When Angelo Badalamenti, composer and renowned collaborator of filmmaker-musician David Lynch, died on Sunday at age 85, he left behind some of the most evocative soundscapes known to cinema. Lustrous orchestration and small combo jazz sounds for Lynch works such as “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks” tweaked the senses while underscoring the grotesquerie below the surface of the American dream. But there was so much more to Badalamenti than his sweeping cinematic ambience for a single filmmaker.
Here is a list of some of Angelo Badalamenti’s finest musical moments, with and without David Lynch.
The Slow Club scene in “Blue Velvet” and “Mysteries of Love” (1986)
Along with a cameo appearance as the pianist/band leader at the Slow Club where the tortured Dorothy Valens (played by Isabella Rossellini) sings, Badalamenti starts off her musical rendition of “Blue Velvet” as a sleazy lounge song, all blowzy saxophone and off-the-beat rhythms, before segueing into the tempered, twinkly “Blue Star.” That askew noir jazz vibe infiltrates the interstitial music that Badalamenti composed for “Blue Velvet,” until “Mysteries of Love.” Written with Lynch for breathy vocalist Julee Cruise, the ethereal “Mysteries” represents pure and blinding white love. From this point forward, Lynch, Cruise and Badalamenti became a team, existential doom-pop’s holy trinity.
Julee Cruise’s “Falling” and the theme song music for “Twin Peaks” (1990)
The descending guitar chords and the spare, flighty melody of Badalmenti’s whooshing synthesizer emulates the rushing springs of Twin Peaks’ great Northwestern mountains. But something sinister is surely afoot, a threat made deceptively angelic when Cruise’s high voice flits across Badalamenti’s haunted instrumental version of “Twin Peaks”’ theme – an unlikely pop hit that cracked Billboard’s Alternative Airplay Top 20.
“Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (1989/1990)
The stage at BAM during the winter New Music America Festival found Lynch directing a noisy yet celestial set of industrial soundscapes composed and played by Badalamenti and sung by Cruise (don’t forget dozens of rubber baby dolls lowered from the rafters with their eyeballs burnt out). While many of the night’s songs — such as “I Float Alone” — were part of Cruise’s 1989 debut album, “Floating into the Night,” the entirety of “Industrial Symphony” was released on VHS in 1990 and on DVD in 2008 as part of “David Lynch: The Lime Green Set.”
The score to “Wild at Heart” and the introduction of Willem Dafoe as “Bobby Peru” (1990)
While Badalamenti’s incendiary score to the manic love story of Sailor Ripley and Lula (Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern) is often stringed, subtly Morricone-like and filled with backward tape machinations, things slow to a blur with a thundering tom-tom rhythm and a Duane Eddy-style guitar twang when Lynch’s most dangerous character, Bobby Peru, enters the scene. The sly and menacing moment is there, then gone, in a flash, but 22 years after this was released into theaters, I still remember Badalamenti’s sonic fear-fest.
The orchestration of Pet Shop Boys, “It Couldn’t Happen Here” (1987)
Layered onto the 1987 Pet Shop Boys album, “Actually,” Badalamenti’s strings and brass turn Chris Lowe’s spare, arch melody and Neil Tennant’s dry-ice vocals – the very definition of synth pop – into something dramatically worthy of a lost 007 theme song, or at least an English high school graduation ceremony. Badalamenti later worked with PSB again on 1990’s “This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave” and “Only the Wind,” but their first cut was the deepest.
Angelo Badalamenti & Jimmy Scott, “Sycamore Trees” (1992)
For the soundtrack to Lynch’s “Fire Walk with Me” film, the orchestrator penned a tense, string-sawed jazzy ballad through which Scott – renowned for his angelic high notes that could break glass – sang in his lowest-ever octave. Tinged with the fatality of “Strange Fruit,” this is Badalamenti and Scott at their mournful, trembling saddest.
Anthrax, “Black Lodge” (1993)
Inspired by David Lynch’s place of no return from “Twin Peaks,” thrash-metal gods Anthrax and Badalamenti conspired to create a pulsating, gothic rocker with an irresistible melody, chugging rhythms, cascading, dueling guitars and a surprisingly bright bridge. Apparently, Angelo could have been a metalhead.
Marianne Faithfull, “A Secret Life” (1995)
Together with producer and co-writer Badalamenti, craggy-voiced poet Faithfull created her finest, full-length work since “Broken English” nearly 20 years prior with “A Secret Life.” And though each selection is a study of subdued noir musicality and distingue melancholia, “She” is one of orchestral pop’s most triumphant moments, a portrait of trembling strings and tremulous vocals worthy of a Fellini film, or Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
David Bowie + Angelo Badalamenti, “A Foggy Day in London Town” (1998)
George and Ira Gershwin’s balladic salute to rainy days and rainier romance never sounded as gorgeously glum as it did in the hands of Bowie and Badalamenti for their contribution to the “Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove” package. Slowed down and bowed, the orchestrator provides the vocalist a mix of real strings and brooding synths that, at times, is reminiscent of Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs.” To this instrumental backing, Bowie gives a pensive, quivering performance worthy of a tear, and you only wish that the twosome had worked together beyond a single song.
Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, “Thought Gang” (2018)
Thought Gang was started as a project between composer and director nearly 20 years before the recordings saw release. (Lynch told the L.A. Times in 1990, “Some of the happiest moments I’ve ever had have been working with Angelo. He’s got a big heart, and he allowed me to come into his world and get involved with music.”) This pseudo-band is cool-cat bop-pop with a nervous edge, hammering pianos, their neighbor’s cello and Lynch gloriously crooning though a bull horn. What could be better or more ominously artsy? Their finest moment, “A Real Indication” featured a video filmed by Lynch in 8mm.