There’s a truly remarkable moment in Quentin Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained wherein Django (Jamie Foxx) spells out his unusual name for a curious stranger. He then adds, “The ‘D’ is silent.” On the receiving end of this spelling lesson is actor Franco Nero, who created an international spaghetti western sensation in the title role of director Sergio Corbucci’s original 1966 Django.
It’s a magic moment when those two Djangos, separated by nearly half a century of pop culture history, proudly stand together. That same then-and-now spirit informs the music on the Django Unchained soundtrack, which culls classic vintage vinyl recordings (intentionally reproduced with the crackling surface noise from Tarantino’s personal LP copies), intersperses them among bold new tunes composed especially for the film, and then seasons this mix with brief snippets of salty movie dialogue.
The oldies are an eclectic assortment, ranging from Jim Croce to Jerry Goldsmith. Two tracks come straight from the 1966 Django, including its campy, overblown, and maddeningly catchy main title song crooned by Rocky Roberts. Another pair was corralled from Ennio Morricone’s 1970 soundtrack to Two Mules for Sister Sara. (One of these, “The Braying Mule,” also underscored a sylvan donkey ride during Robert Downey’s last outing as Sherlock Holmes.) Morricone is further represented by “Un Monumento” from 1967’s The Hellbenders; and the whistler and singers of his preferred vocal group, The Cantori Moderni, deliver “Trinity” from the goofy 1970 western They Call Me Trinity.
The real prize among the recycled music is the song “His Name is King,” sourced from the long-forgotten 1971 Klaus Kinski oater His Name Was King and featuring the voice of Edda Dell’Orso. Although legendary for her wordless operatic harmonies on the soundtracks of Sergio Leone’s westerns (“The Ecstasy of Gold” in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, “Jill’s Theme” in Once Upon a Time in the West, etc.), Dell’Orso rarely sang any verbal lyrics, much less in English, but “King” lets her do exactly that. Her style hovers in a sweet spot somewhere between Peggy Lee and Shirley Bassey.
Django Unchained is the first of Tarantino’s eight feature films to include new songs, and there are some genuine treasures in the chest, beginning with the gentle but haunting “Ancora Qui” (a.k.a. “Still Here”), a collaboration between Morricone and mononymous Italian pop sensation Elisa. “Who Did That to You?” showcases a wonderfully soulful John Legend performance, and “Freedom” is a powerfully ascendant hand-clapping spiritual, magnificently rendered Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton.
In fact, the only misfire in the cylinder is the inclusion of the ponderous “100 Black Coffins” by rapper Rick Ross. Although Tarantino has successfully employed some wildly anachronistic songs before (David Bowie music in a World War II movie!) and he elsewhere makes excellent use of a repurposed James Brown vocal, the sludgy performance here (Ross pronounces “hundred” as “honey”) abruptly mires the album’s jaunty gallop in a stagnant pit of quicksand.
Like the “D” in Django, the “C” in rap is silent.
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack