Justin Martell of Ship To Shore PhonoCo. gives his top 5 musical moments of Quentin Tarantino's latest film "Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood."
You do not have to be a fan of director Quentin Tarantino to enjoy his ninth film, Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood, as an audiovisual love letter to Sixties culture. The connective tissue of the film's eclectic soundtrack, which runs the gambit from Deep Purple ("Hush") to Neil Diamond ("Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show") to Deep Purple Covering Neil Diamond ("Kentucky Woman"), is the use of authentic DJ banter by "The Real" Don Steele and Humble Harve Miller along with jingles from LA's famous rock station KHJ Boss Radio. The material was purportedly culled from 17 hours of original KHJ recordings from 1968 and 1969 by Tarantino himself.
Tarantino's music supervisor, Mary Ramos, explained that despite offers from contemporary artists to provide music for the soundtrack, Tarantino was adamant that the soundtrack should not feature any songs recorded post-1969. “[Tarantino] was a bit more anachronistic with this. He wanted to stay very specific to the period," Ramos told Rolling Stone. Indeed, the majority of the tracks even predate the infamous events of August 8-9, 1969, with two exceptions: Robert Corff's "Don't Chase Me Around," from the 1970 Roger Corman film GAS-S-S-S (although perhaps it was recorded in 1969) and a Maurice Jarr-composed cue from 1972's The Life and Times Judge Roy Bean.
There are a variety of critical opinions on Tarantino's latest slice of cinematic revisionism, which intertwines the lives of our two fictional leads, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), with the terrifying saga of the Manson Family and Sharon Tate. Critical analysis aside, Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood's vintage Hollywood neon signs, spot-on portrayals of celebrities like Steve McQueen, Mama Cass, Bruce Lee, and Roman Polanski, and, above all, its soundtrack, are enough to keep any Sixties junkie engrossed two hours and forty minutes.
From Tiny Tim to Paul Williams to the Manos: The Hands Of Fate OST, the Ship To Shore PhonoCo. catalog shows that we are huge Sixties junkies ourselves. Here are our top five musical moments from Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood:
5. "The Circle Game" - Buffy Sainte-Marie
Given that we have released several albums by warbliest of warblers, Tiny Tim, we certainly love a nice vibrato, and Buffy Sainte-Marie's cover of Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. Perhaps with the exception of "Mrs. Robinson," Tarantino continuously went for the unexpected (Jose Feliciano's "California Dreamin'" is another unlikely cover on the soundtrack) with this soundtrack. Here, he chose to eschew Joni Mitchell's original, as well as Sainte-Marie's original compositions, "Co'dine and "Universal Soldier." Though originally released in Sainte-Marie's 1967 album Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, Sainte-Marie's version of "The Circle Game" was later featured prominently on the soundtrack of the 1970 counter-culture drama The Strawberry Statement.
"The Circle Game" appears at a feel good moment in the film as we follow Sharon Tate while she cruises around Hollywood, picks up a female hippie hitchhiker, and eventually stops to catch a matinee of her own film, The Wrecking Crew. Music Supervisor Mary Ramos told Rolling Stone that the selection was "not as much for the lyrics as for the aural experience.” To us, the song is a fitting preamble to the Manson Family's heinous crimes and the subsequent death of the high-minded ideals of peace and love that had embodied the late-Sixties:
4. "Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon" - Paul Revere & The Raiders
Paul Revere & The Raiders had a string of top 40 hits from the mid-Sixties into the early-Seventies. Known for their flamboyant, American revolutionary stage costumes, The Raiders have been unfairly categorized as a bubblegum pop band, akin to Herman's Hermits and Gary Lewis & The Playboys (Not that there's anything wrong with either of those groups!). However, the group's overall sound tended to be much edgier than that of the bands to which they have been compared.
Whether you consider the band cool or uncool, Tarantino most certainly has a thing for Paul Revere & The Raiders as they are the most prominently featured band in the film; we have Tate spinning a copy of Spirit of '67 and dancing to the top 10 hits “Hungry” and “Good Thing.” Both are material from what is considered the group's teen-oriented era. Tate teases Jay Sebring that she won't tell anyone he was dancing to Paul Revere & The Raiders. Suddenly, Manson shows up at their house, killing the good vibes.
Paul Revere & The Raiders appear twice more. However, the material dates from after the major band's personnel change which saw Mark Lindsay shift the group's musical direction from pop rock to a harder, psychedelic sound. We see members of the Manson Family at Spahn Ranch watching a TV appearance of the group perform their 1969 hit “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon” from Hard 'N' Heavy (With Marshmallow). Then, on the infamous night of August 9, 1969, we see a copy of their 1968 psychedelic album Something Happening sitting near the turntable at 10050 Cielo Drive. Whether intentional or not, referencing Paul Revere & The Raiders' early material and then its later material, as the tone of the movie shifts, is a nice touch.
3. "Bring A Little Lovin'" - Los Bravos
“Black Is Black,” the titular song from Spain's Los Bravos not only would have been the obvious choice for this soundtrack, but it also would have worked. Instead, Tarantino opted for the group's lesser known “Bring A Little Lovin',” which peaked only at #51 on the US Hot 100 Billboard Chart in 1968 before dropping off.
When asked about the song's appearance on the Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood soundtrack, Manolo Díaz, Senior Vice President of the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation told Billboard: “Curiously, it was great news, but it didn't surprise me much. Los Bravos was the Spanish group that best fit the Anglo-Saxon aesthetic of the 1960s; to be included in the soundtrack made sense.”
“Bring A Little Lovin'” was written for Los Bravos by The Easybeats' Harry Vanda and George Young, and featured the group's signature brass and organ-laden sound. Though it was a worthy follow up to "Black Is Black," today, it does not get enough play on oldies stations and playlists. Its inclusion on the Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood soundtrack rectifies this small musical injustice.
2. "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon) " - The Mamas & The Papas
Though the Mamas & The Papas released “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)” two years before the Manson murders, this song has evoked Manson-vibes for me ever since reading Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter.
As Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood reaches its climax, the song slowly fades in. As the track reaches the chorus, the volume suddenly spikes sharply and we see the Manson Family members creeping up Cielo Drive in their 1959 Ford. Though likely not what the Mamas & The Papas had mind when they recorded this song (it's worth noting that it is curiously absent from the digital and vinyl releases of the film's soundtrack), in my opinion, there will never be a more perfect use of this song on any soundtrack of any film - ever.
Side note: The leading interpretation of this song is that “Papa” John Phillips wrote it after moving to California, where he often watched young, female groupies leaving Laurel Canyon early in the morning after all-night parties.
1. "Paxton Quigley's Had The Course" - Chad & Jeremy
A brief snippet of “Paxton Quigley's Had The Course,” as Cliff Booth flips TV channels, struck a personal note. I am unsure if Tarantino opted to use the song because he is a fan of The Ark, the highly underrated, 1968 psychedelic concept album from pop duo Chad & Jeremy from which the song originates, or because he is a fan 1968 film 3 In The Attic, which features the song on its soundtrack (Later, Cliff Booth drives by a cinema marquee featuring 3 In The Attic).
I was always a fan of Chad & Jeremy's earlier output ("A Summer Song," "Yesterday's Gone," "Distant Shores," "Willow Weep For Me," etc), but was doubly attracted to their last two albums, The Ark (1968) and Of Cabbages & Kings (1967) upon learning that both productions had been influenced heavily by Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher. Boettcher and Usher, despite their own respective credentials (Usher co-wrote “In My Room” with Brian Wilson and Boettcher produced And Then... Along Comes The Association), were the duo behind Sagittarius, the moniker under which they created and released two of the most incredible sunshine pop albums of the Sixties: Present Tense (1968) and The Blue Marble (1969). Usher and Boettcher's influence was so apparent on Chad & Jeremy's last two albums that they, too, became instant favorites.
Flash forward to 2008, I was a junior in college, and learned that Chad & Jeremy had recently reunited and, because their manager was located in Rhode Island, often toured New England. As they were playing to an older crowd (or as the aging pop duo referred to their audience. "the dinosaurs"), they focused largely on their earlier works, sometimes closing their shows with the humorous, though most musically and lyrically insignificant track from The Ark, “You Need Feet (You Need Hands).”
Thinking we could somehow bring about the long-overdue recognition which The Ark and Of Cabbages & Kings deserved, my Sixties collecting cohort Dave Elliott and I began attending Chad & Jeremy's shows and haranguing them to play songs from those albums. Finally, they relented and one night at a show at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, MA in November, 2008, they played the title track from The Ark. After the show, in an interview for my college TV show, they told me that other than the one time they played another cut from The Ark, “Pipe Dream,” live in 1968, they had never played anything from the album in a live show (save for the aforementioned "You Need Feet (You Need Hands)").
Dave and I were absolutely floored. In our minds, our obsession with a Sixties obscurity had been legitimized by the men who had created it! Wow, what next? We could do anything! Over drinks after the show, Dave and I entertained delusions of grandeur in which Chad & Jeremy would play The Ark in its entirety in a live show, produced by the two of us.
However, our hopes and dreams were dashed a month later when we saw Chad & Jeremy again at Mohegan Sun Casino. To our dismay, “The Ark” had been struck from the setlist.
“You cut 'The Ark',” I exclaimed to Chad at the post-show autograph session.
“Screw it!” he shouted back at me. “It went over like a lead balloon at the last show.”
That night, Chad & Jeremy opted to dine separately from me, Dave and their manager. The rebuke was enough to snuff out our flights of fancy. From there, our attention turned to tracking other Sixties pop stars and trying to wow them with our knowledge of the under-appreciated parts of their catalogs... Let's just say, it was not well received when Dave told Flo & Eddie that The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands was better than Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The deluge of memories of my brush with its creators, evoked by the snip of "Paxton Quigley's Had The Course," makes this song my number one musical moment of the Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood soundtrack.
The Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood soundtrack is available on digital and streaming platforms as well as CD and vinyl.