Movies

Quentin Tarantino On Crafting a Vintage Soundtrack For 'Once Upon a Time In Hollywood'

Tarantino (left) and Robbie on the set.
© 2019 CTMG Inc./SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT

Tarantino (left) and Robbie on the set.

Quentin Tarantino’s soundtracks have often dusted off tunes from the past, most notably the surf stylings of Dick Dale in Pulp Fiction, and leaned on anachronistic choices, like David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” for Inglourious Basterds. By comparison, the soundtrack for his upcoming ninth film, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, is straightforward, with tracks plucked from the 1960s. The director had only one rule: “No Buffalo Springfield,” he said.

While there’s no trace of the band’s “For What It’s Worth” in the film -- which unfolds in Los Angeles in 1969, as Hollywood reckoned with the ’60s and the menace of Charles Manson -- there are many other hits from that era, including Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” and a cover of The Mamas & The Papas’ iconic “California Dreamin.’ ” All the songs are ones Tarantino heard on the radio growing up in L.A. As a result, says Mary Ramos, his longtime music supervisor, “this is his most personal soundtrack.”

Tarantino was 6 when the events of Once Upon a Time... took place. He consulted his vast collection of CDs and vinyl for its soundtrack -- he doesn’t stream music and instead has committed his collection to tape, to listen in the car -- as well as hours of archived programming from local top 40 station KHJ. The soundtrack, out on Columbia Records (the vinyl version arrives in October), features real intros from the era’s DJs as well as weather reports and advertisements.

Some of the selected songs have historical relevance: Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Good Thing” was produced by Terry Melcher, the previous owner of the house on Cielo Drive where Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) was murdered by the Manson Family (in what was rumored to be payback for Melcher’s dismissal of Manson’s music). Others, like The Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time” and The Mamas & The Papas’ “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” take on almost prophetic significance, playing in the scenes leading up to the murders. “I [usually] try for a glancing blow, but it seemed appropriate for these songs to get more operatic to really tell the story,” says Tarantino. “I don’t normally do that.”

This article originally appeared in the July 27 issue of Billboard.