A Gen Z Guide to the Music of “Stranger Things”!

Are you a new fan of 80s music since watching the latest season of Stranger Things? Here’s your guide to one of the most versatile decades of music.

Many fans of the surprise Netflix hit Stranger Things waited eagerly for three years following the release of season three, which ended with a cliffhanger. Amid the changing landscape of filmmaking throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the show’s dedicated cast and crew pulled through with what quickly became Netflix’s third most viewed English language show of all time. 

The show has a combination of elements that draw in fans of all generations–there’s friendship, romance, action, sci-fi, and of course, the charming nostalgia of the 1980s Indiana suburb in which it is set. In the past few years, TikTok has rapidly grown into becoming the top platform for listeners and record labels alike to discover new music. In the case of the Stranger Things soundtrack, which features several 80s hits, the music may not be new, but it’s certainly new to many of the app’s Gen Z users. Here’s more on the artists behind the songs that played on during some of the show’s most powerful, funny, and heartwarming scenes yet.

“Running Up that Hill (Deal With God)” by Kate Bush

Season four’s king of all monsters, Vecna, places a curse on his victims throughout the season, but the gang from Hawkins discovers a surprising survival loophole. The monster’s victims can escape his deadly trance if they hear their favorite song playing. When the monster preys on Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) as she visits her stepbrother Billy’s grave, her ex-boyfriend Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is quick to cue up her favorite song of all time–by the one and only Kate Bush. The lyrics paint the perfect picture of Max’s character–traumatized by Billy’s death, she’d do anything to trade places with him. In a surprising turn of events, this track is now climbing the top ten on the Billboard and Spotify charts for the first time in over 30 years. A young Kate Bush was once discovered by David Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s longtime guitarist. For more bouncing ballads and movie-scene-worthy songs, check out the rest of Bush’s 1985 album, Hounds of Love.

“California Dreamin’” by the Beach Boys

Season four also featured this nostalgic Beach Boys track, a cover of the original folksy 1965 song by the Mamas and the Papas. Perfectly enough, the Beach Boys released their cover in 1986, the same year that this season of Stranger Things takes place. It’s part of the surf rock band’s compilation album Made in the U.S.A., which popularized their many 1960s hits among a new generation––Gen X. The song plays as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) writes a letter to Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) about her and the Byers family’s new life in southern California after they fled Hawkins at the end of the previous season. The band’s most popular album, “Pet Sounds”, was released in 1966, and includes the hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. The band was often considered by critics and fans to be the American counterpart of the Beatles, with co-founder Brian Wilson stating that he was inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul when working on the album. The group’s remaining members still tour and perform, and are occasionally joined by actor and multi-instrumentalist John Stamos. This band has the perfect old-but-gold songs for the summer.

“Detroit Rock City” by KISS

Would it even be a 1980s TV show without any KISS? Early this season, we see the Hellfire D&D club playing an intense rotation of the game (and introducing us to the latest Upside Down villain in Hawkins) while Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) finally gets off the bench for his first high school basketball game. It’s the perfect game-on classic rock song that sets the tone for this season–our favorite gang is growing up, and the monsters just keep getting bigger. This song comes from the black-and-white-face painted band’s 1976 album “Destroyer”, and provides a great introduction to the Hellfire Club’s off-beat yet loveable rock-n-roll leader, Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn).

“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive

The 1980s was a renaissance for contemporary music genres–one of them being the new wave. Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” can be heard during the pivotal scene in season four when Eleven, Mike, and Will take to the roller rink during Hawkins’ spring break. The song provides the perfect soundtrack for a scene that depicts several friendships spinning around in circles, with Will struggling to accept that things will never be the same in the group. The more up-to-date tunes we hear on the West Coast also subliminally hint at which characters are moving on from the happenings in Hawkins. This song is from the band’s 1985 album Youthquake.

“Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth

This 1982 hit from British-Jamaican reggae band was a surprising hit for its time–and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it on screen. Some may remember it from the 2002 Scooby-Doo film starring Matthew Lillard, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Linda Cardarelli, and Isla Fisher. The term “dutchie” is a slang term for a Jamaican cooking pot and a euphemism for marijuana (the band members were minors at the time of its release. Of course, in this season of Stranger Things, Argyle the friendly neighborhood smoker rolls up to the Byers’ home to save the day, with this song playing in the background. Following the success of this single, the band went on to collaborate with Donna Summer and receive a Grammy nomination. Much like “Running Up That Hill”, this track has found TikTok virality.

“Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart

This new wave hit played on none other than Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) car radio in season one as he and his original friend group pull up to the Wheeler’s house for Steve to confront Nancy about the rift growing between them, only to see Jonathan Byers in her bedroom. It’s the perfect song both literally and metaphorically for Steve’s character–he simultaneously brands himself as too-cool-for-school while also having many of his own insecurities and being in need of genuine friendships. This song is from Corey Hart’s 1983 album First Offense, which led him to a nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash

Now that we know Max’s favorite song, we can’t help but wonder if Will’s favorite song from season one will come into play in volume two this July. The British punk rock band’s 1982 hit took on a different meaning in Stranger Things, as it was Will Byers’ (Noah Schnapp)’s first attempt at communicating from the Upside Down. In flashbacks, we learn that this was his comfort song since his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) used to play it in the house to drown out their parent’s fighting. The song returns again in season two when the gang attempts to free Will of the Mindflayer’s control by replaying his favorite memories. Could it be that Will has already met Vecna, and are they about to meet again? Time will only tell when we see volume two this July. This track is from The Clash’s 1982 album Combat Rock.

It’s safe to say that Stranger Things has provided the perfect throwback soundtrack for Gen Z to learn more about the music that our parents grew up listening to. Plus, you may find your own song that would save you from Vecna.

About the Author

Madison Goldberg

Madison E. Goldberg is a senior at Emerson College majoring in journalism and minoring in publishing and photography. She’s covered numerous topics in news and entertainment as a multimedia journalist.