In the wake of his death, we look back on Angelo Badalamenti’s incredible career – from his work with the surrealist auteur, to songs with Nina Simone and David Bowie
This piece was originally published in 2017
David Lynch has always been fascinated with sound, with the industrial soundtrack of his first feature film Eraserhead as notable as its surreal imagery. But it’s the filmmaker’s long-running collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti that really gets to the heart of what can described as a ‘Lynchian’ approach to sound. Lynch and Badalamenti first worked together on 1986’s Blue Velvet, and since then the Italian-American composer has brought his fusion of atmospheric ambient music, leftfield jazz, and thrashy rockabilly to all but one of Lynch’s major projects. Badalamenti’s scores for these films and TV shows have influenced a generation of musicians, but there’s more to the composer’s career than just his work with Lynch: his output has covered 1960s jazz singers, forgotten b-movies, Hollywood blockbusters, and A-list pop stars alike.
As the soundtrack to Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me (arguably Lynch and Badalamenti’s finest work together) receives a long-awaited reissue via Death Waltz Records today, and with Badalamenti’s music once again primed to set the mood for the forthcoming third season of Twin Peaks, we’ve looked back on the composer’s long and varied career, ranging from iconic rap samples to unlikely collaborations with thrash metal legends Anthrax.
THE EARLY YEARS
Angelo Badalamenti wasn’t a particularly recognisable name before he met David Lynch, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy: as a professional musician, he racked up hundreds of writing, scoring, and arrangement credits throughout the 1960s and 70s under the pseudonym ‘Andy Badale’. He worked with some big names along the way, too, including Nina Simone, Nancy Wilson, and Shirley Bassey, but one of his most notable partnerships from this era was with electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey. Together, they co-wrote dozens of tracks, including the 1970 cut “E.V.A.”, a track that’s gone on to become one of the most sampled in hip hop history.
FLOATING INTO THE NIGHT
Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch’s first collaboration was on 1986’s Blue Velvet. Badalamenti’s work had mostly dried up during the decade, so he immediately jumped at the chance to work on the film, despite knowing very little about it. He was initially brought in as a vocal coach to star Isabella Rossellini, but Lynch took a liking to his sound and asked him to compose the score for the whole film. In Lynch’s original vision, Blue Velvet would feature This Mortal Coil’s haunting cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren”, but as the $50,000 usage rights fee was too high, he asked Badalamenti to create a new song with a similar vibe instead. (Lynch would later get to use This Mortal Coil’s song to memorable effect in Lost Highway.) Badalamenti composed a track titled “Mysteries of Love”, and asked his friend Julee Cruise to record Lynch’s lyrics – it was the first time the trio had collaborated, and the beginning of a fruitful creative partnership.
The success of Blue Velvet and its evocative soundtrack led to Lynch and Badalamenti co-writing and producing Julee Cruise’s debut album Floating into the Night. Released in 1989, the dream pop record is perhaps most famous for yielding “Falling”, the instrumental for which would end up becoming the iconic opening theme to Twin Peaks. Cruise would later work with Lynch and Badalamenti on the little-known stage play Industrial Symphony with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, and she teamed up with the two again for her underrated second album The Voice of Love in 1993.
DEFINING THE ‘LYNCHIAN’ SOUND
Following his work on Blue Velvet and with Julee Cruise, Badalamenti became David Lynch’s most trusted musical collaborator, subsequently appearing on every one of the director’s soundtracks until 2006’s INLAND EMPIRE (the only other musician Lynch works with so closely is his engineer, ‘Big’ Dean Hurley). The style of these collaborations ranged hugely yet the quality never faltered, whether Badalamenti was writing moody ambient pieces for Mulholland Drive, dubby rock tracks for Lost Highway, or composing the euphoric closing moments of Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me. They even recorded a jazz/rap/rock album under the name Thought Gang, though it never ended up seeing a release. But their best work together tended to be when they brought on legendary jazz singers to provide vocals, be it ‘Little’ Jimmy Scott’s spine-tingling “Sycamore Trees” or Koko Taylor’s smoky “Up In Flames”.
THE POP WORLD CALLS
After collaborating with Lynch, it wasn’t long before pop stars wanted to use some of Badalamenti’s magic. The first and most savvy of the composer’s pop collaborators were the Pet Shop Boys, who after seeing Blue Velvet asked Badalamenti to arrange the strings for 1987’s “It Couldn’t Happen Here” (legendary film composer Ennio Morricone was originally meant to do it). After Twin Peaks, however, things really exploded, with the 1990s seeing Badalamenti work on huge projects like creating music for the 1992 Olympics opening ceremony. For proof of his diverse range, you only need to look at his collaborations throughout this decade: he formed an unlikely partnership with Tim Booth of Britpop band James, recorded an album with legendary singer-songwriter Marianne Faithfull, made a post-rave banger with Orbital, and even worked with thrash metal heroes Anthrax. One collaboration that was sadly never explored in any meaningful depth was with David Bowie: they only worked together once, on a downcast cover of George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day In London Town” in 1998, but it’s a stunning combination. Had Bowie called Badalamenti just two days later about the song, it wouldn’t have even happened: Bono also offered to record its vocals.
BADALAMENTI’S POST-LYNCH WORK
Though Badalamenti was a busy soundtrack composer during the 1990s and 2000s, this music is rarely acknowledged to the same degree as his work with David Lynch. Perhaps this is because few other directors seemed to bring out his strengths and quirks in the same way: in the 00s, Badalamenti produced soundtracks for films like Cabin Fever, Secretary, and the maligned The Wicker Man remake, and he even turned his hand to video games with Fahrenheit, but few received any widespread acclaim. One underrated creative partnership, however, was with eccentric French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who worked with Badalamenti on both 1995’s City of Lost Children and 2004’s A Very Long Engagement. The former is arguably Badalamenti’s strongest non-Lynch film soundtrack, particularly the gorgeous “L’anniversaire D’Irvin”.