Tue. Oct 15th, 2019

Renowned For Sound

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Record Rewind: Pulp Fiction – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

3 min read

‘Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!’ shrieks Honey Bunny, and with that, Dick Dale, the king of surf guitar, launches into the exotic rapid fire plucking that pervades the perennial Misirlou.

I’ve been listening to this sequence, which opens the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, since roughly the day my parents acquired a car with a CD player in it, years before I was old enough to actually watch the film. The disc has never strayed far from whatever automobile is getting me around, and just as my folks had the record on high rotation for family trips, I have spun it relentlessly since I got my license – ad nauseam if you ask some of my friends.

PulpFictionSoundtrackIn addition to the aforementioned Misirlou, the album is brimming with other ‘60s surf masterpieces. I think it’s the inherently cruisy nature of that kind of music that makes the soundtrack seem so apt for the road, and when a high John Travolta drifts down a night-time highway in his convertible, the foreboding blues of Bullwinkle Pt. 2 by The Centurions rumbling along with him, the deal is sealed.

The images that accompany the tunes in the film, though, are not always so tranquil. The scratchy sax blasting in Comanche by The Revels, for example, provides the musical backdrop to pawn shop basement sodomy, the album version of the track featuring at its start a threatening bit of dialogue from Zed: ‘Bring out the gimp’, he demands.

The soundtrack is bejewelled with other interlocutory gems from the film. Vince and Jules discuss those ‘little differences’ between Europe and America and then the hygienic principles underlying eating pork all in that brilliantly casual Tarantino dialect. The record is capped off, of course, by Samuel L. Jackson’s famous monologue – that cold-blooded embellishment of Ezekiel 25:17.

The tracks aren’t all ‘60s surf and speaking though. Following on from the opening Misirlou is Jungle Boogie, a supremely funky piece from Kool & the Gang. Soulful sing-alongs are provided in the form of Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. Some Southern flavours are also added by Maria McKee’s melancholy tune If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags) and the jangly banjo-heavy number Flowers on the Wall from The Statler Brothers.

Sitting in a booth at the retro restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim’s, John Travolta and Uma Thurman dine to some appropriately aged tunes. There’s Ricky Nelson’s 1958 answer to Elvis’s Heartbreak Hotel in the form of Lonesome Town, and some tracks from Link Wray that unfortunately didn’t make it from the film onto the album. After dinner, the pair do the twist to some rock’n’roll from Chuck Berry before returning home for Urge Overkill’s cover of Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon and a dramatic foray with heroin.

Seldom do you hear a film soundtrack with tracks chosen so perfectly that it can be aptly described as a masterpiece with or without being applied to the moving image. The music to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is flawless, from Honey Bunny’s breakfast-time bellowing at the restaurant robbery right up until Vince and Jules tuck their pistols into their undersized board shorts and strut coolly out the door of the same building to the sound of Surf Rider by The Lively Ones.