Scotsman Obituaries: Angelo Badalamenti, composer of haunting Twin Peaks theme

Angelo Badalamenti, composer, arranger and songwriter. Born: 22 March, 1937 in Brooklyn, New York City. Died: 11 December, 2022 in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, aged 85

When David Lynch approached Angelo Badalamenti to write music for his 1986 film Blue Velvet, his abstract instructions were to compose “the most beautiful thing, but make it dark and a little bit scary”. Badalamenti, who has died aged 85, delivered – and how. Unable to secure the rights to use Song to the Siren, Lynch requested “a song that floats on the seas of time”. Badalamenti and Lynch co-wrote The Mysteries of Love, sung exquisitely by Julee Cruise.

So began a freaky, fertile partnership Badalamenti hailed as “my second best marriage”, as he became Lynch’s go-to composer, writing the scary-beautiful scores for his cult films Wild At Heart, Lost Highway, The Straight Story and Mulholland Drive as a soothing yet unsettling accompaniment to Lynch’s arcane plots and fever dream visuals.

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So key was Badalamenti’s music to Lynch’s iconoclastic vision that their most enduring collaboration was forged before Lynch shot a single scene of a TV series he planned to call Northwest Passage. Badalamenti improvised the music for what became Laura Palmer’s Theme on electric piano as Lynch narrated the storyboard. The music stuck, the name did not. The rechristened Twin Peaks had a sound; very soon it would have a look and an atmosphere unlike anything on TV before (or since), symbiotically enhanced by Badalamenti’s plangent, dreamy and mournful blend of romantic strings and foreboding synthesiser chords which he described as “beautiful, dissonant things that kind of rub you wrong. Sometimes they resolve, sometimes they don’t.”

Composer Angelo Badalamenti at a Twin Peaks event in Los Angeles, California in 2014 (Picture: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)Composer Angelo Badalamenti at a Twin Peaks event in Los Angeles, California in 2014 (Picture: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Composer Angelo Badalamenti at a Twin Peaks event in Los Angeles, California in 2014 (Picture: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Badalamenti went on to win a Best Pop Instrumental Grammy for the iconic main Twin Peaks theme – an instrumental version of the Cruise song, Falling – and wrote the music for spin-off film Fire Walk With Me and the 2017 TV revival.

When Paulo Nutini came on stage at the Glasgow Hydro recently it was not to the music of New Shoes or any of his other hits, but to the theme tune from a television show that first screened when he was little more than a toddler, such is the power of the minimal, haunting, bass-fuelled theme from Twin Peaks

Over the years, he worked with other cinematic stylists such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet on The City of Lost Children and A Very Long Engagement, completed a trio of scores for Paul Schrader, composed the soundtracks for Secretary, the 2006 Wicker Man remake and A Late Quartet and co-wrote songs for the likes of Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey and Marianne Faithfull with lyricists such as John Clifford and Sammy Cahn. But his work with Lynch is for the ages. On hearing of his buddy’s passing, the director took to his daily YouTube Weather Report to declare “today – no music”.

Badalamenti was born into an opera-loving family in Brooklyn. His father John ran a fish market, mother Leonora was a seamstress and his uncle Vinnie Badale played trumpet with Benny Goodman. He received piano lessons from the age of eight, and later took up the French horn. He wrote a march for his high school graduation before landing a summer job as an accompanist in resorts in the Catskills during his college years. He studied at the Eastman School of Music and Manhattan School of Music, graduating in 1959, then worked as a music teacher for five years.

He landed a publishing deal after writing a Christmas musical for the students, and embarked on a songwriting career as Andy Badale, quickly progressing from Christine Hunter’s novelty Christmas song Santa, Bring Me Ringo to the sumptuous I Hold No Grudge for Nina Simone and I’ve Been Loved for Shirley Bassey. His collaborations with electronic composers Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley and Seventies scores for action film Gordon’s War and comedy drama Law and Disorder were a taste of things to come but his was a piecemeal career until he was enlisted as Isabella Rossellini’s vocal coach in Blue Velvet – Lynch deemed her recording of the titular song “peachy keen” and Badalamenti got the scoring gig, as well as a cameo in the film as the pianist in the nightclub scenes.

In contrast, his next jobs were Nightmare On Elm Street 3 and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, before Wild At Heart and Twin Peaks kickstarted the run of Lynch classics which cemented his reputation and stoked demand for his songwriting and arranging skills as much as his composing work.

One of his more curious commissions was co-writing a country song, You’ll Come Back (You Always Do), with Norman Mailer for the 1987 film Tough Guys Don’t Dance but he found his lane again working with Marianne Faithfull on her 1995 album A Secret Life, with David Bowie on a version of George Gershwin’s A Foggy Day (in London Town), writing the Weill-influenced Careless Love with Siouxsie Sioux for John Maybury’s The Edge of Love and arranging for the Pet Shop Boys, Paul McCartney and Dusty Springfield.

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The Nineties/Noughties was a fruitful period. Badalamenti composed the Torch theme for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and undertook diverse collaborations, with thrash metal band Anthrax on their track Black Lodge (inspired by the Twin Peaks location), electronica duo Orbital on Beached from the soundtrack of The Beach and late Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan on the soundtrack to Evilenko.

He teamed with James frontman Tim Booth as Booth and the Bad Angel for one self-titled album in 1996. “He taught me many things but primarily how to enjoy the recording process,” said Booth. “We laughed from the beginning to the end of the record we made together, never had a disagreement.”

Badalamenti received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Awards in 2008 and the Henry Mancini Award from the Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2011. He is survived by wife Lonny, daughter Danielle and four grandchildren.


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