From the stark contrast “Stuck In The Middle With You” provided for Mr. Blonde torturing a cop in “Reservior Dogs” to Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega’s iconic dance to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” in “Pulp Fiction,” Quentin Tarantino is a proven master in choosing just the right song, and the extensive track list in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is no exception.
Tarantino discussed the music of his latest film during a 90-minute event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles this week alongside guests who included Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders, a band that contributed three pieces of sonic ’60s history to the movie.
Here are five things we learned from the event.
For the opening credits, the song made the sequence
The director said he had two songs in mind for the opening-credit sequence, which involves scenes of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) on a Pan Am 747, which he originally envisioned as more complex than what appeared in the final film. He didn’t disclose the names of those songs, but said “for whatever reason,” he eventually contemplated using “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head & The Traits — the song that went on to provide the rhythm for the opening sequence.
“I knew my sound guy had it, I said ‘Let’s Just put the Roy Head song on,'” he said. “That song works so great with that shot in particular. The song is maybe only two minutes long — it’s a really, really quick song. So as time went on I decided, let me not do” as elaborate a sequence as planned.
The radio station that was always on in the movie is real
The music, ads, DJs, and station identifiers frequently heard in the film as characters are driving the streets of Los Angeles are real recordings from the 1960s.
Line producer Georgia Kacandes set Tarantino up with an archivist who provided the director with 14 hours of recordings from LA AM radio station KHJ from 1968 and 1969. Though Tarantino is known for his obscure taste in music, even he heard songs on the tapes he was unfamiliar with.
“Listening to them and hearing al the commercials and the DJ patter and all the different songs, it was such a soundscape,” Tarantino said. “It brought me right back. It really made me remember how constant the radio is. Yes, it was in your car, but you were always in your car so you’re hearing it all the time.”
Among the gems he found that appeared in the film is Los Bravos’ “Bring a Little Lovin’”
One of Tarantino’s favorite songs in the film is a radio jingle
Screenrant lists 37 songs that appear in the film from the likes of the The Mamas & The Papas, Jose Feliciano, and The Rolling Stones, but one of Tarantino’s favorites was a radio jingle for Heaven Sent perfume.
“It’s definitely one of the catchiest songs, the song is just fantastic,” he said. “I still walk around singing that stupid thing … it was so great to put all of that in there.”
Tarantino said using the ads as part of his film’s soundscape captured the unique and bygone radio era. For example, KHJ was a Top 40 station, but it didn’t rely solely on the Billboard chart for its playlists. Instead it took into consideration listener requests, local record sales, and DJs tastes — making for a unique listening experience that’s all but gone from today’s commercial radio.
“This was cultivated sound in a big way,” he said. “I’m sure those jingles were done for KHJ and KHJ-like stations — they were meant to compete with the music.”
The real-life connection to Paul Revere & the Raiders
Key parts of the film take place on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. It’s where the real-life Tate and husband Roman Polanski lived, and where Tate and four others were murdered by the Manson Family.
Lindsay actually lived in that Cielo Drive house with producer Terry Melcher before the couple moved in. He composed several songs on the piano that remained in the house at the time of the Manson murders.
He recalled the conversation he had with Melcher before composing “Good Thing,” which spurred from a conversation the pair had about another artist’s hit.
“Terry says, ‘You know, Lindsay, I think we can write a hit like that,'” Lindsay recalled. “Yeah, we could! I’ve got it — good thing, how about “Good Thing?” I went to the piano and wrote it in 20 minutes.”
“In the movie you see Abigail Folger play on the piano that’s in the house — the song ‘Straight Shooter,'” Tarantino said. “That was actually the sheet music that was on the piano the night of the murder.”