Dream Team: The Semi-Mysterious Story Behind the Music of 'Twin Peaks'

Composer Angelo Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise reflect on the most influential soundtrack in TV history, one that won a Grammy and went gold

Twin Peaks Angelo Badalamenti
ABC via Getty Images
Twin Peaks cast with producer Mark Frost and musical director Angelo Badalamenti.
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"Are you kidding me, man?!" composer Angelo Badalamenti howls jokingly when Rolling Stone asks him what he thought of Twin Peaks, the TV series he scored in the early Nineties. "It was really off the wall. I thought it was either going to sink violently down the drain or, hopefully, capture the intrigue of enthusiastic people conversing by the office water cooler on a Monday morning."

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As it turned out, Twin Peaks was an instant hit when it premiered on April 8th, 1990, with a curiosity-piquing episode about the unsolved death of a homecoming queen that was directed and co-written by one of its creators, David Lynch. On the surface, it could have been any other mystery show. But its setting in a small, seemingly innocent northwestern town with any number of peculiar inhabitants, like a lady who swaddled a log in her arms like a baby and a supernatural universe containing a backward-speaking little person, made for plenty of Monday-morning water cooler gossip. Although its ratings dipped in the second season, signaling its death knell – and inspiring the 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – it has since become a genuine cult phenomenon. Fans have organized a Twin Peaks Fest, a "Twin Peaks Season Three" Twitter feed and multiple sites parsing the minutiae of the series' plot.

On July 29th, a new, Blu-ray box set, Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery – which contains every head-scratching episode of the series, the Fire Walk With Me feature and nearly 90 minutes of deleted scenes from both the show and movie – will hit store shelves. But nearly a quarter of a century after its premiere, the element of the series that arguably resounds the loudest is Badalamenti's moody, jazzy score, which occasionally included cameos by his and Lynch's dream-pop protégée, the flaxen-haired singer Julee Cruise.

A year prior to the series, Badalamenti, Lynch and Cruise collaborated on the latter's debut album, Floating Into the Night, which perfected the fuzzy pop of the trio's 1986 collaboration "Mysteries of Love" (for the movie Blue Velvet) and included "Falling," the tune that would become Twin Peaks' title theme. Although that album made it to Number 74 on the Top 200 and "Falling" would eventually peak at to Number 11 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart, the real victory would be Music From Twin Peaks, the series' 1990 soundtrack album. That LP earned Badalamenti not only a Grammy – besting Kenny G and Phil Collins in the 1991 Best Pop Instrumental Performance category for "Twin Peaks Theme" – but would also achieve a rare feat for a TV soundtrack by earning a gold plaque from the RIAA.

These days, Cruise's floating, soft-focus vocals and Badalamenti's quivering layers of synthesizer echo in the music of artists like Lana Del Rey, Cults and a recent favorite of Lynch's, Au Revoir Simone; other musicians wear the series' influence literally on their album sleeves with band names like Audrey Horne (named after Sherilyn Fenn's character) and a group that named itself simply Twin Peaks. The soundtrack's music, which spans ominous synth-pop, cool-cat jazz and Cruise's soaring, airy odes on nightingales, is an ever-growing legacy.

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But while Twin Peaks deserves credit for its role in popularizing sweetly serene synth-pop, its roots lie in the mid-Eighties when Lynch was working on Blue Velvet. At the time, one of the movie's stars, Isabella Rossellini, needed help with her vocals on a cover of the Bobby Vinton song that gave the movie its title. So producer Fred Caruso called up Badalamenti, who only had a few film credits from the Seventies. After working with the actress for two to three hours, the composer met the director.

Twin Peaks, "Northwest Passage." (Photo: ABC Photo Archives)

Badalamenti recalls Lynch was dressed in casual linen pants and a long-sleeve shirt buttoned up to his neck, and that he had his "pomodorian" head of hair. "David put on his earphones and, as he was listening to our demo, his smile really became broader and broader," the composer tells Rolling Stone in his booming Brooklyn brogue. "And when the tape was finished, he took off his headphones and he said, 'That's the ticket. This is peachy keen.' And I said to Fred, 'What does that mean?' You know, I'm from Bensonhurst – we don't use those words. And then Fred responded, 'He adores it.'"

The composer began working on the film's score, and all went well until Lynch hit a roadblock while trying to secure the rights to the Tim Buckley tune "Song to the Siren," as performed by 4AD dream-pop supergroup This Mortal Coil. Dino De Laurentiis, whose studio produced the film, refused to pay what Badalamenti figures was a $50,000 sync fee to use the song, so Caruso asked the composer to write something similar. He agreed; all he needed was some words.

"David reluctantly agreed to write a lyric, and he thought writing a new song was absolutely preposterous because 'Song to the Siren' was his favorite song of all time," Badalamenti says. "But Isabella came to the recording studio, where we were recording 'Blue Velvet,' and she handed me a little piece of yellow paper and, in David's handwriting, it said, 'Sometimes a wind blows and you and I float in love and kiss forever in a darkness and the mysteries of love come clear....' I'm reading this and saying, 'Hey man, where are the rhymes? And more important, where are the hooks that a song needs?'" To make things more quizzical, the only musical directions Lynch gave Badalamenti were to "compose something with no beginning and no end" and to make it "just ethereal beauty."

Dumbfounded, the composer sat at his keyboard, staring at Lynch's scratch paper, and held a "long, soft, sustained, wide-voiced B major chord" for maybe a minute or more. "I was just listening to this chord, and it set a mood for me," he recalls. "The melody just floated out and I knew that I married David's description to this poetic lyric. I never changed a single word." And thus, "Mysteries of Love" was born.

With the song written, all Badalamenti needed was a singer. The composer had previously met Creston, Iowa expat Cruise on the set of a musical he had written, The Boys in the Live Country Band, that was being produced in New York's Greenwich Village. Previously, the vocalist had spent time in the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis and, thinking her fellow choristers at the New York production were "so lame," compared to her past ensemble, she singled out the only person she felt understood her talent: Angelo Badalamenti. "He was a genius that wasn't working as he should work," Cruise explains. She gave him her number and he eventually called her for suggestions of vocalists with "delicate, wishful voices" who could sing "Mysteries of Love."

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"I never thought that she could be the one because all I ever heard from Julee in the show was this big, somewhat industrial-sounding voice, which was needed for the show," Badalamenti says. "She sent a couple of girls to me, and they sang but they simply didn't cut the mustard."

Cruise recalls sending a rock singer, a soul singer and someone who could do Middle Eastern–style vocals. "I was a belter," Cruise says now. "I have a high belt." But eventually she told him that she thought she sing it in the style he wanted. He played that long, B major chord and she surprised him.

"The pentameter of 'Mysteries of Love' is very French horn-like, and I was a French horn major in grad school," Cruise says. "The vocal has got to be pure. There are no scoops. It was very hard to put vibrato in there and be confident enough to do it that soft. I'm the funny one, the big belter; I wasn't this. But I thought of it as singing like the soloist in a boys' choir."

"It was love at first sound," Badalamenti says with a laugh. "Sight, but also certainly love at first sound."

Because "Mysteries of Love" worked like a charm, to use the composer's turn of phrase, he and Lynch decided to collaborate on several more songs, where the director would write lyrics and give Badalamenti a title. "They were almost poetic songs, and Julee's voice was so beautiful on 'Mysteries of Love' that we decided to take her in and work with her," he says.

Although the first warbles of modern dream pop lie in the early 1980s releases of the Cocteau Twins and their contemporaries, Badalamenti, Lynch and Cruise gave the genre its synthy sheen on "Mysteries of Love" and added depth to it with Cruise's 1989 debut, Floating Into the Night. "It was obviously a different sound," Badalamenti recalls. "When it came out, radio stations said they had no slots for it. Is it pop? Not really. Is it R&B? Certainly not. What is it? Even the more avant-garde stations found it unusual, so it was difficult getting airplay. But when 'Falling' came out as the main title theme of Twin Peaks, that was a whole different story."

Photo: CBS Photo Archive

"I wasn't quite sure of the style when we got the record deal," Cruise says. "I wasn't quite sure how the hell we were going to pull it off. One night I played some demos for my husband's friend and his wife, and she said, 'white wine Muzak.' Aaaahh! I took it home for Christmas — and everyone in my family hated it. They were like, 'What are you singing about?' One of my lawyers at the time said, 'This is a novelty.' I said, 'Like Tiny Tim?'"

As she was recording, Badalamenti would tell her when she was sharp or flat, which frustrated her as she had perfect pitch. ("He has perfect pitch," she says reverently.) But it was Lynch, she recalls, who acted as a director, "directing the mood," in the sessions. The one example that comes to mind while talking to Rolling Stone, however, was for the soundtrack to a non-Lynch move – Wim Wenders' three-hour 1991 epic Until the End of the World – on a cover of Elvis Presley's "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears." "I shouldn't tell you what he said," she says. "I just imitated Elvis, because I'm an imitator. David understood that." She laughs. "He said, 'Think of what it's like when you have an orgasm,' but he didn't quite put it that way when he whispered it into my ear." She laughs.

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Cruise recalls the Floating Into the Night sessions as being difficult initially, because it didn't sound right to her until she heard effects on her vocals. But she recognized that Badalamenti had created "mood pieces" and she loved Lynch's lyrics. "Dust is dancing in the space/ A dog and bird are far away," she says, reciting a favorite line from "The World Spins." Another one of her favorites is from "I Remember": "They sent seven little red birds up my spine." "I really loved that," she says. "It's very, very funny, dark and interesting."

Floating Into the Night came out in September 1989, more than half a year before Twin Peaks' debut, but Cruise recalls road-testing the songs a year and a half before the show premiered. At one point, an associate from her record label told her, "It's over," and that her career had peaked. She was still waiting tables at the time. But her career got a second life with the TV show. Cruise appeared in the pilot and in a second-season episode, as well as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Additionally, the TV series' soundtrack included three songs from Floating Into the Night, including her original vocal version of "Falling."

Badalamenti recalls working on the soundtrack to Twin Peaks concurrently with several other projects, including Floating Into the Night. But he says the heart of the series' music came from sitting side-by-side with Lynch, as he improvised what became "Laura Palmer's Theme," on a piano. "David said, 'Start it off foreboding, like you're in a dark wood, and then segue into something beautiful to reflect the trouble of a beautiful teenage girl. Then, once you've got that, go back and do something that's sad and go back into that sad, foreboding darkness,'" the composer recalls. "Maybe it was luck, but literally, in one take, I translated those words into music."

Another notable part of the soundtrack is its walking bass lines, finger-snap rhythms and vibraphones, benchmarks of the jazz Badalamenti grew up listening to during his childhood in Brooklyn. The composer's older brother plays trumpet, and Badalamenti recalls his mother cooking dinner for his brother's friends – like jazz flautist Herbie Mann – who would go into the basement and jam. He had begun piano lessons at 8, and by age 12 he would go downstairs and listen, occasionally joining in. He also delved deep into his brother's record collection. When Rolling Stone asks him to name a few of the jazz artists that would later influence his work on the Twin Peaks soundtrack, he goes through a who's who of the genre: Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell for piano, Ray Brown and Charles Mingus for bass, Roy Haynes and Max Roach for drums. He loved vibraphone players Milt Jackson and Terry Gibbs, and he also name-checks Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Charlie Parker.

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"The thing about Twin Peaks music is it runs the gamut of styles," Badalamenti says. "It also incorporates pop, blues, some country, soft rock, film noir – no question about that – nightmarish stuff."

The composer says he worked out themes for each of the show's characters, a process that early on made it easier for scoring the show as a whole. He also recorded many variations of the themes on a wide variety of instruments that made it simple to rearrange them as the series went on. Some of these additional versions were included on the compilation, Twin Peaks Music: Season Two Music and More, which coincided with another re-release of the series on DVD in 2007. And still more musical outtakes – over 200 snippets, including demos and improvs – came out as The Twin Peaks Archive via Lynch's website in 2011 and 2012. Badalamenti recalls just preparing these variations and giving them to the show's music editor, Lori Eschler. "It just fell into place," he says.

Cruise looks back at her cameos on the show as just being part of the gig. She recalls a limo picking her up from her tenement and her husband, Edward Grinnan, told her such a thing might never happen again so she should appreciate it. She initially got a cold reception from some of the cast, but that changed when Lynch introduced her. From there, she just channeled her usual performance from concerts at the time. "I had to just close my eyes and not do very much," she says. "After a concert of all of that, I wanted to be in a fetal position. I was so fucking tense. In concert, I've learned to cry out of my right eye and then my left eye, and then open up my throat, so I can sing while the tears are going."

Photo: CBS Photo Archive

The singer's appearance in the movie wasn't much different. "I remember Mary [Sweeney, film editor] coming up to me and saying, 'It's going to be your close up now,'" she says. "And I just thought, 'Well, big deal.' What's the big deal? I didn't see a camera zoom in on me or anything."

The secret to the soundtrack's success, Badalamenti offers, was the bond he shared with Lynch. Following their early successes, the director would hire Badalamenti to provide scores for several films, including Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and others, while also providing scores for Christmas Vacation, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, A Late Quartet and many others for other conductors. (He's especially proud of his recent, Russian-themed score for Stalingrad.) "After Blue Velvet, we had such a beautiful relationship, and every other film we did together, David would sit next to me at a keyboard and, speaking very softly, painting a verbal picture, while setting a mood," he says. "Most of my other film projects have been more traditional. I grew up in the early days of improvising, so I could just sit at a keyboard and you could just talk to me or I could just take a look at a screen and put my fingers on the keyboard and a lot of the times they seemed to fall in the right places."

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The same year that Twin Peaks debuted, Badalamenti and Lynch collaborated on a short film titled Industrial Symphony, No. 1: The Dream of the Brokenhearted. It starred Wild at Heart leads Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage, and Cruise appeared in it as the Dreamself of the Heartbroken Woman – an appearance she wasn't immediately ready for. "Fame is a concept that I do not understand and didn't ever want, but I enjoyed it while I had it," she says. "I got so freaked out after that pilot that my hair fell out, which is also because I have lupus. We had to do Industrial Symphony, and the pressure on me was so much to be perfect, to be something I'm not – I had to figure that out."

Cruise, Badalamenti and Lynch would collaborate on another record, 1993's The Voice of Love, but the singer says that record is not up to par with its predecessor. Cruise toured on her own and as a replacement for Cindy Wilson in the B-52's for most of the next decade, but it took until 2002 for her to put out another record – without her previous collaborators – The Art of Being a Girl. She didn't put out another record until her most recent, a collaboration with Deee-lite's DJ Dmitry titled My Secret Life, in 2011. Now she reports that she is enjoying a break until she figures out what she wants to do next.

Badalamenti's career soared immeasurably after Twin Peaks. In 1992, the organizers of the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Barcelona asked him to compose its intro. They had heard his "Dark Spanish Symphony" from the Wild at Heart soundtrack and decided something similar would be perfect. "When I was up on that stage, I felt like Moses parting the sea," he says. "And I'm not even Jewish."

The following year he had his first encounter with an artist influenced by Twin Peaks, when the thrash-metal band Anthrax asked him for help on their song "Black Lodge," whose title references the mysterious, red-curtained room in the series. "They were some pretty cool cats," he says.

He is also aware of the influence the soundtrack has had on pop music, from Moby sampling "Laura Palmer's Theme" for his 1991 track "Go" to Bastille incorporating "Falling" it into their own "Falling." "Groups like Massive Attack, and people all the world, tell me, 'Angelo, it's amazing,'" he says. "There's something about the identity of the sound, or the kind of music. I could be in one room and my wife would have the TV on and I hear the background music and say, 'Oh, my God, that's something that I did with a couple of notes changed.' It doesn't bug me. I think it's flattering."

Cruise also says she has heard her influence in the music that has come in the decades since with female singers. "They sing like sexy baby girls," she says. "They all have their own personality."

But, ultimately, Badalamenti has the best story about how Twin Peaks has played a part in popular music. "I got a call from Paul McCartney's office saying, 'Angelo, Paul would love for you to come out and work with him at Abbey Roads Studios and put some of your identifiable sound on something that he's working on,'" he recalls. "I went out to London and Paul comes over to me and says, 'Angelo, the orchestra sounds great. I just gotta tell you something that happened.'

"He said, 'I was invited by the Queen's office to perform 40 minutes of my music with my band to help celebrate her birthday at Buckingham Palace and I'm about to go on, and the Queen comes by me and says, 'Oh, Mr. McCartney, it's so lovely to see you today,'" he continues. "And Paul says, 'Well, your highness, I'm thrilled. I'm very excited for this invitation to help celebrate your birthday and I'm going to go onstage in a couple of minutes and play my music for you.' And she said, 'Oh, Mr. McCartney, I can't stay.' Paul says, 'But your highness, I'm going to go on now.' 'No, don't you see, Mr. McCartney, it's five minutes of eight. I must go upstairs and watch Twin Peaks.' Paul turns around, he gave me a shot on my arm, I'm still black and blue, man."

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