It's important for any show to have a good soundtrack, but for a show set in the '80s, music becomes even more significant.
The music in Stranger Things doesn't just represent how the characters are feeling and the overall mood of certain scenes — it represents a decade many reflect on with a great deal of fondness and no small amount of nostalgia. Getting those song selections and musical scores right is a herculean task, but Emmy-nominated music supervisor Nora Felder and Emmy Award-winning composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein have proved to be more than up to the task.
Here are 12 songs we think stand out in a sea of fantastic music from the series. (Warning: Potentially spoiler-y speculation for Season 3 is included in this article.)
Duh. We'd be mouth-breathers if we didn’t include the episode-opening, iconic title track full of mystery, suspense and ‘80s nostalgia.
"Should I Stay or Should I Go"
Will’s favorite song played a key role in the first season when he made it play from the Upside Down, letting his fretful mother know there was a way to communicate with him. It might play a key role in the third season if the rumors of the Byers family considering a move away from Hawkins are true — should they stay or should they go?
Dixon and Stein managed to capture the unburdened cheerfulness of youth in this track, which first plays when “the party” is engrossed in a D&D game at Mike’s house in Season 1. Throughout the series it’s been associated with the show’s younger cast, especially the tight-knit friend group of Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will.
Would Stranger Things really be an ‘80s show if it didn’t feature this Toto classic? It plays as Steve “helps” Nancy study (unfortunately, Steve hadn’t yet had his redemption arc that early in Season 1).
"Walkin' in Hawkins"
Released a few weeks before Season 2, the singing, happy melodies of this piece welcomed fans back to Hawkins, Indiana. It evokes mental images of a bustling small town in the ‘80s.
"Every Breath You Take"
This song by The Police closed out Season 2 with a sinister twist in line with the song’s original dark meaning. Though it starts out happy — Hopper puts his arm around Joyce! Mike and Eleven kiss! Everyone’s having fun at the Snow Ball! — the scene shifts to the Mind Flayer standing over the school in the Upside Down, implying that the monster really is watching every breath they take and every move they make. Yikes.
"The Upside Down"
If “Kids” is the happiness in Hawkins, “The Upside Down” is the darkness lying in wait. Atmospheric and terrifying in equal measure, this piece plays when that mysterious realm is mentioned and occasionally when an unlucky soul ventures inside.
DEVO got Season 2 off to a funky, nostalgic start as the kids rode up to the arcade.
El didn’t get to see her friends for most of Season 2, but that changed when “The Return” played. After dispatching the demo-dogs surrounding her friends in the Byers home, Eleven unlocks the door and steps inside, at last reunited with her pals and a tearful Mike.
Technically this song was not featured in Season 2, but the show made great use of a remixed version of this Michael Jackson Halloween classic in the trailer for the second installment.
"Rock You Like a Hurricane"
And just like that, Billy Hargrove had arrived. The rumored “human antagonist” of the third installment had quite an entrance in Season 2 to this song by Scorpions.
"You Don't Mess Around With Jim"
The Jim Croce song that (unexpectedly) birthed thousands of “Dancing Hopper” memes. Beyond the funnies and David Harbour’s dance moves, the song holds meaning for Jim Hopper, who most certainly is a Jim not to be messed with.
Stranger Things 3, Premiere, Thursday, July 4, Netflix