Exploring Soundtracks: Pulp Fiction

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We’ve covered a fair share of Tarantino films in the past, but as I was looking over some of my previous posts, I noticed that we missed one of his most popular and well-known films. So this is merely a correction to make up for an earlier error on my part. Also, the music in Pulp Fiction is fantastic.

Quentin Tarantino is one of the few directors who can throw in surf rock, funk, and seventies soul in a film about philosophical hit-men, drugs, and boxing, and make it all work seamlessly. But I get it. After this, I promise we won’t be doing anymore Tarantino films. Maybe we’ll move over to Edgar Wright. If you have any suggestions, be sure to leave a comment below and I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

Miserlou

Pulp Fiction opens with the famous diner conversation between Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), at the end of which, they both pull out guns and begin robbing the restaurant. This opening scene is cut short before any resolution, freezing on Amanda Plummer’s snarling visage. Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” jumps in with rapid-fire surf rock guitar and loads of energy as we cut to the opening credits.

The watery guitar soaked with reverb in “Miserlou” has come to sonically define Pulp Ficiton over the years. The song spiked in popularity after the film released, and was later used as a sample in the Black Eyed Peas song, “Pump It”.

Jungle Boogie

In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino employs the use of radio static to switch from “Miserlou” to “Jungle Boogie” halfway through the opening credits. It’s a technique he also used in Reservoir Dogs that made “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” feel like a character in its own right.

This tonal shift very early in the movie does a few things to us as viewers and listeners. First, it signals that a change is coming. For a non-linear story like Pulp Fiction, viewers need to be primed for change, as it flips between story lines and characters like alternating channels on a television. It also brings attention to how the movie was crafted, almost as a reassurance. Like a friend making you a playlist, Tarantino asks viewers to trust that they’re in good hands.

The upbeat energy of “Miserlou” remains throughout the credits, but settles back into more of a groove with “Jungle Boogie”. As we open on Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in their car, “Jungle Boogie” continues to play on the radio throughout their conversation.

You Never Can Tell

This Chuck Berry classic captures one of, if not the most iconic scene in Pulp Fiction, where Vincent Vega and his boss’s wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) compete in a dance competition at the themed diner, “Jack Rabbit Slims”. This is one of those songs that, whenever I hear it, I think back to that scene. John Travolta doing the twist might be one of my favorite things.

Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon

Yet another iconic scene, and a marker of the first time I’ve heard this song, is Mia Wallace dancing by herself at home to Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”. At the same time, Vincent Vega talks to himself in the bathroom, struggling with an ethical dilemma.

Over the course of the song, we see Mia first dancing to the music, then becoming tired and bored, and smoking a cigarette on the couch. Then she finds a little plastic baggie of white powder in Vince’s coat pocket. Assuming it is cocaine, Mia draws up a line and snorts the heroin. The lyrics “Girl, you’ll be a woman…soon” are heard as her eyes go back and her nose starts bleeding.

Track List

While the songs we covered today make appearances in some of the more iconic scenes in Pulp Fiction, the entire soundtrack is filled with solid picks. A few of my favorite standouts include, “Surf Rider”, “Rumble”, and “Son Of A Preacher Man”. You can pick up the full soundtrack by visiting the LemonWire store here.

1. Misirlou – Dick Dale & His Del-Tones
2. Royale With Cheese – John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson
3. Jungle Boogie – Kool & The Gang
4. Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
5. Bustin’ Surfboards – The Tornados
6. Lonesome Town – Ricky Nelson
7. Son Of A Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
8. Zed’s Dead, Baby/Bullwinkle Part II – Maria De Medeiros, Bruce Willis, The Centurians
9. You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry
10. Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon – Urge Overkill
11. If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags) – Maria McKee
12. Bring Out The Gimp/Comanche – Peter Green/Duane Whitaker/The Revels
13. Flowers On The Wall – The Statler Brothers
14. Personality Goes A Long Way – John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson
15. Surf Rider – The Lively Ones
16. Ezekiel 25:17 – Samuel L. Jackson

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