Charles Mason Family – “I’ll Never Say Never To Always”

For those that skipped out on the credits they may have missed both a Red Apple cigarettes ad (a nod to the greater Tarantino-verse), as well as a credit to a certain cult leader’s musical career. Manson was one of thousands who came to California to look to make his musical career flourish, and he was just the kind of long haired dude that fit in perfectly with the scene. It was through a friendship with Dennis Wilson that he connected with Terry Melcher, and the Beach Boy and his esteemed producer friend made initial steps to help this short, intense man and his career. When things turned south, and Manson retreated into his own sociopathy, the results would shake the entire community of Hollywood that had been looking for a kind of “authenticity” from those outside the glamour and glitz of the music making machine. This bouncy, infectious song is sung by the members of The Family as they dumpster dive, but was also sung in a choral-like fashion during the famous trial of their leader and lover.

Buchanan Brothers – “Son of a Lovin’ Man”

A terrific bit of esoterica that homophonically evokes Hollywood’s son/sun motif, this bravura bubblegum-like pop that was the work of three session maestros, Terry Cashman, Gene Pistilli, and Tommy West. This is the kind of crate-diggery that Tarantino and his team are known for, and its use as the backdrop for the party at the Playboy Mansion is one of the most warm and illuminating moments of the entire picture. To see Sharon, in yellow, taking over the scene and radiating warmth is the central focus of her entire character, making perfect the celestial call of this musical nugget.

Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson”

Tarantino’s soundtracks often evoke other films, echoing through music his myriad references that have fueled his films since the beginning. Still, I don’t think there’s a more overt case of that for general audiences than the use of S&G’s track from their album Bookends, written for Mike Nichols’ 1967 smash hit The Graduate. The song plays when Cliff spots the (much younger) Pussycat and her retinue of hippie friends crossing his path, using the narrative of the previous film to infuse the current scene with a sense of an illicit connection soon to come. It’s a clever use of both foreshadowing and undercutting expectation as the scene in the car plays out, and a perfect example of why even using “popular” tracks can fuel Tarantino’s vision just as much as his love for the obscure.

Neil Diamond – “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”

Another relatively well known song, this evangelically delicious track by the singer/songwriter was released in early 1969, and Cliff hears it as he’s racing through the Hollywood streets back to his trailer. Critically, the song speaks of a “Hot August Night,” a lyrical foreshadowing of what’s to come in the latter half of the film, and the power of a smooth talking leader that through the power of his rhetoric can move a congregation to action. This may not be as definitive a recontextualization as “Stuck In The Middle With You” was to chopping off ears in Reservoir Dogs, but by tying the wild enthusiasm of Diamond’s song to the Manson murders is a sly, and inspired, bit of musical magic. His catchy “Kentucky Woman,” covered by Deep Purple, can also be heard in the film.

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”

The antithesis to the sunshine pop that’s used throughout, this “sludgy” slice of psych pop is the other, darker side of the Hollywood story (Jim Morrison wouldn’t have minded Jay and Sharon dancing to this Doors-like dirge). A twisted redux of the 1965 Supremes hit written by the powerhouse team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Fudge’s thick, slowed down version provides a perfect and surreal backdrop to the films closing confrontation, injecting the sense of acid-dipped danger and surrealism that’s evoked throughout the final act.

Keith Mansfield – Funky Fanfare

This instrumental bit of awesomesauce plays as Cliff drives past the drive-in theatre that serves as the backdrop to his trailer. The use of it here is even more self-referential than usual, and it’s not only period correct but has been used in the likes of Kill Bill and Death Proof as an introduction to the “feature presentation.” Its inclusion in Hollywood is far more subtle but no less nostalgic, and thus all the more perfect for a film that features those exact same traits.

Continue Reading Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Soundtrack Deep Dive

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