Music is a big part of David Lynch’s work, from the eerie soundscapes of his early films to his own studio releases. As his career continued and full length feature films became a rarer sight, he began to make his own music—and now has five albums and a record label to his name. Twin Peaks‘ season 3 revival looks to include more music than ever, with appearances by Trent Reznor, Sky Ferreira, Eddie Vedder, Sharon Van Etten as well as Lynch alumni Rebekah Del Rio and Julee Cruise.
“Everybody and his little brother can get a song and cut it into the movie,” the director told Chris Rodley in the book Lynch on Lynch, “What’s cool to me is when the song is not only an overlay, It’s gotta have some ingredients that are really digging in to be part of the story—It could be in an abstract way or it could be in a lyric way”.
The following list is my ranking of the top musical moments in Lynch’s worlds, across film and television. Not just the best music but the best audio-visual combinations. Read on to revisit (or discover) these brilliant scenes:
15. On the Air S1E5
“The Mr. Peanuts Song”
For those of you who don’t know On The Air, there’s some explaining to do. In 1992, after the cancellation of Twin Peaks, Lynch and Mark Frost re-teamed to make a slapstick sitcom about a fictional 1950s Television Network and their disastrous attempts to produce a live variety show. It was cancelled after one season, with only three of its seven episodes airing on U.S. television.
In this episode they are joined by the popular children’s show host, a puppet named Mr. Peanuts. After Sylvia, actress and all-round diva, humiliates him live on air, they try to cheer him up by singing his theme tune. Even hard-hearted Network President Buddy Budwaller (played by the late Miguel Ferrer) is moved.
Ferrer, whose final screen appearance will be in Twin Peaks’ revival this month, has always had a way with words. In all honesty, this ridiculous song makes the list entirely for his incredible delivery of those final lines, “Now that’s what I call…entertainment“.
14. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Angelo Badalamenti – “The Pink Room”
I am among a (growing?) minority of fans who like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and so I couldn’t deny it at least one spot on this list. While Badalamenti’s entire soundtrack for the film is one of my favourites of all-time, this song is not easily associated with the series’ sound. Yet what it has in spades is atmosphere, the thudding percussion and guitar fitting well with the smoky sleaze of the Canadian dive bar. It’s a plunge into Laura’s world for Donna, the dialogue overwhelmed by the music and the red hue of the bar, alluring and threatening in equal measure.
13. Lost Highway
Lou Reed – “This Magic Moment”
There is an irresistible magnetism when Lou Reed’s “This Magic Moment” overlays Patricia Arquette’s graceful introduction into her second role of Lost Highway. It is definitely a “lyric way” of digging into the story, which is both why it’s included on this list and why it is low on the ranking. A slow-motion introduction of a love interest to music isn’t exactly novel, but it works here because of its contrasting simplicity at the centre of Lost Highway’s Möbius strip of a plot. Fred’s transformation takes him from his ugly world of guilt, fear and murder to the (momentarily) more clear-cut noir romance of Pete’s. We know this fantasy won’t hold for long, but at this moment we have a brief respite to indulge in the cliché.
12. Twin Peaks S1E1: “Northwest Passage”
Angelo Badalamenti – “I’m Hurt Bad”
It might just be me, but this scene always struck a chord with me, even among a pilot that is full of indelible moments. Bobby Briggs, a character I’ve gone from hating to loving over time, is the bully, the fool, and the rebel. When he leaves a room you know he’s going to put a quarter in the jukebox on his way out. Luckily for us, Twin Peaks is disinterested in letting a scene play out quite so predictably.
The song he plays is one of the most unconventional choices for a small-town diner, rebelling against our expectations as if Bobby summoned it to suit the moment. As far as I know, the track is only listed on the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack, an Angelo Badalamenti song called “I’m Hurt Bad”, which develops into a wonderful blues/jazz track after this intro.
11. The Straight Story
Angelo Badalamenti – “Laurens Walking”
“The important thing for me,” Lynch said about his 1999 film, “is the vast expanse of the landscape, this impression floating inside nature”. That’s the key sensation one gets watching The Straight Story (a film so different from the director’s other work it’s hard to believe he made it)—a sense of place. It’s a simple film, refuting the notion that Lynch would become predictable later in his career. There’s nothing complex to unpack in this one; it’s just a beautiful song played over some damn fine filmmaking.
10. Twin Peaks S2E1: “May The Giant Be With You”
Ray Wise – “Get Happy”
Leland Palmer is a musical man. He’s also one of the most terrifying characters on television. Naturally, he had to make this list at some point. In a way this entry is for all his singing and dancing over the series, but I had to pick one.
Following his murder of Jacques Renault at the end of season 1, Leland surprises his family and friends by turning up with white hair one morning. After some amazing renditions of ‘Maizy Doats’, it looks like he’s back on track to being a functional (if eccentric) member of society again. That is until he insists that Donna’s sister Gersten plays the piano, so he can dance and sing “Get Happy”. It’s a sweet moment, where even the anxiety-ridden Sarah Palmer can smile for a moment, at least until Leland’s new-found joy hits its breaking point.
9. The Elephant Man
Samuel Barber – “Adagio for Strings”
If you ever feel like crying, watching The Elephant Man is a sure-fire way to do it. John Merrick (expertly played by the late John Hurt) is effortlessly kind despite the many cruelties he has suffered over his lifetime. He loves music, poetry, and misses his deceased mother.
In the final scene of the film, he makes the fatal decision to do what he was always told he couldn’t—to sleep lying on his back, imitating a picture of sleeping child on his wall. The addition of the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance of “Adagio for Strings” pushes this scene over the line from sad to heartbreaking.
8. Twin Peaks S1E3: “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer”
Angelo Badalamenti – “Dance of the Dream Man”
“Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song,” The Man From Another Place tells Agent Cooper, “and there’s always music in the air”. Twin Peaks is infused with music. There’s the diegetic, in-world music of Julee Cruise and the aforementioned jukebox of the Double R Diner, and there’s Angelo Badalamenti’s beautiful soundtrack that scores the melodrama and horror of the town. This is a line that is blurred in scenes like this, where our attention is drawn to the non-diegetic music before it kicks in.
This dream is important to the show, coming in at the end of the third episode and revealing its underlying intent. The uncanny world of backwards-talking dream dialogue provides clues, but also makes sure to parade its own threatening power over Cooper and the audience. The dance is a reminder that the truth is just out of reach and the universe is not going to pay you any special attention, and evil often wears a friendly mask.
7. Mulholland Drive
Linda Scott – “I’ve Told Every Little Star”
Like #10, a lot of the power of this musical moment comes from the contrast between the sincerity of a saccharine song and the brutal reality that surrounds it. The song is pure, innocent and conventional, as the rest of the scene overrides its sincerity with producer politics and malevolent forces. Adam, the director reluctantly following orders from above, compromises his vision, while on the other side of the room the optimistic Betty enters the room ignorant of the fact that her opportunity has been taken from her for no good reason.
You can feel Adam’s weariness and ambivalence to Melissa George’s Camilla, who perfectly captures a mediocre performance. She’s just a tad unconvincing so that we understand that the significant line “This is the girl” isn’t a sign of quality, but a role dictated by business. Through his lingering eye contact with Betty, Adam is faced with remorse for hurting someone unintentionally, and Betty’s optimism is tempered.
It’s worth noting that the lyrics to “I’ve Told Every Little Star” is about a declaration of love that isn’t reciprocated.
Maybe, you may love me too
Oh, my darling, if you do
Why haven’t you told me
6. Twin Peaks S2E22: “Beyond Life and Death”
Jimmy Scott – “Sycamore Trees”
Jimmy Scott, a jazz vocalist with an incredible voice, had most of his success in the 50s – an era that Lynch is known to return to in his work. His resurgence in the ’90s meant he made a cameo in the mind-blowing Red Room sequence of Twin Peaks’ season 2 finale. Jazz isn’t exactly a new addition to the room or the show at this point, but it’s one of the few times the tone is so mournful. Despite the beauty of the song, which was written by David Lynch, the scene has a sinister edge as the strobe flickers on Cooper’s terrified expression.
Also, look out for The Man From Another Place, whose slow turn to Coop (and the camera) is unnerving as hell.
5. Twin Peaks S1E3: “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer”
Angelo Badalamenti – “Audrey’s Dance”
What would we think of Audrey if not for this moment? Her character was a fan-favourite, from her troublemaker origins to her amateur investigation gone-wrong, but it was this dance in the Double R Diner that cemented her as an icon. The scene is so totally focused on her character, the music and her intuitive feeling for it that it’s hard to adequately describe just why it works other than to commend Sherilyn Fenn’s remarkable charisma as an actress.
4. Blue Velvet
Roy Orbison – “In Dreams”
This lip-syncing version of “In Dreams” is one of the fortunate combinations of script and chance. Dennis Hopper memorised the whole song to sing it, but when Dean Stockwell sang instead, the in-character Hopper was so mesmerised his co-star he just stood there and watched. A happy accident, the scene blossomed from an interesting one to a great one, highlighting Frank’s love for romance and music regardless of how his actions speak otherwise.
David Lynch & Peter Ivers – “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)”
The lady in the radiator for many is a grim reaper figure, beckoning Henry to the embrace of death. She is also a comfort, offering an escape from an oppressive existence. The song itself plays to this fatalism, her off-kilter appearance and setting only adding to the unsettling beauty of the music. This song often gets stuck in my head, partially thanks to the numerous covers over the years—the best of which being Pixies’ version in 1987, which was later released on their 2002 EP.
Much has been said about Eraserhead and what it all means. As Kenneth Kaleta said about the film, “Images from the subconscious are not merely tied to the plot; in Eraserhead, images from the subconscious are the plot”. Working from such a deep level of our experience means that scenes like this resonate, with an immense visceral effect on the viewer even before any analysis kicks in.
2. Twin Peaks S2E7: “Lonely Souls”
Julee Cruise – “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart”/”The World Spins”
These songs cap off what may be the best episode of Twin Peaks, and likely its saddest ending too. Cooper, Truman and The Log Lady visit the Roundhouse, where Julee Cruise is performing “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart”. It’s a nice moment, as Donna tries to cheer James up by singing along, and the law enforcement have a well-earned drink. Elsewhere, Leland is revealed to be killer of his own daughter, just as he takes the life of Maddy. The Giant’s warning of “It is happening again”, one of the most ominous sentences ever uttered on film, comes amid the second song “The World Spins”.
Then something remarkable happens. The old waiter consoles Cooper (“I’m so sorry”), and the whole bar is permeated with sorrow. Donna breaks out into tears with James holds her close. Alone at the bar, Bobby freezes with a cigarette in hand, looking around the bar like a lost child. Without any physical action, everyone knows what has happened, like an emotional field connects them all in this moment. The fade from Cooper’s pensive gaze upwards to those signature red curtains is a perfect ending to a flawless episode.
1. Mulholland Drive
Rebekah Del Rio – “Llorando (Crying)”
This scene just had to top the list. In a way, it’s the reason for the list in the first place. The apex of arguably Lynch’s greatest film, Rebekah Del Rio performs a stunning Spanish rendition of the Roy Orbison song that the director initially wanted for Blue Velvet, before he chose “In Dreams”. Del Rio’s phenomenal voice, her audible knocking of the microphone, and numerous close-up shots convince us that this is a real, full-bodied performance. So when it is all revealed to be a lie, the rug is swept from beneath our feet in a devastating way.
More so than anything else here this inclusion uses the sound in the scene to make a complicated but immediately-felt statement about art, expectation and intuition. You can see it as a cruel prank on Rita and Betty, or as a cathartic realisation that is as inspiring as it is painful. It was all an illusion, one that Betty and Diane believed to be true even when they were forewarned that ‘there is no band’. Just like us, losing ourselves to movies even when we know that what we are seeing isn’t real.
As well as being a strong contender for greatest scene of all time, it stands as the best exploration of what music means to David Lynch, and in many ways, the key to everything his work hopes to achieve.
Featured Image: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group