Tag Archives: Blue Velvet

“Sing Hallelujah, Come On Get Happy!”: Performing Pop in the Worlds of David Lynch

In honor of David Lynch’s release on vinyl of his single “Good Day Today” (and our love of all things Lynch), Noise Narcs is posting on the music of, for, and about David Lynch this week. See our intro post (and claim of Lynch as a Philadelphian) here, and see the rest of the DLW posts here.

When thinking about the music in David Lynch’s works, the first element that comes to mind is, of course, Angelo Badalamenti’s composition. A close second is the director’s fondness for foregrounding his characters’ performances of classic, 1940s-1960s, pop.

“Twin Peaks”

Leland Palmer is the most conspicuous pop performer in the series. Actor Ray Wise’s manic performances of familiar and well-loved pop music brilliantly heightens the comedy and tragedy of Leland’s breakdown. An early and important example is his heart-wrenching dance with Laura’s photograph to the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s 1940 hit “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

But for a more exuberant performance, we fast-forward to the first episode of the second season, when Leland’s hair turns white. He sings the 1943 novelty song “Mairzy Doats,” made famous by the Merry Macs.

Then later in the episode, at dinner with the Haywards, he makes a request — the Harold Arlen classic, composed in 1929, “Get Happy.” [Sinatra’s version of the tune, from his 1954 album Swing Easy!, is below.]

Blue Velvet

One of the most haunting and indelible performances in Blue Velvet takes place at the end of the scene where Frank (Dennis Hopper) and his entourage pick up beer (“Pabst Blue Ribbon!”) and stop by Ben’s house. This revealing scene, as sexually- and violently-charged as any in the film, culminates in a performance from Ben (Dean Stockwell) who lip-syncs the wonderful, and complex, 1963 Roy Orbison hit “In Dreams.” It’s utterly transfixing, for us and for Frank. Here’s the NSFW (unless you use headphones) scene. If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, watch the entire scene. Notice how Lynch foregrounds the sound effects of Frank popping in the cassette and Ben clicking on the light. “In Dreams” starts at 5:20.

This is another example, like Leland Palmer playing his “Pennsylvania 6-5000” record, where a character selects and plays their own recorded music. But in this case it’s Frank who starts and stops the recording, giving us another glimpse at the dynamic of his relationship with Ben.

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Noise Variations: “Blue Velvet” through the Years

In honor of David Lynch’s release on vinyl of his single “Good Day Today” (and our love of all things Lynch), Noise Narcs is posting on the music of, for, and about David Lynch this week. See our intro post (and claim of Lynch as a Philadelphian) here, and see the rest of the DLW posts here.

Few directors capture so well the menacing strangeness of America’s small towns and suburbs as David Lynch.  Twin Peaks gave this theme its full, soap-opera-length treatment, but Lynch had already begun to probe the heartland of darkness in earnest five years earlier with the masterful Blue Velvet (1986).

In the picket-fence town of Lumberton, U.S.A., young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is drawn like a reverse moth into an Oedipal nightmare of violence and sexual desire.  The film’s central image, its titular fetish, is a blue velvet stuff gag.

She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet was the night
Softer than satin was the light
From the stars
She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet were her eyes
Warmer than May her tender sighs
Love was ours
Ours a love I held tightly
Feeling the rapture grow
Like a flame burning brightly
But when she left, gone was the glow of
Blue velvet
But in my heart there’ll always be
Precious and warm, a memory
Through the years
And I still can see blue velvet
Through my tears

Tony Bennett was the first to have an early hit with the Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris penned pop song in 1951, a million years ago.  Soaring strings complement his crooning style.

Tony Bennett, “Blue Velvet”

In 1955, a D.C. doo-wop outfit, The Clovers, recorded their version of the song.  The Clovers would eventually be best known for their 1959 hit, “Love Potion #9.”

The Clovers, “Blue Velvet”

Taking their cue from The Clovers, a Cleveland-based doo-wop group, The Moonglows, recorded one of my favorite versions in 1957.

The Moonglows, “Blue Velvet”

Then, in 1963, the “Polish Prince,” Bobby Vinton conceived of Blue on Blue, an entire album of songs with the word “Blue” in the title.  “Blue Skies,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Blueberry Hill,” “My Blue Heaven,” etc.  This is inarguably the most famous rendition of “Blue Velvet,” hitting number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for three weeks.  It is also the version that opens Lynch’s film.

Bobby Vinton, “Blue Velvet”

And three other notable versions:

And of course:

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