Looking back at the great music of Stranger Things Season 1

There’s lots to look forward to in season 2 of Stranger Things. But what I really hope lives up to the standard set in season 1 is the music.

Through the music, the showrunners were able to evoke the spirit of the 80s, add color to characters, evoke emotion, build tension and simply create some of the coolest TV moments in the last 20 years.

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

This is the perfect song to introduce the weirdness of Stranger Things. The song’s influence on the scene increases with each twist within it. At first, the song is in the background as it appears the scene is going to be about Eleven bonding with Benny. It then really kicks in as soon as the bullet hits Benny’s head. Before ramping up again when it becomes clear that Eleven is the most dangerous person in the diner. White Rabbit is a truly trippy song that aggressively discombobulates the listener with its unusual lyrics. It perfectly set the scene for Stranger Things.

Heroes – Peter Gabriel

Fittingly for a Peter Gabriel cover of a Bowie song, there’s something ethereally alien about this tune. More so than in the original version of this song, Gabriel’s version is clearly about regret and loss. The beauty of the music contrasted with the emotional punch of the discovery of Will’s ‘body’ produced one of the earliest indicators that Stranger Things was going to be a special show. The first time I watched this scene I knew it would stay with me for a long time, and a lot of that was due to the choice of music.

When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die – Moby

This song, which wasn’t from the 80s, works for three main reasons.

Reason one: It taps into some of the tiredness Will must have been feeling. The lyrics below depict someone who’s given all they can give and now just wants to sleep, even if that means death.

I don’t want to swim the ocean,
I don’t want to fight the tide,
I don’t want to swim forever,
When it’s cold I’d like to die.

It’s impossible not to hear those lyrics and not think of Will, who has hung on as long as he could but is fading fast.

Reason two: It makes you believe that Will may actually die. We all knew, when watching Stranger Things, that Will would survive. There was simply no way he’d go the way of Barb. Having this song, in which someone talks of wanting the release of death, makes you almost believe Will will actually die. This helps build the tension in a scene where we knew the outcome. Without it the scene would not have been half as good.

Reason three: It’s hauntingly beautiful.

Sunglasses at night – Corey Hart

This song may be one of the most 80s things on the whole show, and that’s saying something. The synth and the overwrought vocals simply reek of the decade. It also fits the scene brilliantly. It’s the sort of song three 80s kids, who thought they were a little more hardcore than they actually were, might listen to. It has that little edge of danger that gives us an idea that something’s about to go wrong. And, perhaps most aptly, it’s a guy who’s losing his mind over a girl.

I Melt with you – Modern English

Take a look at the lyrics of the chorus to this song and take a guess why they used it for this scene:
I’ll stop the world and melt with you
You’ve seen the difference and it’s getting better all the time
There’s nothing you and I won’t do
I’ll stop the world and melt with you

It’s a song that encapsulates the thrill of young love. Of that very teenage feeling that you can live in a moment forever.

Elegia – New Order

This song flits between the background and the foreground of the scene, and it’s hardly the most eye-catching tune on the show. But I wanted to include it on this list because it fits the tone of the show as a whole. Just like the show itself, the songs draws you in by building the tension slowly, painstakingly and deliberately. It’s the perfect song for a scene which contains so much subtle characterization in such as short timescale.

Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash

Perhaps the most famous Clash song, although far from their best. What it does have is that distinctive opening and a ton of attitude. It had to be included in this list because it became so associated with Will.

Atmosphere – Joy Division

While much of the praise for the first season of Stranger Things came for the performances of the child actors, who were amazing, the series wouldn’t have worked without Joyce and Hopper. These two characters had been worn down by life and were clearly struggling to get through each day even before the Demogorgon came to Indiana. They are then bound together by the loss of a child.

This is their song. A haunting song that taps into feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and loss in a very adult manner.

Let me know if I’ve missed any and I hope you enjoy season 2.

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