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Quentin Tarantino Reveals The Secrets Behind His Classic Soundtracks

Quentin Tarantino Reveals The Secrets Behind His Classic Soundtracks

Speaking exclusively to Dig!, Quentin Tarantino discusses his ‘Jackie Brown, ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Inglorious Basterds’ soundtrack tricks.


In an exclusive interview with Dig!, the iconic director, screenwriter, producer and author Quentin Tarantino has shared some of the secrets behind the soundtracks of three of his most celebrated films, Jackie Brown (1997), Death Proof (2007) and Inglorious Basterds (2009).

Talking with Elaine Sir of Warner Music Group, and the award-winning music supervisor Mary Ramos (who has worked with the director on over a dozen films), Tarantino began by remembering the music of the films of his youth, and how the best movie songs enhanced the viewing experience: “I’ve always just considered – from the time of going to movies as a young man – that the combination of the right pop song with the right scene just always had a special cinematic kinetic kick. I remember going to movies in the 80s, there would be a really well-done use of a song in a in a sequence – they’d build the scene around the use of that song. I’d go and see that movie three times, just for that one scene.”

“The music is a key to the personality of the movie”

Tarantino went on to discuss how important music can be in the early stages of writing a film: “The music is a key to the personality of the movie. And also, the beat of the movie, the rhythm that the movie’s supposed to play at. So, if I come up with an idea that I think is a good idea for a movie, usually I sit on it for a while and just kind of let it grow and grow and grow. And then when I start and actually think, This is actually something that I could spend the next two years of my life doing, my first stop is I go into my vinyl room – I have a little room right off of my bedroom, it used to be a nursery, I turned it into a used record store. And so, first things first, I just start going through my records and start pulling records that… have really interesting pieces of music that could be what I’m looking for…. And then, usually once I find three or four songs that I can imagine really being in the movie, especially something that could be the opening credit sequence – well, that goes a long way to actually helping me discover the story and thinking, OK, let’s take this to the next step. Which is sitting down and writing it.”

As Ramos says of Tarantino: He’s not the kind of director who’s gonna pick something that he’s heard on the radio… He’s the kind of guy who’s gonna hand me a homemade video cassette tape of a 70s Japanese television show and say, ‘This little piece of music, not the main title – I want that.’”

On ‘Jackie Brown’:

“I knew I was I doing this movie that was gonna be jumping off from Blaxploitation movies. And the thing that I think a lot of people think of when they think of Blaxploitation movies is the really groovy soundtracks that went along with them. I have a whole Blaxploitation section [in my record room], so I just started digging through there, digging through my soul collection, and then came up with four or five, six songs already. Not all of them made it into the movie, but it was like, Oh, this is the beat that Jackie Brown needs to play at.”

“I think the best mixtape I ever made was for Bridget Fonda. I literally made just a tape of the stuff Melanie [Fonda’s character in Jackie Brown] would listen to. Midnight Confessions [by The Grass Roots] was definitely on it.”

“There was something really special about Jackie Brown, like I had my own Blaxploitation soundtrack. And actually, I had the soundtracks to all the Pam Grier movies, so I had the soundtracks to Coffee, Foxy Brown, Sheba Baby, Bucktown… So to actually be able to put them on my wall and then put my Pam Grier Blaxploitation soundtrack right next to it was really cool.”

“On Jackie Brown we used an album cut [Inside My Love] from Minnie Riperton’s Adventures In Paradise, that was never a hit on the radio. It wasn’t even on her big album; it was on my favourite album of hers… It was just a really good album cut and then – because of its prominent feature in Jackie Brown, both on the soundtrack and in the movie – now you listen to these oldies stations, I’ve heard them play that Minnie Riperton song as if it were a hit. It wasn’t, but it kind of is now.”

On ‘Death Proof’:

“A good three quarters of the songs in Death Proof are taken right from the jukebox that’s in the movie, which is my jukebox that I had shipped there [to Austin, Texas, where the film was shot]. And the thing about it was, I wasn’t just choosing any old song that came up. No, it has to be a song from the jukebox. There were a couple of reprint, golden-oldie 45s in there, but most of the 45s were original pressing, original label 45s that were bought in Antone’s Records in Austin, which would be perfect for the Texas chilli parlour, since it takes place in Austin. So it was important that the Pacific Gas & Electric version of Staggolee was from the original label 45 – it’s actually the B-side to Are You Ready?, which was the hit.”

“The version of Down In Mexico is very special. It’s not the 50s version of The Coasters doing Down In Mexico. In 1978 or ’79, I was in a used-record store, and they had this thing – The Coasters Versus The Drifters, you know, “As seen on television.” It wasn’t [budget label] K-Tel, but it was that kind of thing. I remember I bought it, and I was working at a movie theatre at the time, and I showed it to the projectionist, and he was like, ‘This is bad news, see – “not the original versions”, so it’s probably just some version of The Coasters that was going on in the 70s.’” That sounds like a drag, right? You want the original one. Well, their version of Down In Mexico on this one little effing record that came and went in the 70s is drastically the best version of Down In Mexico I’ve ever heard. This was expansive and it almost felt like a live version to some degree. And it was just a really soulful version. But there’s no finding this record again – this is not a record people knew about. So, I knew I had what I considered the greatest version of that song. And if anything ever happened to this record, that’s it. It would be gone. And so, when I thought about putting it in Death Proof and setting the lap dance to that, I go, ‘Well, great! Now I can finally use that version of the song in the movie, then we’ll put it on the soundtrack album, and I’ll save it. So, it’s not just counting on my one vinyl which, if it gets scratched, that’s it. Now it’ll be on my soundtrack and other people can get it and it’ll be saved for history.’”

“I wanted to put the audience in this badass 70s car movie, something like Vanishing Point or the original Gone In 60 Seconds. And the thing about the Jack Nitzsche song, The Last Race, was I didn’t know that it was ever done as a drag-racing single, because that piece of music was the theme to the movie Village Of The Giants. I always loved the opening credits – it has these teenagers eat some food that turns them into giants, and then they’re in slow motion, just rocking out. It’s a really great sequence and that music is amazing. Then somewhere along the way, I was at Antone’s Records and I found The Last Race. I went, ‘What the heck is this?’ They had turntables there, so I put it on and go, ‘Holy moly, that’s the theme to Village Of The Giants.’ But it had car noises on it. I’m shooting Death Proof in Austin at the time – I go, ‘Woah, that’s the opening credits right there!’ And, you know, as much as I liked Village Of The Giants, it does seem more appropriate as a piece of car music. So to me, that was that was that theme getting used the way it always should have been used.”

On ‘Inglorious Basterds’:

“This was a different soundtrack for us because we couldn’t just turn on the radio and hear pop songs – we do have a couple of pop songs in this, but you know it’s more or less built into the time period. So I went through really cool German pop albums from the time. There’s this song from that movie Lucky Kids [a 1936 German propaganda film], I Wish I Had A Chicken [Ich Wollt Ich Waer Ein Huhn]. And then I go, ‘All of those work and they’re terrific, actually. We need something else in that vein. The Man With The Big Sombrero is from the 40s, so – well, let’s just do a French version of it.’ And so we had it translated in French and then we got Sam Shelton to sing it, and it worked out great. It was really charming.”

“I try not to have stuff be on the nose. Normally when I see a use of a song that is really on the nose and is literally describing exactly what we’re seeing, it usually suggests that [the filmmakers] don’t understand how to use music in movies. Now, I have done that from time to time. But there’s usually an ironic aspect to it, or sometimes it is describing what’s going on in the scene, but that’s obviously not the intention of the song. So like the fact that the lyrics to Cat People can go with exactly what what’s going on on screen, but David Bowie didn’t write the song about a Jewish girl fighting Nazis in World War Two, he wrote it about cat people. But when you look at it in that context, it sounds like David Bowie wrote the song for [female lead] Shosanna.”

Find out more classic cinematic highlights, browse our range of Soundtracks on vinyl

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