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Musical Space

Musical Space: Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood

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Every Quentin Tarantino film is a musicological event — a study in the use of soundtrack music  — and his latest is particularly interesting, because he limits himself only to music heard when the movie takes place, in 1969. So, without divulging spoilers or trying to be a film critic, I really have to talk about Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood.

Most striking is the film’s many layers. It’s a movie about making movies: actors playing characters playing characters, history distorted through camera lenses as seen through camera lenses. The confusion allows Tarantino to live out a fan-fiction fantasy; he even gets to direct scenes from bad TV shows and genre flicks. But even though the plot sends our perception a million fun directions, it’s all tied together with a near-constant AM radio broadcast. More ubiquitous than the cigarettes and hairspray, the soundtrack sustains the energy through his signature long scenes, and keeps a sharp focus on hippie-era L.A. culture.

“Jenny Take a Ride,” Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (1965). Really a version of “See See Rider,” first recorded by blues artist Ma Rainey in 1924. Example of  ‘60’s appropriation of the Blues
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cFWclF7p8A

One of the real stars of the film is Mary Ramos, the music supervisor who’s worked with Tarantino since Reservoir Dogs. It must have been a tough job securing the rights to these historic artifacts, some of which are such a part of pop culture that they take on the same cameo-appearance quality as pretty much every actor’s entrance.

To be sure, this film won’t be everybody’s cup of tea — the directing is as indulgent and far-reaching as that of the time it evokes — but I enjoyed every minute, and musically, Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood is a triumph.

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Listening list:

“Hector,” The Village Callers, Live (1968). Precisely why I like movie soundtracks as a discovery service. East L.A. Latin R&B band I’d never heard of, ripe for hip-hop sampling.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCaBcxczCzs
 

“Bring a Little Lovin',” “Los Bravos” (single, 1968). Amazing energy. This band was based in Madrid, with a German lead singer; you might know them from the 1966 hit “Black is Black.” “Bring a Little Lovin’” was written for them by an Australian band The Easybeats.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ_SdxQzjgQ
 

“Mannix Theme,” Lalo Schifrin (released as a single 1969). Maybe the most time-bound piece here: a genius big-band jazz waltz that would never fly today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1o8_nh5OgE

Buchanan Brothers – “Son of a Lovin’ Man” (1969). Misogyny seems to be part of the style. Not sure if this song even charted.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-KnHcvNe-o
 

“California Dreamin’,”Jose Feliciano, Feliciano! (1968). So much moodier than the Mamas & the Papas version. The “B” side to the single was “Light My Fire.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztwPIKGMfQg
 

“You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Vanilla Fudge (1968). Wow, this is awesome - a seven-minute rock odyssey. Originally a Holland-Dozier-Holland hit for the Supremes. Also featured in Mad Men and the finale of The Sopranos.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3ChToIvLRM