Album Review: “Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

OUATIH1

When I caught wind that Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, was going to be released in July of 2019, and learned that it was set in 1969, right away I began to wonder what would be on the soundtrack. I pondered it to the point where I wrote an article about Tarantino and his soundtracks and conjectured what tunes might feature on his next one. While a film set in 1969 could conceivably have music in it that was recorded any year prior to that, I scoured the Top 40 lists from that specific year and tried to come up with significant releases from the first half of 1969 that would fit in Quentin’s world. I got one bang on and he did use two other artists I suggested but not the specific songs I cited.

One thing I did not predict for OUATIH is Quentin’s use of the radio. I did mention in my previous article that there is a precedent for this technique that was pioneered by George Lucas and his seminal American Graffiti. Quentin also uses disc jockeys in his film but instead of Wolfman Jack, QT highlights “Boss Radio” jocks “The Real” Don Steele and “Humble” Harve Miller.

Helping to present the aura of Los Angeles circa 1969, the voices of these two legendary DJs are heard as car radios blast KHJ-AM throughout OUATIH, complete with jingles and advertisements. “Boss Radio” was a format that emerged in 1965 that narrowed a station’s playlist and featured a heavier rotation of current hits, cut DJ chatter – although, when they did talk it was frenetic – and shortened jingles. Another of KHJ’s original “Boss Jocks” was Roger Christian, who had written lyrics for the Beach Boys. This format revolutionized radio and the Boss Jocks became famous and in-demand until FM radio took over in the late 1970’s. In November of 1980, the mighty KHJ-AM played “Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)” by Mac Davis and then changed their format to country music. Currently, the station broadcasts Roman Catholic religious programming.

khj_209a1

khj_209b1
“The Real” Don Steele and the “Boss 30” from July 2, 1969.

The original motion picture soundtrack was released on July 26th and contains most of the excellent songs heard in the film, with at least one sad omission. Also on the soundtrack are many of the jingles and DJ voices used throughout the movie.

Seems to me that songs in a film can be used one of two ways; as background or to accelerate or comment on the action. A song can therefore either be simply sensed or it can dominate a scene. In OUATIH we have both. I should mention right out of the gate the first track that was associated with this film by way of the initial trailer and that is “Bring a Little Lovin'” by Los Bravos. Gotta hand it to Quentin here. Here is an obscure song by a known band, a band known for their one hit “Black is Black”. Not only has Tarantino unearthed a gem here but this energetic song moves and augments the action of the trailer. Curiously, in the film itself, it is just another song heard on the radio.

Another highlight of the soundtrack is the song I correctly predicted would be there; “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” by the Bob Seger System. Heard early in the film on the radio as Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) bombs home to his trailer, it also has a low profile in the film. It is possessed of the same jack-hammer power of the Los Bravos tune and could easily have taken it’s place in the trailers.

MV5BYTdmZGQ1MDMtNGZjMS00N2QwLWI1NWEtODI0ZTdjZmRmMWViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg4OTg4Njc@._V1_
Cliff (Pitt) drives Rick (Leonardo DeCaprio) around in Rick’s Cadillac. The radio is always on.

Starting off the soundtrack album is the first song heard in the film, “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head. I was surprised to hear this tune in the pole position though I’m not sure why. Perhaps because, to me, the song sounds older in style than others in the film, though it came out in 1965. Another tune heard in the film and on the album is a real “oldie”; “Hey, Little Girl” by Dee Clark. Heard on the car radio as Cliff drives Rick Dalton’s Caddy out to Spahn Ranch, this tune was first released in 1959. Seemed to me this track was from a whole other era. But this says something about the crowd-pleasing Boss Radio format heard on KHJ – not just current hits but old favourites, too.

The hard-driving “Hush” by Deep Purple can be heard as Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) races his car at high speeds with his pretty blonde wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), at his side. This is a perfect song for fast driving. While I was writing my previous article, I pored over Billboard’s Top 40 charts from 1969 and came upon many artists I had never heard of. Dyke and the Blazers was one. The Flying Machine was another. And yet another was the Buchanan Brothers. I listened to their song “Medicine Man” and suggested it could be used in Quentin’s new film. The Buchanan Brothers can be heard in OUATIH but the song used is the excellent light-hearted tune “Son of a Lovin’ Man”. In the film, Sharon dances to it at the Playboy Mansion with Michelle Phillips and Mama Cass Elliott.

Once-Upon-a-Time-in-Hollywood-2-1-620x418
Sharon dances at the Playboy Mansion to the Buchanan Brothers.

Few other groups would be more appropriate to have on this soundtrack than Paul Revere and the Raiders. This pop/rock group was popular through the second half of the ’60’s and into the early ’70’s. Their success was engineered and their sound guided by record producer Terry Melcher. The only child of Doris Day, Melcher has a unique place in history as the man who crushed Charles Manson’s dream of becoming a musician. In part as payback for this slight, Manson orchestrated the Tate-LaBianca Murders. Melcher’s work with the Raiders is spotlighted on the soundtrack album and they also feature in the film. Sharon plays their “The Spirit of ’67” album in her bedroom and references the band in conversation with Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) . “Good Thing” and “Hungry” are back-to-back on the OUATIH album.

Another George Lucas/American Graffiti connection is in Quentin’s inclusion of the Robert Corff song “Don’t Chase Me Around”. Notably, the closing credits of Lucas’ film featured the Beach Boys’ “All Summer Long”, a wistful song that echoed the sentiments of the end of that film. However, AmGraf is set in September of 1962 and “All Summer Long” came out in the summer of ’64. Similarly, “Don’t Chase Me Around” is from the Roger Corman/American International film Gas-s-s-s which premiered in September of 1970, over a year after the events of OUATIH.

I love that Tarantino uses José Feliciano’s subdued version of “California Dreamin'”. José’s version appears on his excellent 1968 album Feliciano! and his take is plaintive and almost sad; as if his dream of California has not materialized as he would have hoped, a sentiment suggested in Quentin’s screenplay.

once_upon_a_time_in_hollywood_leaderboard
“Is this your son?”, Marvin (Al Pacino) asks Rick.

Another of the artists I “called” in my article was Vanilla Fudge. Their fourth album, Near the Beginning, came out in February of 1969 so I chose a song from it. But Quentin went with the song they are most known for, their version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” from their 1967 debut album. This dramatic track is used during a violent confrontation at a pivotal moment in the film and it goes excellently with the carnage on screen.

Tarantino’s habit of utilizing scores from other films is apparent in OUATIH. Not only the previously mentioned “Don’t Chase Me Around” but he also uses the theme from the 1966 spaghetti western Dynamite Jim, a Chad and Jeremy tune from another AIP production, Three in the Attic, and a Maurice Jarre cue from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.

Sorely missed from the soundtrack album is a song that is new to me; “Out of Time” from the Rolling Stones. Released on the UK version of their 1966 album Aftermath, this Jagger/Richards composition is possessed of some sorrowful chord changes and the chorus can really get stuck in your head. I was chilled, actually, when it occurred to me at what point in Sharon Tate’s life the song is used; “Baby, baby, baby you’re out of time…”.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is available digitally and on CD pretty well everywhere. This fall, several vinyl editions of the album will be available, some featuring “tequila sunrise” coloured vinyl, posters and a map in a gatefold package. Sounds good to me.Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 1.46.41 PMQuentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2019) from Columbia Records

1. “Treat Her Right” – Roy Head & The Traits
2. “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – The Bob Seger System
Boss Radio feat. Humble Harve
3. “Hush” – Deep Purple
4. “Mug Root Beer Advertisement”
5. “Hector” – The Village Callers
6. “Son of a Lovin’ Man” – Buchanan Brothers
7. “Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course” (from the MGM film Three in the Attic) – Chad & Jeremy
8. “Tanya Tanning Butter Advertisement”
9. “Good Thing” – Paul Revere & The Raiders
10. “Hungry” – Paul Revere & the Raiders
11. “Choo Choo Train” – The Box Tops
12. “Jenny Take a Ride” – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
13. “Kentucky Woman” – Deep Purple
14. “The Circle Game” – Buffy Sainte-Marie
Boss Radio feat. The Real Don Steele:
15. “Mrs. Robinson” – Simon & Garfunkel
16. “Numero Uno Advertisement”
17. “Bring a Little Lovin’” – Los Bravos
18. “Suddenly / Heaven Sent Advertisement”
19. “Vagabond High School Reunion”
20. “KHJ Los Angeles Weather Report”
21. “The Illustrated Man Advertisement / Ready For Action”
22. “Hey Little Girl” – Dee Clark
23. “Summer Blonde Advertisement”
24. “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” – Neil Diamond
25. “Don’t Chase Me Around” (from the MGM film GAS-S-S-S) – Robert Corff
26. “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon” – Paul Revere & the Raiders (feat. Mark Lindsay)
27. “California Dreamin’” – José Feliciano
28. “Dinamite Jim (English Version)” – I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni
29. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit)” – Vanilla Fudge
30. “Miss Lily Langtry” (cue from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean) – Maurice Jarre
31. “KHJ Batman Promotion”

 

2 comments

  1. There are not too many new films that capture my imagination these days, but this one has, thanks largely to your piece here. Scorsese is obviously another director who very cleverly uses contemporary music to enhance particular moments and make them all the more memorable; for instance; use of the Stones ‘Memo from Turner’ in Goodfellas is particularly perfect. Nothing evokes the sense of a moment in time like a well-chosen piece of rock and roll.

    Speaking of Mr Scorsese, I’ll probably have to have a look at The Irishman at some stage. I hope we might be seeing a Soulride Blog review in due course?

    • Thanks, George. I wish I could talk more about Tarantino’s film but it’s still so new and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. When I realized what he had done with this film I was slack-jawed. For me, anyways, it was terribly pleasing. Even tender.

      I would always point it out to my sons when we’d watch GoodFellas or Casino – the music never stops. And sometimes, yes, a song can be placed just perfectly.

      I was so surprised to see that The Irishman was made for Netflix! I would love to review it as it looks fascinating. Film history, really, whether it’s good or bad.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s