The Music of Twin Peaks

The bulk of this article ran roughly two years ago on the blog, Lonesome Noise. With a new series about to launch us back into the Lynchian abyss of Twin Peaks, it’s not a bad time to look back once again on the music that helped make the original series the iconic cultural phenomenon we’ve come to love and worship.

Twenty seven fictional years ago a beautiful, but troubled, young woman was found dead, wrapped in plastic, on the river bank near the Martell residence in the town of Twin Peaks, Washington. So began the greatest television series in history (or so it is in this author’s opinion). Though it lasted for roughly two season, twenty-nine episodes in total (or thirty depending on how they are broken up), Twin Peaks was a game changer. There was nothing like it before, nor has there been anything since, despite some blatant rip offs along the way. The list of what made Twin Peaks so special is a long and fascinating one. But it only makes sense for us to hone in on the music of Twin Peaks in this space.

No TV show before it incorporated music into the overall viewing experience the way Twin Peaks did. Certainly the catchy and sing-able theme song had been an American television staple since the Fifties, and first truly perfected in the Sixties. But Twin Peaks mastermind, David Lynch, has always prided himself on the use of sound to enhance the overall experience for his viewers. Ever watch Mulholland Drive with headphones on? You should, immediately. It will give you an entirely new perspective on the film. The same can be said really of any Lynch production, including Twin Peaks and the subsequent prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But you don’t need headphones to experience the beauty of the music that ran throughout the show and film. Every time Lynch wanted something enhanced there was music. That sweet, jazzy, crazy music…

“Where we’re from the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air…”

Angelo Badalamenti had been making music for and with David Lynch since Blue Velvet, four years earlier. His writing credits prior to Twin Peaks included such mainstream affairs as Christmas Vacation and Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Twin Peaks would help launch him to amazing heights and cement his working relationship with Lynch, which would last for the next 20+ years. It was the combination of Badalamenti’s musical direction and Lynch’s artistic vision that would create not only the iconic theme song, but three albums worth of Twin Peaks music (and a roughly 200 song online archive) that is so utterly and completely recognizable. Even people who have never seen the show before will stop in their tracks trying to place where they’ve heard such a unique blend of jazz chords and mysticism. How recognizable is the music of Twin Peaks to Twin Peaks fanatics? Yours truly was walking the streets of Northampton, MA a few years ago when I was stopped cold after hearing the first few notes of “Twin Peaks Theme” being played on an accordion by a young lady trying to work her way through art school.  (Don’t believe me?  Here she is.)

In 1990, Warner Brothers would capitalize on the rabid success of the first season with the release of the original Soundtrack From Twin Peaks. Eleven songs were compiled, almost every one tied to one of the shows most iconic moments.  Songstress, Julee Cruise would lend her voice to three of the album’s tracks – “The Nightingale”, “Into The Night”, and “Falling”. It would make her a household name to Twin Peaks fans and give her a glimpse of stardom that would unfortunately fade along with the show itself into the annals of pop culture. But her lasting gifts to Twin Peaks fans are some of our favorite scenes both in the show itself as well as in the film. That original soundtrack was nothing short of a masterpiece in that it achieved exactly what it set out to do – to make you recall a show that could infiltrate your dreams like Agent Cooper himself if you let it.

The discovery of Laura Palmer’s corpse is not as ominous, heartbreaking, and wrenching if not for “Laura Palmer’s Theme”.  Audrey Horne wouldn’t be as alluring and devilishly sensual if not for tracks like, “Freshly Squeezed”. Dale Cooper’s dream would not have been as bizarre and surreal without The Little Man From Another Place dancing to the upbeat and infectious, “Dance Of The Dream Man”.  It was a formula for success. Over and over the most dangerous situations, the oddest characters, the most mystical elements were accompanied by music that fit like a glove.

“It is happening again…”

When ABC unceremoniously cancelled Twin Peaks, Lynch would go on to create the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in 1992. Forget whether or not you personally wanted more answers and resolutions than the film (or Lynch) was willing to give. FWWM as a stand-alone film is one of Lynch’s greatest works and a film that again incorporated memorable music in ways that most film makers simply do not. The soundtrack would again be replete with Badalamenti and Lynch penned works, along with vocal appearances by Cruise and a little known jazz legend, Jimmy Scott (who would also make a Black Lodge appearance in the series finale). The movie was exponentially darker than the TV series, one bone of contention with a certain segment of the Twin Peaks fan base. Almost gone was the quirky nature of the TV show that lent to the occasional comedic outlet. Instead the film, concentrating on the last days of a drug-addled, sexually abused teenager, was a massive departure from the demure nature in which the TV show often tackled such topics. Clearly Lynch knew his boundaries on the small screen but was willing to explode them outward on the larger medium. The music reflected as much. “The Theme From Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me” that opened the film was by itself a beacon, a tone setter that warned viewers to buckle up because we are about to cross the tracks into the seedy side of town.

The FWWM soundtrack would also explore different styles, tempos and moods that the TV show’s soundtrack did not. Carnal saxophone solos, esoteric musical interludes, and electronic music fits all dot the soundtrack’s landscape. It’s as unconventional and unorthodox a collection of songs that reflect a film that was as equally as much. The highlight though might be Scott’s appearance on the track, “Sycamore Trees”, which is simply harrowing in its delivery. It is, again, a song that exacerbated an already unsettling series of visuals. Lynch has always been a master at destabilizing his audience and the music on these soundtracks was no exception.

In 2007, Lynch and Badalamenti would piece together the Twin Peaks – Season Two Music and More album. Twenty-two tracks in total, most of them spin offs from the original eleven tracks that appeared on the first soundtrack seventeen years earlier. However there were a handful of songs that had been assumed lost to the ages, including the track, “Just You”, which was sung by actors James Marshall (James Hurley), Sheryl Lee (Madeleine Ferguson) and Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna Hayward). It’s a nice compliment to the original soundtrack and for the Twin Peaks fanatic in your life, a must have.

In 2011, Lynch and Badalamenti would again revisit Twin Peaks, this time with an online archive housed on Lynch’s website that featured roughly 200 different versions of classic Twin Peaks tracks. For the TP fanatics it was an interesting exploration into how some of their favorite songs evolved into the finished products.

There has never been anything like Twin Peaks. It was the perfect storm of surrealism, exceptional storytelling, and the sometimes mad ramblings of a visionary. The music that accompanied Twin Peaks reflected all of that. Could Twin Peaks have been as effective and as successful without the music it produced? Maybe. Lucky for us we’ll never have to find out. On May 21, David Lynch is finally ready to take us on another trip to Twin Peaks. What strange and beautiful songs accompany this new series is anyone’s guess but you can be pretty damn sure that it’s going to be as equally unique an experience from an audio standpoint as it will be visually.

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