By now, you’ve probably read close to a hundred articles regarding Netflix’s newest hit, Stranger Things. Don’t worry, we’ve got a full review coming soon, but in the meantime, you need to listen to the soundtrack. The show’s most exciting scenes, characters, and creepy moments are highlighted by the evocative, vibrant sounds of the 80s. The show is an absolute gem – paying homage to the horror flicks and trends of the era in an truly enjoyable and nostalgic way.
I’ve decided to rank the ten best songs from the series, and deliver them to you for your audible enjoyment, because why not. (Beware of spoilers).
This Alice In Wonderland inspired classic is a surefire way to indicate that something strange is going on. The song is used as a needle drop in the series’ first episode, as Eleven shows off her telekinetic abilities. It’s such a creepy and fitting song for the scene. The direct juxtaposition of Eleven & Alice makes us think twice about her character – is there innocence and mischief behind her power or is she a purely dark force? The tune is also an amazing kickstart to the series itself – we’re about to go down a rabbit hole and we have no idea where it will lead. It becomes even more of a great song choice once we find out about The Upside Down (so many layers!!!!).
Joy Division is mentioned in an early episode by Jonathan Byers- he cites them as one of his favorite bands during a conversation with Will. This track opens up episode 4, after Joyce and Jonathan have just been informed that Will’s body has been found. They’re shown in their house, Jonathan in bed wearing headphones and Joyce on the couch wielding an ax, waiting for the return of the monster she saw earlier. The track serves as a sonic reminder of the connection between Jonathan and Will, perhaps foreshadowing that he is still alive. The song’s lyrics are dark and haunting: “Walk in silence, Don’t walk away, in silence. See the danger, Always danger, Endless talking, Life rebuilding, Don’t walk away.” The concept is one Joyce has taken to heart – she refuses to accept Will’s death and in this moment she makes the decision to continue searching for him.
Of course, who on earth would be listening to this song but our moderately lovable cool guy, Steve. This song has been memed to hell and back, but I’m completely unsurprised and also into the fact that it’s what Steve listens to in the car. People on Twitter have pointed out a mild anachronism with this one – the song wasn’t released until two months after Steve was playing it in the show. I’m just going to write it off and pretend Steve somehow got his hands on an early release – because, well it’s Steve. The song’s iconic synths, which you might recognize (Miley Cyrus sampled them a few decades later), are iconically 80s, and they fit right in with the show’s dark, electric instrumentals.
Okay here’s another iconic Steve moment. The intro to the song builds as Nancy and Barb wait outside of Steve’s house for their very first “popular kids” party. Steve swings the door open with all the glamour of an 80s heartthrob, and greets the girls with a smooth “Hello, ladies” over a chorus of “raise a little hell.” If that’s not good use of music I don’t know what is. Get me to that party right now.
The song is an absolute classic, and it’s the perfect song to foreshadow the hellish night they’re all about to go through. Well, mostly Barb. RIP Barb.
Can we just give Stranger Things props for their excellent use of Dolly Parton? “The Bargain Store” is one of her lesser-known tracks, but it makes for a hilarious companion to Jonathan and Nancy’s exercise in monster hunting. They unload army surplus supplies in front of the store’s unamused owner, while the muffled track plays from the store’s speakers.
It’s an interesting combination, and it feels a little uncomfortable, which perfectly mirrors how out of place Nancy and Jonathan are in the situation itself. But yay for Dolly Parton!!!
This is one of the most heartbreaking uses of a track on the show. Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” plays as young Will’s lifeless body is pulled out of the water in Episode 3. His friends look on at the scene in slow motion as the track and events unfold. The song is perfectly placed, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to listen to it again without reliving that scene. The track is a slower, more orchestral version of Bowie’s original, which is a love song about a couple – an American and a German, who met at the Berlin Wall. Love torn apart by uncontrollable circumstances. The idea of love being transcendent and often difficult to understand is touching when juxtaposed with Hopper & Eleven looking on – two characters who really didn’t know Will but are still heartbroken to see him there.
Alright back to iconic Steve moments (are we sensing a trend here?). This song comes in during the height of the pool party in Episode 2. Nancy and Barb are hanging with the gang around the pool as Steve shows off his shotgunning prowess and invites Nancy to do the same. The song, one of the G.O.A.T. love songs, is such a happy way to start off Nancy and Steve’s relationship. She gives him a classic Nancy insult (“You are such a cliche”), and then they all splash around in the pool together, as a lonely Jonathan watches from the bushes. This is such a real, youthful scene, especially as we watch Barb and Jonathan on the sidelines, so close, but so far away from the girl they both care about.
Arguably the most important song in the show plot-wise, this classic tune serves as a great reminder of how music brings people together. The song is introduced as Jonathan and his brother Will sit together on the bed and blast it from their stereo. Jonathan is showing off his favorite bands to Will (which, of course, are great), which is actually one of the few scenes we really get of the brothers together. The song recurs as a motif, tying Will to his family in multiple scenes after he’s disappeared. We hear Will singing the song to himself over the radio, when we find out he’s in The Upside Down, and that’s when the feels kick in. Obviously there’s the lyrical motif of staying and going, which are two big themes in the show – Eleven and Will both leave home, and many characters set off on adventures to find them throughout the series. The song, though a punk classic, serves as a reminder of family, and it also does a nice job of maintaining an uplifting mood even during the shows darkest moments.
Alright, if you’ve seen the show (which I hope you have since this post is rife with spoilers), you’ll surely remember this song. At first I thought it was a little weird that they would choose a song from the 90s to play during one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the show, but I think that’s what makes it so perfect. The track’s instrumentals are purely orchestral, no synthy pop here, and I think that that quality completely pulls us out of the show and into that specific scene. This song is sonically unlike the rest of the show’s music, and that quality is perfectly used to complete the story – it almost acts like a credit sequence, ending the plot before the show itself is really over. This scene means so much for the series, the return of Will and the end of the journey, all of the events culminating in a series of moments where characters reunite and reflect on what they’ve been through together. To put it lightly, it will give you the damn feels. This might be the best use of music in a recent TV show, period.
Okay so I am biased as hell for putting this at number one, but I just haven’t been able to get over the fact that this song plays during the first Steve and Nancy make out scene. This scene is what this show is ALL ABOUT. I’m pretty sure this is the most iconic scene ever created. First of all, Steve breaks in through her bedroom window Romeo-style to help Nancy study, and then she calls him an idiot, and then she tells him she’s not like other girls, and then he calls her beautiful, and then they make out! If that’s not the reason why the 80s were incredible, I don’t know what is. It’s just an innocent, perfect, beautiful teen moment, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Toto’s “Africa.” That’s all I’m trying to say here. I hope thousands of people are making out to this song now.
Now that you’ve enjoyed my thorough analyses, check out the full Stranger Things soundtrack on Spotify, here. What was your favorite song on the show? There were so many good moments.