Stranger Things has been praised for a lot of things, from the show’s interesting blend of sci-fi and horror to its great actors, (former) children and adults alike. Above all else, the Netflix series has been arguably lauded the most for its appreciation for and emulation of an extremely 80s aesthetic, which is perhaps best realized through its excellent soundtracka curation of both popular and forgotten gems which itself is an excellent time capsule.
Stranger Things made news recently for how it launched a 37-year-old Kate Bush classic to the top of the iTunes charts and to # 8 on the charts in the UK. The excellent incorporation of Bush’s song Running Up That Hillthe opened to her 1985 masterpiece Hounds of Love, was a hit with audiences, introducing a new generation to the unique artist and satisfying the nostalgia of old fans. Even with such an extensive and excellent soundtrack throughout its four season so far, there are still countless more great 80s songs in need of the Stranger Things treatment. These are some of the best 80s songs (all from 1980 to 1986, when the fifth season takes place) which would make a great fit for Stranger Things and could probably hit the top of the pops, too.
Cloudbusting by Kate Bush
This is an obvious one to start with, but Cloudbusting is another ingenious song off of Bush’s album Hounds of Love (along with the perfect title track). The delightful, slightly melancholic, but nonetheless whimsical tune (with a wonderfully cinematic music video featuring Donald Sutherland) is an anomaly. Telling the obscure story of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, a famous psychoanalyst who got into trouble with the law (and fueled endless conspiracy theories) thanks to his ‘orgone cloudbusters,’ the music video depicts a fateful day in the 1950s when Reich was hired to bring his machine to Maine and create rain.
The scientist (whose life would make an incredible biopic itself) had very likely created a machine which could alter the weather, and the FDA banned his work, organized a mass burning of all literature he’d published, destroyed his laboratories and machines, and sent him to jail where he mysteriously died a week before his scheduled release. Nonetheless, Bush’s beautiful, string-laden song tells Reich’s story from the POV of his son in an emotional, tender, and gorgeous song that would be a perfect fit for any of the sweeter moments in Stranger Things. Its themes of shady governments and scientific experiments certainly fit, as well.
From Her to Eternity by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
For something much darker, the Nick Cave song From Her to Eternity off the album of the same name would make a perfect accompaniment to any of the antagonists in Stranger Thingsbe it Vecna or Robert Englund’s character Victor. It’s an utterly disturbed and brooding track, beginning with an already great deal of tension and yet still building its intensity throughout with pounding drums, atonal piano chords, and Cave’s signature heroin wail. The song has evil in its veins and would be a masterful aural addition to any of the darker, suspenseful moments of Stranger Things.
I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen
Another menacing song, but one that’s oddly sexy and enticing, I’m Your Man comes from Leonard Cohen’s notorious’ 80s period when the artist was on hard times and taking very bad advice. A lot of the music from this period is overproduced or accompanied by very chintzy and cheap synthesizers and drum machines in stark contrast to his masterful folk days in the ’60s, and I’m Your Man is no different, but it captures something nothing else from this period of his does. His deep, gnarled voice is perfect here for a darkly romantic song in Stranger Things, something to accompany perhaps a doomed romance or a moment of unbridled lust or unfaithfulness. (The aforementioned Nick Cave’s cover of this song is aptly phenomenal).
Searching For Mr. Right by Young Marble Giants
Another dark romance song, Searching For Mr. Right is the incredible, patient opener to Young Marble Giant’s album Colossal Youth and would make for an excellent montage. It could perfectly compliment an edited series of waiting, searching, or yearning amongst the gradually more angst-ridden cast of Stranger Thingswith the song’s quiet but powerful guitar scraping and surprisingly funky bass behind the beautiful crooning of Alison Statton making for perfect montage music.
Dog Eat Dog by Adam and the Ants
An undoubtedly peppy but still rather intimidating and mischievous song, Dog Eat Dog opens the Adam and the Ants album Kings of the Wild Frontier in a rollicking and utterly fun way. With pounding, synchronous drums echoing around a great wall of guitars, the song has the capacity to make any scene automatically better, but it would definitely boost a great action sequence in Stranger Things. Above all, the song would be a delightful accompaniment to one of those ‘suiting up to fight’ montages.
I Love a Man in Uniform by Gang of Four
Gang of Four was a brilliant anti-capitalist band, though their song I Love a Man in Uniform is very different from a lot of their material, but maybe that’s for the best with Stranger Things (an abjectly apolitical show). This track taps right into the somewhat cheesy (but artisinally so) feel of Stranger Thingsand would turn a good tribute to the ’80s into a great one. Its undeniably catchy guitar riff, funny but surprisingly appropriate backup singers, and head-bobbing rhythm is just cool enough to not be cheesy, and just cheesy enough to be on Stranger Things.
Midnight Man by Flash and the Pan
If Twilight Zone by Golden Earring and Devil Inside by INXS met at a dive bar and made drunken love in the bathroom, the result would be Midnight Man by Flash and the Pan. It’s a slinky, smooth, sexy song that’s either toe-tapping or smile-inducing depending on one’s tolerance for kitsch, which makes it pretty much perfect for Stranger Things. It would make an excellent accompaniment to a romantic montage, a love scene, a character’s introduction, or a scene at a party or bar, and fits seamlessly into the sonic universe of Stranger Things.
Poison by David Byrne
David Byrne, from the Talking Heads (a band which has already been featured in Stranger Things), made this song as part of a soundtrack to an extended dance piece from Twyla Tharp entitled The Catherine Wheeland the entire album is fantastically moody and odd, but this particular track would be an excellent inclusion to the sound palette of Stranger Things.
At a brief two and a half minutes, the song could easily play out in its entirety in an episode, and its sweeping chorus is just begging to be part of a slow-moving montage, the kind of episode-ending look at where each character is in their respective arcs.
I Do Not Remember by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel, formerly of Genesis and unfortunately known the most for the boombox-lifting song In Your Eyes, actually made a series of very dark, self-titled art-pop albums that were largely excellent. The third one of these features a black and white picture of Gabriel’s face melting, an appropriately apocalyptic and paranoid image for a song like I Do Not Remember. With a catchy bass riff and blasts of distorted guitars, a lazily slamming drum, and Gabriel’s confused cries, the song is a mysterious masterpiece (and would be a great theme song for Christopher Nolan’s Memento).
Stranger Things would benefit greatly from incorporating some of Gabriel’s early solo work, and this song in particular would be an absolutely perfect way to detail a villain or depict a character’s downfall or self-destruction. As Stranger Things gets inevitably darker and darker, it will need songs like this.