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Surf Music in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

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Surf Music in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

N: 36° 46′ 41.7324” W: 119° 25′ 4.5516”

Surf Movies are a niche and flourishing genre of cinema. However, Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction could be the most successful movie to reference surf culture. The soundtrack included legends like Dick Dale & The Tornadoes. The music is weird and wonderful just like Tarantino. Plus it the best album to Roadtrip & Surf too.

Surf Rock

Soundtrack Highlights:

  • Bustin’ Surfboards: Performed by The Tornadoes
  • Misirlou: Performed by Dick Dale (as Dick Dale & His Del-Tones)
  • Rumble: Performed by Link Wray And His Raymen
  • Surf Rider: Performed by The Lively Ones

Surf Music in Pulp Fiction

During the film’s opening scene, the watery reverb of Dick Dales guitar swells intensely as Amanda Plummer’s character threatens to ‘execute every-last one of you’.  The song is the iconic Misirlou. In an interview with Actionzone in Tarantino said in 1994 Tarantino  gave us an insight into his eclectic music library. Tarantino commented on the use of  Misirlou: 

“Having ‘Misirlou’ as your opening credit, it’s just so intense”. He adds,  “It just says you’re watching an epic, you’re watching a big, ol’ movie. It just throws down a gauntlet that the movie now has to live up to.” 

This song not only started Pulp Fiction but it also started a new fascination with surf music and cinematography. The songs inclusion in Pulp Fiction highlighted the importance of an interplay between movie scores and underground culture. It fused underground cinema with offshore Surf Rock. The soundtrack debuted at 21 on the Billboard 200, prompting a second release a year later by surf label Del-Fi as part of a compilation album known as ‘Pulp Surfin’. Its title song ‘Misirlou’ by Dick Dale was later sampled as the main riff in the 2006 Black Eyed Peas hit, ‘Pump it’.

The Effect of Pulp Fiction on Surfing

Pulp Fiction has become intertwined in modern day surf culture. The soundtrack is the perfect music to road trip too with your mates. Its loud, its energetic and the iconic Misirlou will definitely get you pumped for a surf sesh.  Pulp Fiction is such a classic movie that we don’t often think about the music behind it. However if you listen to it and close your eyes you can almost feel the Califonian sand between your toes and the sea breeze on your neck.

The film itself  was an ode to pop culture and ‘Crime Noir’ movies of the 50’s. Yet the soundtrack balance the darkness of the movie with lucid licks of upbeat Surf Rock. Dick Dale was given the name “The King of Surf Guitar”. He brought an injection of a new style of reverb guitar to a genre of music that had not changed since the dreamy music of the Beach Boys. In my opinion he was the Quentin Tarantino of surf music.

Tarantino’ Love of Surf Music

It is stereotypical of Tarantino to showcase an small genre of music in a movie that has become renowned for its use of pop culture. The use of Surf Rock made the movie instantly popular to those already in tune with surf culture. Plus it gave legitimacy to the movie as an indie production.

Dick Dale : He broke through the atmosphere of light hearted songs and sunset drives that dominated surf music. With Dale, Tarantino found a perfect acquaintance to the surrealism and awkward tension of Travolta’s character. Tarantino let the music guide the narrative rather than squeezing it in between conversation.

He stated “When I actually sit down to write something, I go to my music selection and start finding the songs that will be the beat of the movie, the rhythm of the movie”. It was Dick Dale and the Del Tones cover of ‘Misirlou’ that embodies the iconic obscurity of Pulp fiction. Dale was a big figure in the surfing community of his day and made global impact when he produced the first ever 100-watt guitar amp in partnership with Fender. The amp was perfect for Dale as it allowed him to be  louder and more aggressive with his riffs then anyone else out there.

The Tornadoes : Dick Dale was not the only Surf Rock icon to drop in on the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction. The Tornadoes make an appearance to add the true credibility of the surf scene to Tarantino’s score. Theywere the first UK band to ever reach number 1 on the official US charts. Produced by the infamous Joe Meek, the song ‘Dustin’ Surfboards is a notable  addition to the discography of Pulp Fiction. 


Tarantino is a master both blockbuster and indie projects. His interest in  surf music is a testament to his love for the obscure and underappreciated. Tarantino rarely comments on his use of Surf Rock, however he did offer us one comment of insight into his choice . He said that that “You are such a poseur and a lame-o for using a song another movie has already christened,”. He seems to always want to find new genres and tracks to use and then write the movie from there. The lack of attention given to surf music by the mainstream public meant it was the perfect sound to utilise for a Tarantino movie.  He builds characters from the guitar riffs and dialogue from the drum patterns.

The relationship between a director and their musical inspirations is often a closely guarded secret. Sample libraries are among the more prized possessions of musicians and score creators. Despite a desperate need for society to turn its neglectful attention to independent and niche artists,  it has become a rarity for people to draw such awareness to their secret sonic sources. However, like in many other walks of life, Quentin Tarantino strays from a path of common behaviour.

One thought on “Surf Music in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

  1. A minor change to the Tornadoes is needed. The Tornadoes Tarantino used are from Redlands California and a part of surf music history. The Tornados (no E) were a British group with no affiliation with the song Tarantino used in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Hope this helps! That said Tornadoes founding member Jesse Sanders just past on June 7th, 2020 .

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