Don't you just love the smooth monotone of our boy K-Billy (played by comedian Steven Wright, whose own stand-up style wasn't too different from his line delivery as a radio DJ)? Can't you just hear his colorless voice when you read:
K-BILLY: Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealer's Wheel when they recorded this Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite from April of 1974; that reached up to number five, as K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies [weekend] continues.
Joe picked a great weekend to pull this gig because we have an awesome sound track with which to witness some seriously serious business. The Reservoir Dogs soundtrack consists entirely of recorded tracks with no orchestral score—which was probably as much a budget choice as an aesthetic one.
Here's what's interesting about K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies: The music isn't simply some tracks that are played for the experience of the audience. This music is also being listened to by the characters. The radio station is referenced twice. We hear about it first from Eddie during the diner scene, which gets all the characters reminiscing about some of their favorite old songs. Then Blonde mentions it when he asks the tied-up Marvin if he's ever heard of the station. It's always easier to torture people when there's music.
How exactly does the upbeat '70s music affect our experience of the movie? It acts as a counterpoint to the violence. This movie packs a high level of intensity. Tuning in to his favorite seventies station while torturing a cop, Blonde's almost telling us that this is no big deal for him; it doesn't bother him a bit.
The bubblegum pop music actually amplifies the intense violence by providing a backdrop to sharply contrast with it. When "Stuck in the Middle With You" is playing while we watch Marvin's ear being severed from his body, we get a heightened experience of the horror. Think what the scene would feel like if some dramatic orchestra piece was playing ominously in the background, or if the scene was without music at all. It just wouldn't be the same without K-Billy's seventies sounds.
Tarantino's use of the upbeat music could also be a nod to the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange, where a character dances and sings the bouncy "Singin' in the Rain" while violently torturing a couple and raping the wife during a home invasion. It's a pretty disturbing combo.
Tarantino also thought the music made the viewers into participants in the scene. He explains:
TARANTINO: The [torture] scene would not be as disturbing without that song because you hear the guitar strain, you get into it, you go "Yeah, yeah," and you're tapping your toe and you're enjoying Michael Madsen enjoying his dance and then voom! it's too late, and you're a co-conspirator.
We're also more shocked by the abrupt change of mood than if we'd been led up to it slowly. Here we were happily bopping along… and suddenly someone's getting mutilated.
Fun fact: in the scene when Orange shoots Blonde, there's no K-Billy, or any music at all, which makes us wonder… if Blonde's dead and Marvin and Orange are incapacitated, who turned off the radio? Most people think this was just a continuity error in the filming, but some think it was deliberate. Good luck trying to figure out the mind of Quentin Tarantino.
Idea for psychology term paper: If Pavlov was right, every time we hear "Stuck in the Middle with You," we should throw up.