy DeVille
“Riot in Thunder Alley” Eddie Beram
“Chick Habbit” April March
Death Proof may be the worst movie, but I previously said it had the best soundtrack. I have to take that back after seeing Django again, but Death Proof is still really good. The only song on here that I don’t like is “Chick Habbit” and that one’s not really that bad. Sometimes I skip it, sometimes I don’t, it really doesn’t matter that much. Another good thing about this one is that I didn’t know hardly any of these songs previously, so I was introduced to them through this film.
Coming in at number one is….
“Django” Rocky Roberts and Luis Bacalov
“The Braying Mule” Ennio Morricone
“His Name Was King” Luis Bacalov
“Freedom” Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton
“La Corsa” Luis Bacalov
“I Got a Name” Jim Croce
“I Giorni Dell’ira” Riz Ortolani
“100 Black Coffins” Rick Ross
“Nicaragua” Jerry Goldsmith
“Sister Sara’s Theme” Ennio Morricone
“Ancora Qui” Ennio Morricone and Elisa
“Unchained” James Brown and 2Pac
“Who Did That To You?” John Legend
“To Old to Die Young” Brother Dege
“Trinity” Franco Micallizi and Annibale
I love this soundtrack! I’ve listened to it so many times already; I don’t even want to admit how many times (not like I was counting, but if I was, it would be a really high number). I don’t like all of the songs on here; I’m not a big fan of rap so I skip those ones, but I really love the rest of them. A lot of these are original to this movie too, so that’s something. My favorites are “Freedom”, “Who Did That To You?”, “I Got a Name”, and “Django” of course. I really like all of them except the rap songs though.
10. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie in Inglourious Basterds
Like I said before I don’t really like this song that much, but I know people are fans of it so I put it on here anyway. Plus it’s really the only song song in this movie, so it stands out for that reason. Also, I think the war paint thing is pretty awesome.
9. “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack & Peace in Jackie Brown
I haven’t actually seen The Graduate in a long time, so I don’t remember the reference; I read about it. Nevertheless, I think it’s really cool. The reference doesn’t have anything to do with the song; they just happen to be happening at the same time. The song sets the tone for the film perfectly right from the beginning.
8. “Little Green Bag” by George Baker Selection in Reservoir Dogs
This is just about the coolest intro Tarantino has ever done, and a great portion of that greatness is due to the song. They all got suits and shades on, cool seventies tunes are playing, and they’re all walking down the street in the coolest way possible. There’s really only one word for this: cool.
7. “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” by The Delfonics in Jackie Brown
This isn’t so much a single scene as it is a continuous thing for a portion of the film, but it’s very emotional for me. Max goes and buys the tape of this song on Jackie’s recommendation because he likes her so much, and he listens to it later and Ordell recognizes it. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again; it’s just about the cutest thing ever. I don’t even like this song really, but it’s on here because of the emotions it inspires during the film.
6. “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry in Pulp Fiction
This is one of the most famous scenes in the most famous Tarantino film, so I had to have it on there. This song is really cool, but I kind of wish it had been something a bit more energetic. It still works really well though, and their dancing to it is really awesome. It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the film.
5. “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton in Django Unchained
I’m not sure if this picture is exactly right, but being that this is still a fairly new movie and there aren’t as many images out there for it, we’re going to have to take what we can get. This song was actually written for the film, which I’m pretty sure is unique to the songs on this list. I really like this song, and when it plays during the flashback where many of the crueler depictions of slavery are shown, it has a very great emotional impact. Seeing Django and Broomhilda trying to escape slavery to this song, and failing, is one of the most emotional moments in the film for me.
4. “I Got A Name” by Jim Croce in Django Unchained
One of the other emotional moments in Django is during this song, when Django and Schultz are just becoming partners. I saw this as a post on tumblr one time and it really got to me. The scenery is really beautiful with the mountains and the snow, and the song fits perfectly with it. I love how their action matches the music when the first start riding off.
3. “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill in Pulp Fiction
The twist scene from Pulp Fiction might be more famous; but this one is more powerful for me. Mia starts off just dancing in her house, pretty carefree, and ends up passed out on the floor and foaming at the mouth by the time the song’s over. Meanwhile, Vincent is the bathroom trying to figure out how avoid Mia gracefully, then ends up trying to figure out how to save her life. The difference between their lives when the song starts up and when it finishes is drastic, and very tragic as well.
2. “Bang Bang” by Nancy Sinatra in Kill Bill Vol. 1
I really like this song, and it works so well here because it describes The Bride’s situation almost perfectly. The song tells you all you need to know.
1. “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel in Reservoir Dogs
“Joe Eagen and Jerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealer’s Wheel when they recorded this Dillon-esque pop bubble gum favorite from April of 1974, that reached up to number five, as K Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies continues.” This scene with this song IS the most famous in the movie, and in a list of this sort including all the films ever made, it would still be at or near the top. ‘Nuff said.
So there you have! My opinion on Tarantino’s music usage in his films, which is generally fantastic. Sometimes it’s better than others of course, but overall it’s really good. The films have introduced a lot of new music for me, and reminded me of stuff I hadn’t heard in a long time. Man’s got good tunes.