A beginner’s guide to Angelo Badalamenti
Veteran soundtrack composer Angelo Badalamenti is best known for his pivotal collaborations with David Lynch, but there’s much more to his canon than that. John Twells takes a closer look at Badalamenti’s most crucial moments.
If you’ve spent any time reading about tense, atmospheric experimental music in the last couple of decades, you’ve no doubt seen the word “Lynchian” thrown about like candy on Halloween. This assumes that the main point of reference is David Lynch, but more often than not, what they’re really talking about is the influential textures of Angelo Badalamenti, the composer who was partly responsible for rustling up what would become the director’s signature sound.
Sure, the industrial ambience of Lynch’s debut Eraserhead still remains something of a Rosetta Stone for today’s noise set, but it’s the muted, chilling synthesizer pads of Twin Peaks and the doomed jazz of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive that have helped inform a generation of weirdos.
Lynch, for his part, pulled the absolute best out of Badalamenti. The Italian-American composer had languished in obscurity early on in his career, contributing workmanlike scores to lesser-known action films (under the ‘safe’ pseudonym Andy Badale) and penning songs for a variety of pop and soul singers. This all changed, however, when he was called in to work on Blue Velvet in 1987, as a vocal coach to star (and then partner of Lynch) Isabella Rossellini.
The film’s central song was initially supposed to be a version of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’ – referencing This Mortal Coil’s ethereal cover – but when Lynch was put off by the high price tag for the rights, he called on Badalamenti to write a similar-sounding replacement. The result was ‘Mysteries of Love’, which paired Lynch’s own lyrics with Badalamenti’s mysterious, smoky backdrop, and the stage was set for a collaboration that would last many years.
This success was just the push Badalamenti needed, and he spent his next few decades writing film score after film score, becoming a crucial reference point for bands enamored by Lynch’s singular vision. Whether it was Moby’s sampling of Badalamenti’s unfathomably influential ‘Twin Peaks Theme’, James crooner Tim Booth’s fandom (the two ended up releasing full-length Booth and the Bad Angel), or German band Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s relentless fetishism, Badalamenti’s unmistakable blend of wavering strings and sluggish, pitch-black jazz has made an indelible mark on contemporary music.
The following list pulls together a selection of Badalamenti’s finest moments, from his soundtrack work to his litany of unexpected collaborations.
‘Mysteries of Love’
(from Blue Velvet, 1986)
The song that started it all, ‘Mysteries of Love’ was supposed to be Badalamenti and Lynch’s take on This Mortal Coil’s ethereal version of ‘Song to the Siren’, but ended up taking on a life of its own. It was Badalamenti’s idea to pull Julee Cruise into the fray – he’d met her in New York at a theater workshop, and felt her very particular vocal style would complement the song’s themes well. He was right, and the collaboration between Lynch, Cruise and Badalamenti led to two excellent albums – Floating into the Night and The Voice of Love.
(from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – Dream Warriors, 1987)
Often maligned for its cheap and cheerful sound, Badalamenti’s score for the third installment of New Line’s popular A Nightmare on Elm Street series is well worthy of rediscovery. It has more in common with Richard Band’s low-budget horror cues than it does anything associated with David Lynch, but there’s no denying Badalamenti’s eerie sense of humor in the score’s wormy outro ‘Lights Out’.
‘Twin Peaks Theme’
(from Twin Peaks, 1990)
What can you say about Badalamenti’s ‘Twin Peaks Theme’ that hasn’t been said already? The song has been chopped to shreds over the years – sampled, covered, remixed and referenced – and yet still retains the ability to conjure up another world in mere seconds. Badalamenti’s strength was his ability to re-frame mundane soap opera sounds, giving only subtle hints at what lay beneath. In that sense, there couldn’t have been a more apt representation of the show itself.
‘Up In Flames’
(from Wild at Heart, 1991)
Written for David Lynch’s bizarre and occasionally blackly comic re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, Wild At Heart, ‘Up In Flames’ remains one of the duo’s most exemplary collaborations. This is in in no small part down to the chilling vocal turn from blues veteran Koko Taylor, who gave the song the grit and glamour that pushes it right to the top of the pile. There’s a damn good reason why its titled was nicked by Dan Snaith for his second Caribou (then Manitoba) album, and why Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan turned in a cover of the track in 2010 – it’s just that good.
‘The Flaming Arrow’
If you need any proof of how influential Badalamenti was in the early 1990s, all you have to do is clock the fact that the composer ended up writing the torch theme for 1992’s Olympic Games in Barcelona. He even managed to throw in a few of his signature touches; while the composition is mostly triumphant, air-punching guff, the first minute or so is moody Badalamenti goodness.
‘A Real Indication’
(from Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me, 1992)
Hidden away on Badalamenti’s excellent score for the awkward big screen prologue/conclusion of Twin Peaks is ‘A Real Indication’, one of two proper recordings we have of the Thought Gang, an off-kilter jazz/rap project from the composer in collaboration with, you guessed it, David Lynch. That’s Badalamenti you hear spitting bars on the track (he’s not half bad), and if we’re to believe Lynch, the duo recorded an entire album of this stuff back in the early ‘90s. Maybe if we meditate hard enough it’ll magically appear.
(from Sound of White Noise)
Somehow, thrash metallers Anthrax managed to convince Badalamenti to help out with their iffy Twin Peaks tribute ‘Black Lodge’. The composer laid down string arrangements for the track, adding unexpected weight to the track’s otherwise fairly straightforward epic rock shakes.
(from The City of Lost Children, 1995)
Badalamenti has long excelled in the company of more unusual collaborators, and his first partnership with French directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet is no exception. The film itself is vibrant, rich and surreal, and Badalamenti mirrors this with circus sounds and cascading, detuned synths. They were clearly happy with the results, as Jeunet called Badalamenti back in 2004 to score the high-profile A Very Long Engagement.
(from A Secret Life, 1995)
Marianne Faithfull’s ‘95 comeback A Secret Life was completely overseen by Angelo Badalamenti, and the two were a particularly good match for each other. Faithfull’s well-worn cigarette-damaged vocal chords add a cracking, fallible quality to Badalamenti’s pristine compositions, and ‘Sleep’ is among the finest examples.
(from Lost Highway, 1997)
On Lost Highway, David Lynch called Nine Inch Nails man Trent Reznor in to assist with the soundtrack, but still thankfully allowed Angelo Badalamenti to work his magic on a few key cues. ‘Fred’s World’ is the best of all, and might be the most eerily gorgeous piece Badalamenti has penned, alongside the ubiquitous ‘Love Theme from Twin Peaks’.
David Bowie & Angelo Badalamenti
‘A Foggy Day (In London Town)’
(from Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove, 1998)
Even when David Lynch isn’t involved in a Badalamenti project, his shadow still looms. David Bowie had come in contact with Badalamenti after his track ‘I’m Deranged’ had been snapped up for use in Lynch’s Lost Highway. He was impressed with Badalamenti’s contributions, and the two ended up collaborating on a special recording of George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘A Foggy Day’. While it’s nowhere near as left-leaning as Badalamenti’s usual fare, the meeting of minds (through the Gershwins’ frosted glass) is a rare treat.
Angelo Badalamenti with Steven Shackleton & Howard Saunders
‘Bloody Boy/Neon Reprise’
(from Arlington Road, 1999)
The kooky opener from Badalamenti’s soundtrack to ‘99 thriller Arlington Road might be – on the surface – a collaboration, but there’s no mistaking Badalamenti’s other-worldly ambience. Here his signature synth pads are paired with rumbling explosions and churning beats. It’s ominous stuff, just the way we like it.
(from The Straight Story, 1999)
The Straight Story was a massive departure for Lynch when it emerged back in 1999. It followed Lost Highway, possibly the director’s most twisted feature up to that point, and instead of positioning his macro lens on America’s seedy suburban underbelly, Lynch opted to tell a story of a man driving across the country on a lawnmower. It stands to reason then that Badalamenti’s score would be missing some of the neon-lit sexual tension and inherent dread that characterized his previous work, but ‘Nostalgia’ is still worth a look. Country-fried gloom, anyone?
(from Mulholland Drive, 2001)
Mulholland Drive is chock-full of outstanding moments, but few lodge themselves as deeply in the memory as the nightclub scene where Rebekah Del Rio performs Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ in Spanish, without accompaniment. We’re dragged through Club Silencio, and Badalamenti’s cue utilizes all of his tricks to enhance the unforgettable scene: slowed down, reversed strings; distant jazz; echoing synths; and spooky drones. Each track on the soundtrack finds the composer at his absolute best, but ‘Silencio’ is truly out on its own.
‘Red Love (Extended)’
(from Cabin Fever, 2002)
Trust horror nerd Eli Roth to tap Angelo Badalamenti to score his shot at a proper “cabin in the woods” b-movie. Thankfully it’s not simply a lazy Twin Peaks pastiche – ‘Red Love (Extended)’ weirdly brings back fuzzy memories of Badalamenti’s under-appreciated score for Nightmare On Elm Street 3.