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Best Uses Of Music In Stranger Things

Ever since it first aired on Netflix in 2016, "Stranger Things" has skyrocketed in terms of popularity. With notes of Stephen King stories, John Carpenter movies, and the Spielbergian-inspired antics of the young stars, "Stranger Things" delivers the perfect blend of laughs, scares, and pure nostalgia. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana during the 1980s, the supernatural series brings us the very best — and sometimes the worst — of the decade in terms of fashion, pop culture, and, of course, music.

From the very beginning, music has been a vital part of "Stranger Things," with the carefully selected needle drops complimenting Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein's unforgettable, pulsing synth score. Emmy-nominated for her role as music supervisor on the show, Nora Felder's background in the thriving New York City music scene in the '80s provided her inspiration. In an interview with Deadline, Felder said, "It is especially rewarding to come full circle with bands that I personally saw, experienced, and worked with in their heyday, now complementing the journey of 'Stranger Things.'"

Such is the power of "Stranger Things" that the right song used at the right moment can send it soaring to the top of the charts, opening up the extraordinary music of the '80s to a new audience. In the same Deadline interview, Felder acknowledged this incredible phenomenon. "Knowing that the use of music in 'Stranger Things' can reignite music and introduce it to a whole new audience — well, you just can't beat that," she told the Hollywood trade. While there are plenty of songs to choose from, we've taken a look at some of the very best uses of music in "Stranger Things."

Africa by Toto (Season 1, Episode 1)

While much of the first episode of "Stranger Things" focuses on establishing the key characters and the looming threat that leads to Will's disappearance, there is still time for a memorable needle drop. The episode spends most of its runtime with the core group of characters, introducing us to Will and his best buddies Mike, Lucas, and Dustin, but we also spend some time with the older characters. It becomes clear that the relationship between Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler will be important for the story going forward.

In a moment charmingly reminiscent of teen romantic comedies, Steve sneaks into Nancy's bedroom to help her study — which is of course a ruse for what ends up becoming a make-out session. Soundtracking this scene is the power rock ballad "Africa" by Toto, a song that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was immensely popular in the early 1980s, when the opening season is set.

The genius of the show's music selections is epitomized in this scene, favoring a more left-field choice over an obviously romantic ballad. It also adds that sense of authenticity to the time period — it is believable that this song would be playing on the radio in the background while they study, and it still fits the situation when things become more passionate with its stirring chorus.

Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash (Season 1, Episode 2)

While more heavily featured in Season 4, the idea of a song being a talisman is not a new concept to "Stranger Things" and can be traced back to the first season of the show. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" from British punk band The Clash is established as being particularly special to Will and his older brother Jonathan early on, and we see them sharing a sweet bonding moment as they listen to the track together.

This is a very relatable concept for anyone with an older sibling, as they so often play a key part in shaping your own musical tastes. While Will and Jonathan spend much of Season 1 separated, the repetition of the song throughout the season highlights their closeness. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" provides Will's link to the real world when he is stuck in the Upside Down, and there is a reasonably strong theory that it is this song that keeps him safe from the monsters that dwell there.

Music is a powerful tool that can reach us and comfort us in our darkest moments. When Eleven uses the walkie-talkie to prove to Mike that Will is still alive, it is this song that we hear Will singing. Whether he does it in the hope that someone on the other side will hear him, or whether he is just singing it to soothe himself while scared, this song clearly means a lot to Will and it gives the classic track an unexpected emotional resonance.

Heroes by Peter Gabriel (Season 1, Episode 3)

Perhaps one of the best early examples of "Stranger Things" using the perfect song for the scene, Peter Gabriel's haunting cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" plays over the moment Will's body (or what appears to be Will's body) is recovered from the lake. Having just seen Will's mom Joyce communicating with him through the lights, and with the arrival of Eleven offering Will's friends hope of finding him, this moment feels like a huge rug pull, and the powerful, emotional song makes it even more of a gut-punch. As the audience, we are left watching in disbelief just as the characters are.

The lake scene is incredibly dramatic. A distraught Mike confronts Eleven, believing she has tricked him into thinking Will is alive. With so much build-up to finding Will in the first few episodes, seeing his lifeless body is even more shocking.

The song choice has a duality to it, as the idea of Eleven being a superhero is a recurring theme throughout the show. The song's link to her is evident when it gets a reprise in the final episode of Season 3. Having lost her powers, Eleven reads an emotional speech from Hopper, her father figure. "Heroes" is utilized at times when it appears El's powers are either not working, those around her are lacking faith in her abilities, or she feels particularly alone and isolated.

White Christmas by Bing Crosby (Season 1, Episode 8)

"Stranger Things" isn't exactly a festive story, but Christmas lights are a big part of the plot in Season 1, and it's definitely the kind of binge-worthy show that can be enjoyed over the holiday period. The final episode of the first season cements this with its use of the iconic song "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. This festive classic plays as the Byers family — now reunited following Will's rescue from the Upside Down — are sitting down to enjoy dinner together. While the debut season is packed with many dark and scary moments, this scene offers a brief moment of respite and some much-needed joy. Or so you would think.

This being "Stranger Things," even the most joyful of songs can have a sinister edge, and as Will excuses himself from the table, there is the creeping feeling of dread that this might not be over. As he stands over the bathroom sink, Will coughs up a strange slug-like creature and experiences hallucinations of the Upside Down version of the Byers' house. As this is happening, the cheerful tones of "White Christmas" become distorted and warped in the background, providing a stark reminder that Will's nightmare perhaps isn't over just yet.

Rock You Like a Hurricane by Scorpions (Season 2, Episode 1)

Of all the new characters introduced in the second season of "Stranger Things," the most important are Max and her older step-brother Billy. Max gets the kids of Hawkins talking with her arcade game prowess before we're properly introduced to her, but it's Billy that steals the show when they arrive at school together for the first time. With California license plates on his car and music blaring out of the stereo, Billy is given a suitably rock and roll entrance to the sounds of "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by Scorpions. Panning from his boots right up to his mullet, Billy's first appearance is undeniably impressive and lets us know just who this character is before we even hear him speak.

If the haircut wasn't a big giveaway, we later learn that Billy is a metal fan, so the song from the German rockers makes total sense. Billy is also a tertiary antagonist in the second season — with an even bigger part to play in the third — so the song also implies he is here to shake up the town. It's not long before Billy gets the ladies of Hawkins hot under the collar, and with his entrance being full of swagger, it isn't hard to see why they would fall for this mysterious bad boy.

You Don't Mess Around with Jim by Jim Croce (Season 2, Episode 3)

It's through Hopper's relationship with Eleven that we really start to warm to the stoic police chief, and Season 2 even gives him his own theme song in the form of Jim Croce's peppy "You Don't Mess Around with Jim." Usually referred to by his last name alone, Jim Hopper proves to be a formidable force in defending Hawkins and protecting Eleven, making this song feel like it was made for him.

In Season 2, we learn that Eleven survived the showdown with the Demogorgon at Hawkins Middle School, but Hopper is keeping her protected in his cabin and not allowing her back into the outside world alone. Desperate to see Mike and the others, El decides to defy Hopper and leave the cabin. As she does this, we see a flashback to Hopper bringing her to safety, and, as they clean up the decrepit cabin, this song plays. Hopper gleefully picks out the record himself ("This is music," he tells El) and shows his playful side by dancing along to it.

The perfect marriage of song and character, "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" was used again in the second episode of Season 3. This time, rather than battling to keep El in the house, Hopper is struggling to keep the lovesick Mike out of it. When his scheme to keep him away proves successful, Hopper triumphantly sings along to his favorite song in his truck to celebrate.

Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper (Season 2, Episode 9)

Amidst the monster-slaying antics, it is sometimes easy to forget that most of the main characters in "Stranger Things" are just kids. At the beginning of Season 2, we see them having some fun as they go out trick-or-treating, and at the end — as Christmas approaches — they attend their school dance, the Snow Ball.

One of the reasons we love the main gang is that they are the nerdy misfits in their school, and as the soundtrack changes from Olivia Newton-John's boppy "Twist of Fate" to this Cyndi Lauper slow dance classic, the fear begins to set in. They may have faced Demogorgons and the Mind Flayer, but the prospect of asking someone to dance is perhaps even more terrifying for this group.

For Dustin, things quickly go from bad to worse when he is rejected multiple times, however, Nancy — who is acting as a chaperone at the dance — saves the day and asks him to dance. Not only is this a genuinely lovely moment, but it demonstrates how far they've come and the shift that occurs in terms of the older and younger kids becoming one unit.

It's also a great pay-off from an early moment in Season 1 where Nancy was very quick to brush Dustin off, but she has now warmed to him and the rest of her brother's friends. As the lyrics of the song state, "If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting," and this moment is a heartfelt indication of this group's willingness to help each other out.

Every Breath You Take by The Police (Season 2, Episode 9)

While Dustin, Lucas, and Will get offered a dance to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," Mike's moment in the spotlight comes when Eleven arrives late to the Snow Ball, just as "Every Breath You Take" begins to play. Having spent much of this season apart, absence has definitely made the heart grow fonder for Mike and Eleven, and as they dance they share a tender kiss. This isn't their first kiss, as Mike rather haphazardly kissed El in the final episode of Season 1, the only way he could express that he liked her as more than a friend. But it's definitely one of the young couple's most memorable moments to date, and the music is a big part of that.

While the track does provide the perfect romantic backing to El and Mike's dance, the surprisingly sinister meaning of the song is also oddly appropriate given what comes next. Famously, The Police's hit is about a possessive relationship, with singer Sting writing it amid his separation from his then-wife, Frances Tomelty, following his very public affair with her best friend, Trudie Styler.

If "Stranger Things" has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected, and on the flip side of this touching moment between our loved-up characters, the Mind Flayer looms large over the Upside Down's version of the school, watching this brief moment of happiness completely unbeknownst to our heroes.

Material Girl by Madonna (Season 3, Episode 2)

Eleven is an extraordinary character in more ways than one, but her troubled past hasn't made things easy for her. After being separated from her mother and raised in a laboratory as a weapon, she finally has the chance for a more normal life when Hopper takes her under his wing. Having spent much of Season 2 in hiding, El has a reinvigorated sense of freedom in Season 3, enjoying her relationship with boyfriend Mike and slowly becoming a normal teenager — or as normal as someone with super powers can be.

One of the most joyful aspects of the third season of "Stranger Things" is the blossoming friendship between Eleven and Max. After initial feelings of jealousy towards Max and fearing that she might be flirting with Mike, the pair bond when the inexperienced El asks Max for relationship advice. After telling El that "there's more to life than stupid boys," Max takes El to the mall for a girly day out, trying on clothes to the sounds of "Material Girl" by Madonna.

Released in 1984, Madonna's hit is the perfect, effervescent pop song to accompany the bright, colorful montage as El and Max enjoy themselves — and even indulge in a photoshoot showcasing some gloriously tacky '80s fashion as well. It's a rare moment of unadulterated joy in the show, and when we're used to seeing Eleven be super serious and powerful, it is refreshing to see her just acting as any normal teenage girl would.

We'll Meet Again by Vera Lynn (Season 3, Episode 4)

While most of the songs used in "Stranger Things" are from the '80s, there are a couple of exceptions to this, and it is often particularly jarring when the music deviates from the familiar. Perhaps the best example of this is the haunting rendition of Vera Lynn's classic "We'll Meet Again" from Season 3, Episode 4.

As the series progresses, the lines between the Upside Down and the real world become increasingly blurred. Season 3 sees the Mind Flayer infiltrating Hawkins by possessing Billy, who in turn lures some of the townspeople to an abandoned steel mill where they too are taken by the monster. When the kids begin to suspect Billy has been possessed, they trap him in a sauna, but he escapes and fights with Eleven before retreating to the steel mill.

Released in 1939, "We'll Meet Again" was particularly popular during World War II, resonating with those whose loved ones had left to fight. The lyrics are full of hope and promise that "the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away," yet it has never sounded more sinister than when it is used in the closing moments of this episode. Rather than being a hopeful assurance of reunion following a conflict, it suggests that this won't be the last time Billy and Eleven square off. As the song swells, it even sounds as though the zombie-like horde who have become "the flayed" are joining in with the rousing chorus, and it is terrifying.

Never Ending Story by Limahl (Season 3, Episode 8)

In one unforgettable moment from Season 3, "Stranger Things" basically becomes a musical as Dustin and his long-distance girlfriend Suzie sing a duet of the title song from the 1984 fantasy film "The NeverEnding Story." Season 3 follows the ups and downs of teen romance and heartbreak for our heroes, and arguably the sweetest love story is between Dustin and math whiz Suzie — who affectionately call each other Dusty-bun and Suzie-poo.

While they may live many miles apart, the pair communicate over the radio, and when a math problem stands in the way of shutting down the gates that have been opened to the Upside Down, Dustin calls upon Suzie to save the day. Hilariously, Suzie isn't quite aware of the urgency of the situation and before she gives Dustin the answer to Planck's constant — the number that will unlock the safe — she demands that he sing to her while the other characters are forced to listen in amusement and disbelief.

This no doubt unlocked a core memory for many '80s kids and its use in this pivotal moment of the series saw a renewed interest in the song, going from 88,000 on-demand streams to 1.91 million after the series aired (per Billboard). It remains one of the most memorable moments in the show, and is so synonymous with Dustin and Suzie's sweet, nerdy relationship that it even got a reprise from Will in Season 4.

Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush (Season 4, Episode 4)

The "Stranger Things" effect has never been felt more keenly than the unforgettable moment the show used "Running Up That Hill," the ethereal 1985 hit by English singer Kate Bush. Following the earth-shattering events at the end of Season 3, Max is distant from her friends and haunted by what happened to her step-brother Billy. As well as meeting with the school counselor, Max finds solace in music, particularly her favorite artist Kate Bush.

"Running Up That Hill" is first heard in Episode 1 as Max walks to her latest counselor appointment with her headphones on, but the truly memorable moment occurs in Episode 4, "Dear Billy." Forced to face the demons of her past, Max's life is at risk from the curse of the new series villain, Vecna. As it appears all hope is lost, the characters deduce that Max's favorite song might just be able to pull her out of the darkness, and "Running Up That Hill" plays as she desperately runs towards the light.

Using music as a plot device is clearly something that deeply resonates with "Stranger Things" viewers. It's proof of the power that music has to save and comfort people in their most desperate moments. Almost 40 years since the song was released, it also speaks to the potency of Kate Bush's music, which is now reaching a new audience. After "Running Up That Hill" soared back into the charts in multiple countries, the singer released a statement on her official website, acknowledging that the track "is being given a whole new lease of life by the young fans who love the show."

Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) by Journey (Season 4, Episode 8)

Season 4 of "Stranger Things" was released in two parts, with the final two episodes arriving on Netflix five weeks after the first batch dropped. As such, the anticipation levels were sky high, and not just for the fate of our heroes, but for what songs might feature. While the bar was set very high with the inspired use of "Running Up That Hill," the final episodes of Season 4 did not disappoint. One high point was the Bryce Miller/Alloy Tracks remix of Journey's "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," used in the closing moments of Episode 8 as our heroes prepare for their showdown with Vecna.

Setting the stage for the epic battle to follow, the stirring song also reflects the somber nature of what our heroes are about to embark on. As the characters sit together in an RV on their way to the Creel house, we see their faces bearing the weight of what they are about to do, and the genuine fear that they might not all make it through safely.

As well as musically matching the moment (particularly the resolution in Max's face as the drums kick in), the song's lyrics also feel very appropriate. Not all of our heroes are together at this moment: Will, Mike, Jonathan, and Eleven are still in California, with the latter feeling particularly helpless about being so far away. It's the perfect song for this scene, and the grand synth-rock intro blends seamlessly with the iconic "Stranger Things" score.

Master of Puppets by Metallica (Season 4, Episode 9)

He may have only been introduced in Season 4, but Eddie Munson quickly became a fan-favorite character. The president of Hellfire (Hawkins High's Dungeons and Dragons club), Eddie is a lovable, heavy-metal-loving nerd. While he befriends Mike and Dustin, he is misunderstood by others in the community and becomes the target of a hate campaign when he is connected to the death of cheerleader Chrissy.

Determined to prove his innocence, our heroes take Eddie in, and he quickly becomes involved in their plans to destroy the evil Vecna and save Hawkins. In Episode 9, Eddie not only gets the chance to become a hero but takes center stage for "the most metal concert in the history of the world." Grabbing his guitar from the Upside Down version of his trailer, Eddie and Dustin are tasked with luring the "bats" away so that the others can safely find and kill Vecna, and Eddie's auditory weapon of choice is Metallica's monster hit "Master Of Puppets."

It is possible that no character has ever looked as badass as Eddie shredding a guitar solo while surrounded by winged monsters, delivering an epic musical scene to rival the Kate Bush moment from earlier in the series. Season 4 stands above all the other seasons in terms of the best use of music, with the songs forming a major part of the story itself. Because of this, "Stranger Things" has never been better.