The hit Netflix show Stranger Things is set in the 80s. If you couldn’t tell by the impeccable old-school sets, the kids’ love of Dungeons and Dragons, and the totally retro haircuts, the soundtrack would clue you in. The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things’ showrunners, picked a rocking set of tunes to score the adventures in Hawkins.
Several of their picks helped classic 80s artists get some new radio airtime and break back into the Billboard chart years after their songs came out. A recent breakthrough, Kate Bush’s “Running up that Hill,” went viral on TikTok after the fourth season of the show came out. Here are some of the artists who have been made famous all over again, thanks to Stranger Things.
In one early scene in the first season of the show, Steve and Nancy share a tender moment while the iconic Toto track “Africa” plays. The Duffer Brothers have been very vocal about their love of all things Toto, too.
“There’s something that’s just magic about this song! It’s always made us feel happy and cozy and safe,” the duo told reporters in 2018. “It’s just incredibly transportive.” “Africa” was a hit back when it first hit the airwaves in the 80s, and it saw another resurgence in popularity in 2016 after the first season of Stranger Things introduced it to a new generation of fans.
Another early use of period-specific music in the show comes when Will and his brother Jonathan bond over their love of the punk rock band The Clash. The track “Should I Stay or Should I Go” becomes a musical motif throughout the season as Will struggles to return to the real world from the bizarre Upside Down dimension.
The Clash enjoyed a burst of popularity following the song’s inclusion in the show. Given that the band created some of the most iconic rock music in history, it’s only fitting that new generations would find themselves listening to The Clash decades later.
The late season one inclusion of “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” by Moby is one of the few anachronistic songs in Stanger Things. The tune was first released in the mid-90s, making it sound downright otherworldly compared to the rest of the period-accurate tunes.
The song is used in a fitting way, though. It plays when Joyce and Hopper find Will in the Upside Down after spending most of the season looking for him. It’s an eerie, haunting track that helps solidify the Upside Down as a dangerous and ethereal dimension that humans can’t hope to understand.
Lest we forget the shows and movies that helped inspire Stanger Things, the series is quick to remind us of the properties that were popular in the 80s. One example of this loving nostalgia comes in season 2 when the gang dresses up like the main characters from the 80s classic Ghostbusters for Halloween.
This crowd-pleasing moment is accompanied by the (undoubtedly expensive) addition of the iconic Ray Parker Jr. Ghostbusters theme song. Given that the gang routinely fights specters from another world, they share more in common with the Ghostbusters than they might realize!
The Duffer Brothers are masters of using 80s tracks to set a certain mood. This is on clear display in the second season scene at the Snow Ball when Mike and El finally get a chance to dance together and enjoy some time with their friends as The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” plays. While the song has an upbeat melody, its lyrics are a bit… creepy.
The suggestion that someone is watching the group is a clear nod to the lingering threat from the Upside Down. While the gang might think they’ve won, there are still plenty of monsters from outside our reality keeping an eye on the heroes from Hawkins.
Cyndi Lauper was one of the biggest stars of the 80s, and her mastery of the pop song is impossible to miss when you hear any of her tracks. Many young fans discovered that in the second season of Stranger Things upon hearing the iconic tune “Time After Time.”
This track also plays at the end of the season, after Dustin is rejected by his crush. Nancy offers to dance with him, salvaging the night for Dustin and ending things on a hopeful note. The classic Cyndi Lauper tune enjoyed another resurgence of popularity after the season was released, marking the second time the song catapulted Lauper to popularity. It was her first number-one hit back in 1984! It really happens time after time, huh?
Everyone knows “Running Up That Hill” now, but before the fourth season of Stranger Things aired, it was a cult favorite of Kate Bush fans. Bush’s discography is full of idiosyncratic and bizarre songs that nevertheless carry pressing and urgent energy. She’s nothing short of a musical genius, and Max knows this–in fact, it saves her life.
After Max is pulled into the Upside Down by Vecna, she discovers that reciting her favorite song can help her come back to reality. Singing “Running Up That Hill,” she manages to break Vecna’s curse and return to safety–giving the group all the knowledge they need to defeat the dangerous monster that now stalks them.
In what might be the heaviest metal scene to ever grace anyone’s television, tragic hero Eddie Munson shows Vecna what he’s made of in the season 4 finale. The Metallica tune “Master of Puppets” had only released a few weeks before the events of the fourth season, but Eddie, ever a metalhead, seems to have already memorized the song’s chords and plays it with aplomb during a climactic scene in the Upside Down.
As Eddie shreds, he distracts the hordes of demonic creatures that would otherwise antagonize his friends. While Munson doesn’t make it out of the Upside Down himself, his sacrifice gives the gang everything they need to best Vecna and survive to fight another day.