Welcome back to another instalment of Turning Down The Suck, featuring everybody's favourite guest writer Alex James – that's me, for those not paying attention. I know my poor maligned blog State of Affairs has been...well, maligned recently, and I'm working on remedying that, but until the blog post detailing my recent exploits in England is finally finished, this will have to tide you over.
Van Der Sweet called me this morning begging for content, and after extracting a sizable ransom from him in the form of a nice big bottle of Forty Creek Rye (official State of Affairs libation), I agreed to put something together – when I realized the writer's block that has plagued me for weeks at SoA transferred cleanly to every other blogging project to which I'm attached. So I started asking around for topics, and Lu Galasso of Inching Towards Mediocrity suggested a top five list of Songs To Murder Your Family To. I won't delve too deeply into the psychological chasm that is Lu, but suffice to say I figure he's already put together that play list. I just wish I knew how to contact his mother. In either case it got me thinking: brutal murders set to music immediately led my train of thought to noted writer and director Quentin Tarantino.
Say what you want about old Quentin, the man knows his music. I'm not an enormous fan of his movies, though I was in high school, but I was always impressed with his ability to pick unusual, often obscure musical numbers for his soundtracks and make them memorable. In his own words (courtesy of an interview on the fantastic compilation album “The Tarantino Connection”:
I hope you enjoyed that video; it only took me three goddamn hours to put together. You're welcome.
I've always been a fan of movie soundtracks, as I've mentiond before, and Quentin is definitely the last word in setting film to music (at least in my opinion). So to assuage your Alex James withdrawal symptoms and for your reading pleasure, I have compiled my top five favourite songs, in no particular order, Tarantino ever put in a movie.
#5: Misilou (Dick Dale and his Del Tones) from the film “Pulp Fiction”
It's like the man said: opening your movie with this song throws down a gauntlet that essentially says “we're big”, and boy, were they ever. Pulp Fiction was released in 1994 to enormous critical acclaim: I'm sure casting the likes of Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel and the indomitable Samuel L. “Motherfucker” Jackson in the same flick probably helped. This is the one Tarantino flick I still genuinely love to this day, and in my opinion represents the apex of his career – too bad it was only his second film. “Misilou”s surf-guitar riff became synonymous with the box office hit (Lu refers to it as “the Pulp Fiction song”) and was one of the first licks I ever learned to play on guitar. To this day, I can't help but scream “hup-hup-HAAAA” every time I hear this on the radio.
#4: Tender Trap (Frank Sinatra) from the film “True Romance”
Okay, so QT didn't actually direct this one – in fact it was his first-ever screenplay – but it ranks high on my Tarantino Projects list because Christian Slater is one of the few men ever to make me question my heterosexuality. Oh, and that Arquette woman is pretty, too. Anyway, as would become the standard with most Tarantino films, True Romance featured an all-star cast spending a solid hour and a half murdering each other when they aren't fucking one another's brains out, so this one gets a win from me. I'm at a bit of an impasse telling you who actually recorded this song for the movie; it's originally attributed to Ol' Blue Eyes, which is why I credited him in the title, but I don't think it's him singing on the record, and Brent is at work so I can't ask him (because he'd know). I tell you what, my friends – I'm a bit of a closet romantic, and one of the few men who can bring it out in me is Frank Sinatra. This song plucks the brittle, rusting strings of my black little heart. Now that I've declared my love for not one, but two men, let's move on.
#3: Dark Night (The Blasters) from the film “From Dusk Till Dawn”
Okay, I don't usually like vampire movies. I've said this before. But this was one of the strangest vampire movies I've ever seen, in that I don't actually think it was supposed to be one. Tarantino wrote the script for this one, and anybody who's seen it will probably agree with me when I say the first forty minutes of the flick is the pretty standard “crime movie, run-for-the-border” fare we've come to expect from QT. Then, suddenly, the script takes an abrupt right-angle drop into What The Fuck Ville when Salma Hayek's stripper character (who I sincerely wish would have been referred to on-screen by her credited character name “Satanico Pandemonium”) inexplicably turns into a lizard-headed bloodsucker and initiates a bloodbath of – well, Tarantino-esque proportions. My friends and I have often wondered if they didn't run out ideas in the second act, when director Robert Rodriguez and QT shared a joint and inspiration struck: “I know, let's add vampires!” Anyway, the track “Dark Night” by California blues-rock outfit The Blasters hits all the right notes: the perfect blend of the macabre and the redneck. Tell me you don't want to squint hard into the sun and load your six-shooter while listening to this. If you say “no”, you're lying.
#2: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (Santa Esmerelda) from the film “Kill Bill Volume 1”
I'm going to go on record saying I really didn't like the Kill Bill movies. Not to say they were bad, overtly; I'm just not a fan of that kind of corny seventies kung-fu flick Tarantino seemed bound and determined to “pay homage to” (better known as “ape for ideas and style”). As usual the cast was fantastic and the music was well above-par, but there was just something about it I didn't dig. I don't mind tongue-in-cheek, or so-bad-it's-good, but this movie seemed to get lost somewhere in between the two, and the result was decidedly sub-par in my opinion. But as much as I can't stand kung-fu flicks, I love interesting covers of well-known songs, and this Latino'd-up version of the Animals classic really stuck a chord with me. I love the original song, and I really liked the spicy flavour Santa Esmerelda brought to their version (the only one better is the Gypsy Kings doing “Hotel California” in The Big Lebowski, which, incidentally, is a way better movie than Kill Bill).
#1: Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer's Wheel) from the film “Reservoir Dogs”
Come on, you all saw this coming. At least, anybody who's seen Reservoir Dogs saw it coming. This is perhaps the quintessential expression of what Quentin calls the importance of putting the right song in the right sequence, which he explains here:
I remember the first time I watched Reservoir Dogs; my high school friends who were all considerably older than me were appalled that I hadn't seen it yet, and they damn near had multiple aneurisms when I said I'd not seen anything by QT at all, so they tied me to a chair and forced his entire repertoire to date down my throat, beginning with this flick. The now-infamous scene in which Michael Madsen's Mister White chops off a cop's ear with a shaving razor before dousing him in gasoline (for those who haven't seen the movie, he doesn't actually get to light the guy on fire: Tim Roth shoots him first. Spoiler alert!) quickly became my favourite in the film, partly due to a maladjusted sense of humour on my part, and partly because Stealer's Wheel is just so darn catchy. I may have gotten into considerable trouble when my best friend and I reenacted this scene for our high school's talent competition. Apparently the principal wasn't a Gerry Rafferty fan. Yeah, that must have been it.
What Did We Learn?
I said it before and I'll say it again now: you can say what you like about Quentin Tarantino (and I have) but he still knows how to script a soundtrack. I haven't watched most of the movies I've listed here in years, but their play lists still live on my iTunes in regular rotation, and I think that says something about Tarantino's ability to make other people famous. Hey, he resurrected Bruce Willis' career, didn't he?
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs and can regularly be found chopping bits off people he doesn't like while listening to Sounds of the Super 70s.