11 of the best tracks from Tarantino movies for testing your system

Resevoir Dogs ensemble shot
(Image credit: Live America, Dog eat Dog productions)

What do you associate most with Quentin Tarantino movies? Buckets of blood? Zippy dialogue? Lingering shots of bare feet? 

Those are, of course, essential ingredients. It's hard to imagine any Tarantino movie, though, without the auteur's love of dropping in his favourite tracks and tunes to enhance the visceral delights happening on-screen. Of course, his flicks have a very particular visual and narrative style, but it's the accompanying music that feels just as important in defining the tone and character of any given scene as anything actually happening before your eyes. How, after all, can you disassociate Stuck In The Middle With You from Reservoir Dogs, or You Never Can Tell from the dance scene in Pulp Fiction?

In celebration of this convergence of musical mastery and directorial daring as part of What Hi-Fi?'s Home Cinema Week, we've whittled down the best Tarantino needle drops that, as part of a movie or simply played on their own, deserve to be heard through the best system possible.

  • Check out the full playlist on Spotify

John Legend – Who Did That To You? (Django Unchained, 2013)

Django Unchained is stuffed full of musical treats, blending the iconically Western twangs and tones of an Ennio Morricone score with tunes from the likes of Rick Ross and Tupac Shakur.

While you might shudder (unfairly) at the idea of John Legend in any capacity, his rendition of Who Did That To You? is arguably Django’s sonic high point, blending soulful snap and energy with the heartbreak and rage that befits the movie’s grand narrative of redemption and revenge. If you need proof that there’s more to John Legend than that one song played at every wedding between 2013 and 2017, here it is.  

Bobby Womack – Across 110th Street (Jackie Brown, 1997)

One of the greatest soul tracks of all time featuring in what critic Mark Kermode once described as the best movie Tarantino ever made, Across 110th Street was originally penned to accompany the 1972 neo-noir flick of the same name. Quite astonishingly, considering its original provenance and a shared title with another movie, it’s Jackie Brown with which most movie and music fans associate the timeless tune. 

He also went on to say that it’s almost impossible to hear Across 110th Street without thinking of Jackie Brown (or indeed vice versa), and that in many ways tells you all you need to know about Quentin’s uncanny knack for choosing just the right tune in just the right place and at just the right time. Even if you’ve never seen the movie (and you should), seek out Across 110th Street and marvel at what is unequivocally a funky, soulful masterwork. 

Nick Perito – The Green Leaves of Summer (Inglorious Basterds, 2009) 

Inglorious Basterds soundtrack The Green Leaves Of Summer (Nick Perito) - YouTube Inglorious Basterds soundtrack The Green Leaves Of Summer (Nick Perito) - YouTube
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Good ol’ Quentin loves to resurrect the forgotten classics (can you be a classic if you’re forgotten), giving the restorative treatment in 2009 to Nick Perito’s The Green Leaves of Summer for his WW2 actioner Inglorious Basterds. 

It’s a majestic opener, full of broad, sweeping strings and nostalgic woodwind that sets the tone perfectly for a movie – set in occupied France – that reflects the loss of some sort of bucolic idyll, lulling you into a false sense of security before the unforgettable horrors of the opening scene begin to unfold. Played through a proper AV system, you'll feel immersed and enraptured by the opening strings before the action kicks off in full.

Blue Swede – Hooked On A Feeling (Reservoir Dogs, 1992)

1. Blue Swede - Hooked on a Feeling - YouTube 1. Blue Swede - Hooked on a Feeling - YouTube
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If you’re under 25 and you’re thinking we’re way off beam with this one then ha, wrong! Before it was admitted (or re-admitted) into the cultural mainstream courtesy of James Gunn’s particular brand of nostalgic needle-dropping for goofy sci-fi delight Guardians of the Galaxy, Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling made a canny but unmistakably delightful cameo in one of Tarantino's most iconic works. 

As Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange leaves his apartment and joins the rest of the gang, the iconic "oogah-chaka" refrain starts to play, catching you rather off guard on your first viewing. Technically speaking, it goes from non-diegetic (i.e. overdubbed) sound to diegetic (playing out of the radio). A retro needle drop track plus a transition from non-diegetic to diegetic, plus an ensemble of characters driving in a car? The only way you could get more Tarantino would be if they all had their shoes off.

Chuck Berry – You Never Can Tell (Pulp Fiction, 1994)

You Never Can Tell - YouTube You Never Can Tell - YouTube
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Ok fine, we had to go for at least one Tarantino cliché to keep the baying mob happy, but at least we steered clear of going the whole hog and including Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel. Instead, we’ve opted for the accompaniment to arguably – arguably – the most iconic scene from Pulp Fiction, in which Thurman and Travolta strut their shoeless stuff at ‘50s diner Jack Rabbit Slim's to the accompaniment of Mr Chuck Berry.

When played through a decent sound system, you'll feel as though you're there in the diner, tapping your feet along to the tunes while admiring the cocky swagger of the movie's cavorting protagonists. Cracking scene, cracking movie, cracking song. 

Chingon – Malagueña Salerosa (Kill Bill: Volume 2, 2004)

Malagueña Salerosa - YouTube Malagueña Salerosa - YouTube
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Chingon’s Malagueña Salerosa is a case of everything tessellating rather nicely. As the song that plays over the end credits of Kill Bill: Volume 2, it provides a strange but rather fitting blend of dusty Mexican rock over a still from a movie that owes a colossal debt to the Japanese martial arts flicks of the ‘70s and beyond. 

Not only that, but one of Chingon’s core members is Robert Rodriguez, the man with whom Tarantino collaborated on the B-movie double-header Grindhouse Presents. He’s also the chap who directed The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, so make of that what you will.  

Johnny Cash – Satisfied Mind (Kill Bill: Volume 2, 2004)

Blink and you’ll miss it (or whatever the equivalent for music is), but Johnny Cash’s Satisfied Mind does make an appearance in the second Kill Bill, playing on the radio just before Michael Madsen’s Budd – *spoiler alert* – blasts Uma Thurman in the chest with a shotgun from point-blank range. Cheeky old Budd.

You don’t get the full appreciation for the track when played through Budd’s tinny radio in the background of a movie, but take it from us that it’s a lovely song that deals with Cash’s disillusionment with the promises of fame, wealth and fortune. Dig the song out for a proper listen and you'll be marvelling at Cash's gravelly vocals melding with the great man's full, meaty guitar strums.       

Vanilla Fudge – You Keep Me Hangin' On (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, 2019)

You Keep Me Hangin' On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) | Once Upon a Time in Hollywood OST - YouTube You Keep Me Hangin' On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) | Once Upon a Time in Hollywood OST - YouTube
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We won’t ruin it for you if you’re yet to see it, but what an ending! Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a delicious, low-heat simmer of a movie, right until the final act in which things explode (sometimes literally) in suitably over-the-top style. 

Accompanying the unforgettably ridiculous carnage is Vanilla Fudge’s You Keep Me Hangin’ On, a heady, woozy slice of loveliness from the oft-forgotten psychedelic rockers. As an evocation of everything OUATIH stands for, from the drug-addled partying to the hazy romance of Los Angeles during the late ‘60s, it’s absolutely bang on the money. That final scene is an unbelievable watch, but a really decent sound setup will really have the adrenaline pumping. 

Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Kill Bill: Volume 1, 2003)

Whether in its original form or enjoyed in one of its many, many guises, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood has stood the test of time as a concrete blues standard, enjoying covers from artists as diverse as The Moody Blues, Cyndi Lauper and Joe Cocker (good version, that) across its 60-year lifespan. 

Nobody put a spin on it quite like Santa Esmeralda, though. A ten-minute Mexicana-disco-funk epic that confuses as much as it delights, it really is the sort of track only Tarantino could get away with using, skating around the razor-thin edge of novelty without ever quite tipping over into full-blown parody. If you're planning on using it as a test track, your system will need to buckle up and deal with ten minutes of contrasting flavours, textures, influences and rhythmic signatures. Easy.

Kool and the Gang – Jungle Boogie (Pulp Fiction, 1994)

Jungle Boogie - YouTube Jungle Boogie - YouTube
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Every man and his pooch knows Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie, even if they couldn’t necessarily put a name to the artist or even the track itself. It’s a titan of the genre, used so much in subsequent media – good and bad – that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s becoming something of a cliché. 

It works beautifully in setting the tone of Pulp Fiction, though, playing over the last remnants of the opening credits as we fade into Vincent and Jules discussing the peculiar, quirky differences between American and European cuisine. Royale with cheese, etc.  

Deep Purple – Hush (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019)

Deep Purple - Hush - YouTube Deep Purple - Hush - YouTube
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Not to be confused with Kula Shaker’s psychedelic-infused cover from the late ‘90s, Deep Purple’s original recording of Hush makes a welcome appearance as an appropriately hazy mood-setter as part of Quentin’s most recent epic, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. 

Hi-fi testers and sound engineers tend to love a bit of Deep Purple, with Hush never far from test rooms up and down the country. Those scratchy, skittery guitars contrast beautifully with the tune's cheery refrain, while the whole raucous composition will strain your setup's capabilities regarding timing, organisation and rhythmic propulsion.


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Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs.