Wearing his trademark headband and a leather jacket, Dick Dale played a thrilling rendition of his hit “Miserlou” — the theme music for Pulp Fiction — on the U.K. music variety show Jools’ Annual Hootenanny in 1995. The guitarist, who died on Sunday, shakes his ponytail, he hollers and he grits his teeth as he commands the tune’s breakneck tempo up until its bluesy final notes.
The song is best known as kicking in as Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer rob a diner and Plummer holds up her gun and threatens, “Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every-motherfucking-last one of you!” As Rolling Stone previously reported, the song itself is a Mediterranean folk tune whose title translates to “Egyptian Girl” (or, as author Alan di Perna once noted, more accurately it means “Non-Christian Girl.”) Dale released it as a single in 1962, but it failed to make the charts at the time, instead reaching a dedicated cult of music fans (including the Beach Boys, who followed Dale’s lead with a surfy version of the song on their 1963 LP, Surfin’ USA).
“Having ‘Misirlou’ as your opening credit, it’s just so intense,” Pulp Fiction filmmaker Quentin Tarantino said in 1994. “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.”
Part of what makes the song so incredible is the sheer brute force with which Dale plays — especially live, like in the Jool clip. “I’m not some great guitarist like the Satrianis and the Van Halens,” Dale told the Washington Post in 1993. “I never went to school and learned music theory. When I play, I go, ‘This sounds like a tiger; this sounds like a volcano; this sounds like the lip of the water coming over my head when I’m surfing.’ My bass player says, ‘When I stand behind you, I don’t just see your arms moving, I see your shoulders shuddering, your back straining.’ That’s because I put all my physical force into my playing. I take people for a ride on a non-chemical wave of sound.”