How Julee Cruise’s haunting and glacial theme song set the tone for David Lynch’s off-kilter TV series. Originally published in Uncut’s June 2017 issue. Words: Tom Pinnock
“Excalibur Sound was the darkest, dingiest place imaginable,” says composer Angelo Badalamenti, recalling the Manhattan studio where he and David Lynch produced much of Twin Peaks’ music. “The lights would flicker, the electricity would go in and out, like something from a David Lynch movie. When we went to see it, there was a terrible odour to the room. It was tiny, the mice were even running around hunchback. But David loved it – he said, ‘This place creates such a beautiful mood for us, Angelo, doesn’t it?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess…’”
From such humble surroundings came a wealth of beautiful and dark music; both for Julee Cruise’s dream-pop masterpiece, 1989’s Floating Into The Night, and for Twin Peaks, Lynch’s maverick TV series, which returns for its third season in May after 26 years away.
Its theme, a glacial ballad driven by electric piano and what sounds like a twanging bass guitar, was an instrumental version of “Falling”, a highlight of Cruise’s album, written and produced by Badalamenti and Lynch after discovering the singer during the making of 1986’s Blue Velvet. “David would say, ‘Julee, imagine you’re whispering to your lover’,” says Cruise today, remembering the sessions. “[At first] I didn’t want to sound like that, though, I didn’t want to show that side of me.”
While Badalamenti, who has just turned 80, has promised Lynch he won’t say anything about the new series – even its theme – he’s keen to stress how important the music of Twin Peaks is to him. “Some of my finest moments have come from my long-term professional association with David Lynch,” he says. “And the music for Twin Peaks is probably the work I’m most proud of. David and I have just an unbelievable relationship… David would verbalise things that he has in mind, pictures in his head, and then I would write music. On ‘Falling’, David set the tone for me, and I understood. That kind of relationship is a marriage made in heaven.”
ANGELO BADALAMENTI (songwriting, keyboards): The first time I met Julee was when I had a workshop in Lower Manhattan, for a country show I had written. She was one of the members of the cast.
JULEE CRUISE (vocals): I was a belter. I’d come from Minneapolis, where I was an actor in theatre. My background was French horn and I was really good, but I decided to be an actress. I was always a character actor and a belter – I didn’t feel comfortable singing real soft or real pretty.
BADALAMENTI: When David Lynch and I were looking for an angelic voice for “Mysteries Of Love” [from Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet], I asked Julee if she knew any singers that could sing in that style. She sent up a couple of friends, but they didn’t cut it for me. Julee said, “Maybe I can give it a try.” I said, “Well, I know you as a show singer, a belter.” She said, “I think I can do it,” went home, did a little work, and as soon as she opened her mouth it was love at first sound.
CRUISE: It was the music that led me to that. “Mysteries Of Love” was meant to sound like This Mortal Coil with Liz Fraser, but I didn’t know that. I remember writing out the lyrics, because they were written on a napkin by David. I was horrified [singing so soft] at first. I was showing a side of me that I didn’t want to show, and that’s the beautiful side, the romantic side, so I approached it as a classical musician would.
BADALAMENTI: She did exactly what David and I were looking for, because she sounds like an angel. Once we’d written “Mysteries Of Love”, that started it all. I said to David, “Give me lyrics, you’re a lyric writer, you can do these things.” I’d write music to just about everything he gave me. I remember that “Falling” was simply one of the lyrics. Floating Into The Night was released before Twin Peaks, but David was well into the show and the concept by that point, so as we were doing songs for Julee, I’m sure David had Julee’s cuts in mind [for Twin Peaks].