The original Twin Peaks featured loads of spooky synth and jazz composed by Angelo Badalamenti, complementing nearly every scene. With the Twin Peaks revival, co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost made a point of not retreading old ground and the soundtrack was a huge part of that.
Presenting a far more detached and darker universe than its predecessor, Twin Peaks: The Return typically went sans music, opting instead for diegetic sound (mostly eerie industrial hums and electrical noises courtesy of Lynch’s sound design). This meant that every time music did pop up, it had a distinct, memorable impact.
In total, the series featured a combination of live band performances, music from the original series, new compositions from Badalamenti, and other oddball selections besides.
Here’s a list of the ten best music cues!
Honorable mention: Green Onions – Booker T. & the M.G.’s
I have no personal desire to include this, but I feel like I’ll get shouted at if I don’t at least give it a nod. Yeah, yeah, it’s funny that Lynch made us watch a guy sweep the floor for two and a half minutes, and I have nothing against “Green Onions,” really. It’s just such a culturally ubiquitous song that I can’t get too excited about it.
10. “I Am” Oldschool HipHop Beat – Blunted Beatz
Probably the least Twin Peaks-ian sounding song of the entire series, this is a funky little beat that Lynch found online. It accompanies the violent actions of hitman Ike “The Spike” Stadtler. His song is particularly noticeable in how it kicks in while he looks over a dossier of his next hit, cutting off abruptly the moment he’s finished. The song comes back again as he runs about an office, viciously murdering people with an ice pick. What can I say? It stuck with me (no pun intended).
9. Just You – James Marshall
Look, I don’t particularly like this song. It’s cheesy as heck and not entirely pleasant, the core melody coming from James’s warbly, off-key falsetto (the actor has said he couldn’t hit the notes but Lynch liked it that way). Still, I can’t deny the execution of such a goofy meta-joke, bringing back this song and giving James center stage at the Roadhouse to perform it. Fun fact: it’s actually the original recording James Marshall did back in the nineties, dubbed in.
8. Heartbreaking – Angelo Badalamenti
In a series that rarely let up on the bleakness, “Heartbreaking” is a definite standout. A beautiful, melancholy piano piece, it grips the attention of the usually spaced-out Dougie/Cooper, closing out an episode with a rare sweet moment.
7. I Love How You Love Me – The Paris Sisters
There are precious few instances in The Return when it gives into big, sweeping musical moments, so it’s quite a thrill when it does happen. The introduction of Shelly and Bobby’s daughter Becky ends with a tragic, beautiful shot of her, high, staring up at the sky as this 1961 pop tune blares through a car radio. The specific choice of shooting Becky’s face from above, paired unexpectedly with an old pop hit, makes this a standout moment.
6. Audrey’s Dance – Angelo Badalamenti
Another track lifted directly from nineties’ Twin Peaks, but now recontextualized entirely. The Return constantly works to subvert fan expectations of what a revival should be. In this case, Audrey’s iconic dance is brought back and it at first seems like it’s going to be a straightforward bit of nostalgia to make the fans happy, but those warm, fuzzy feelings are soon decimated when a bar fight breaks out, snapping Audrey out of her reverie. Tragic stuff!
5. Laura’s Theme (Love Theme From Twin Peaks) – Angelo Badalmenti
“Laura’s Theme” turns up more than once throughout The Return, but rewatch the original Twin Peaks and you’ll hear portions of it in just about every single episode (and, in addition, several alternative versions of the song). The revival withholds the song all the way until Part 4, when Bobby is taken aback by the reappearance of Laura Palmer’s old high school photo. Bobby breaks down crying, this unabashedly accompanied by “Laura’s Theme.” I guarantee you this gave every old-school fan chills.
4. Twin Peaks Theme – Angelo Badalementi
Yes, this classic piece starts off every episode (quite a deception, really, considering what a different sort of show it is), but I’m specifically talking about its use in Part 16, when Coop finally snaps back to his senses. Again, Lynch and Frost don’t go in for nostalgia that often, but those times that they do, they aren’t afraid to go all out. Turning to the camera, Coop declares, “I am the FBI,” just as that famous theme hits its crescendo. I cheered at my television.
3. She’s Gone Away – Nine Inch Nails
Usually the performances at the Roadhouse close out the episode, but this is one of the exceptions. After the (non-)murder of Evil Cooper, we cut to the Roadhouse to witness Nine Inch Nails (comically introduced as “The Nine Inch Nails”) playing the entirety of this assaulting, foreboding track. This is in the infamous Part 8, and once the song is over, everything takes a major left turn into atom bombs and total horror. It feels like NiN has shepherded us from the creepy first half of the episode to the much more terrifying second.’
2. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (Live From Monterey Pop) – Otis Redding
Another of those rare moments of sweeping music and easily the purest moment of joy in the entire series. The greatest kindness Lynch and Frost gave us in this series was finally letting Norma and Big Ed be together. Otis Redding’s vocals ring out triumphantly as we’re shown picturesque shots of mountains and sky. Simply one of the most beautiful scenes in all Twin Peaks’ history.
1. Axolotl (Roadhouse Mix) – The Veils
An eclectic top choice, I know, but this is my favorite scene in all of Twin Peaks: The Return. The song is a perfectly Lynchian selection. He loves this throbbing bass-heavy sort of thing (check out “The Pink Room” from Fire Walk with Me or “Crazy Clown Time” from Lynch’s own album of the same name). It’s used in a Roadhouse performance that cuts between the band, The Veils, and a young woman, Ruby, distressed, crawling across the bar floor, through the crowd.
I’m not sure what it is exactly, but something about this aggressive song, paired with the flashing visuals, as Ruby shrieks her lungs out, draws me in and sends shivers up my spine every time.