Stranger Things is not only set in 1983, but it really feels like it was made in 1983. The show is painstakingly dedicated to its era, with more 80s pop culture references than you can shake a stick at, therefore getting every detail spot on, down to the last book cover, is paramount, and that includes the music. And boy, did they nail it.
The theme tune is nothing short of iconic
The original score, written by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is, as I’m sure you’ll agree if you’ve seen the show, incredible. I myself have it on both CD and vinyl. My friend and I have even played a game where we play different tracks and guess which part of the show it plays in. The theme tune is nothing short of iconic. A simple, repetitive, sci-fi infused, mystery-building electronic emblem of 2016 – the year of Stranger Things. The entire score evokes powerful emotions in its audience, drawing us into the world of small-town kids riding around on bikes, hunting monsters and saving their best friends from death in a dark and unforgiving world of ‘upside down’.
But I’ll stop nerd-ing out about the show now and get back to the focus of the article. The songs. Songs that come in at just the right moments, bringing heavy nostalgia for some and introducing a new generation to the shiny world of 80s pop. One name that must be mentioned here is Nora Felder, music supervisor for Stranger Things. The woman in charge of digging up forgotten classics and going to any length to not only get them in the show, but to make sure they capture the emotion of the scene in it’s integrity. This woman is a genius.
Songs that come in at just the right moments
‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by The Clash is an absolute 80s anthem, and one of the most important songs in the show. It acts as central character, 12-year-old Will Byers’, personal theme tune and way of communicating to his mother that he is hidden in a parallel universe. The song was written into the script by the show’s creators, the Duffer brothers – an obvious and perfect choice. “Should I stay or should I go now? If I stay there will be trouble, if I go there will be double” – when there’s a demogorgon about, threatening the lives of small town Americans and aliens alike, this sentiment is rather fitting.
A pivotal musical moment happens in episode 4. Will’s body (which is later discovered to be a fake), is found in a quarry lake and heavy grief sweeps the show’s main characters. Peter Gabriel’s slowed down, aching cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ plays. The silhouette of a panic-stricken Winona Ryder embraces her only remaining son in the beam of his car headlights. This cover was actually only released in 2010, but I think it perfectly pays homage to Bowie’s original genius whilst adapting the song for a scene of desperate tragedy as well as a prophetic sense of hope.
Elsewhere in the show, Felder has had a whale of a time reaching into the charts of the 80s unapologetically – it’s all in the name of television continuity! Corey Hart’s ‘Sunglasses at Night’ which peaked at number 7 on the Billboard 100 in 1984, Foreigner’s number 2 hit ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’, released in 1981 and the most unforgettable song of the 80s, Toto’s ‘Africa’, are all in there. Joy Division/New Order tracks accompany cinematic moments and bands like The Bangles have their moment on the closing credits. The show truly takes us on a journey back in time to a world of high waisted wranglers and Honda Civics. Truly, the soundtrack has done an amazing job.
In recent years there has been an unmissable resurrection of 80s sounds in pop music
In recent years there has been an unmissable resurrection of 80s sounds in pop music. Bands such as The 1975, La Roux and MUNA channel the likes of Bowie and Prince, whereas pop-punk-gone-pop band Paramore’s latest record is directly inspired by Talking Heads and Duran Duran. The 1980s might have been an era of gimmicky action movies and questionable haircuts, but it also saw the birth of synth pop, glam rock and illegal warehouse raves. For those of us unlucky enough to have been born a decade or two too late, Stranger Things offers us the next best thing in terms of experiencing 80s music in its authenticity. I am sure bands will continue to sample and rework the 80s for decades to come, but at the end of the day, you just can’t beat the real thing.