I don’t know about you, but I think that we have just witnessed the best season of Stranger Things yet with Season 4 and its two epic volumes. Key reasons for my claim include the amazing new cast members, the ways the Duffer Brothers up the ante on the horror elements, that thoroughly exciting and emotional finale, and the killer additions to the soundtrack.
Of course, being a show set in the ‘80s and brimming with pop culture nostalgia for the decade from top to bottom, the Netflix original coming-of-age fantasy series has an excellent collection of featured songs dating back to its debut in 2016. However, what makes a Stranger Things needle drop special is how the track adds to the emotional impact of the moment. The following are our picks for some of the most memorable examples, starting with one from the very first season.
Steve, Nancy, And Others Party In The Pool To The Modern English Hit “I Melt With You” (Season 1)
It would take another season for us to fully like Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and it was clear we were not intended to look admirably at the November pool party he was having with Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Barb (Shannon Purser), and others in the second episode of Stranger Things Season 1. However, there was still a part of us that almost wished we could be there, especially with a swelling pop hit like “I Melt With You” by Modern English playing in the background. The UK band’s romantic chart-topper hits a sweeping crescendo as Tommy Hagan (Chester Rushing) pushes Carol Perkins (Chelsea Talmadge) into the pool in near-perfect synchronicity with the song’s climactic drum beat.
The Gang Gets Through To Will With The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (Season 2)
Another song with an even more memorable impact on Season 1 was “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash, which Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) remembers bonding with his little brother, Will (Noah Schnapp), over before his disappearance. This seminal punk hit's more memorable Stranger Things appearance was when the gang used it to better communicate with Will while he was possessed by the Mind Flayer in Season 2. Using music as a saving grace against supernatural manipulation would also come in handy in Season 4, but we will get to that later.
Hopper And Eleven Fix Up The Cabin To Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” (Season 2)
A more heartwarming musical moment from Stranger Things Season 2 comes during a flashback to when Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) invited Eleven (Mille Bobby Brown) to live with him in his cabin and then decided to make the home a little more habitable. First, he puts on Jim Croce's 1972 folk hit, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” to which Hop can’t resist bumping and snapping to and much to Eleven’s initial confusion. It is a funny and beautiful start to the characters’ enduring father-daughter relationship.
Dustin’s “The NeverEnding Story” Duet With Suzie (Season 3)
Our introduction to the relationship between Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and his girlfriend from Camp Know Where, Suzie Bingham (Gabriella Pizzolo), was also accompanied by a funny musical moment. “Dusty-Bun” contacts “Suzie-Poo” over Ham radio asking her to help figure out the numbers in Planck’s constant (the code to a safe holding keys that will shutdown the Russians' portal-opening machine), but she will only comply if he sings the theme song from the 1984 fantasy film, The NeverEnding Story. It is a hilarious moment from Stranger Things Season 3 that offers a nice break from the darkness.
Suspicious Dude Starts His Jazzercise Class To Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (Season 3)
Speaking of breaks from the darkness that is Stranger Things 3, when Dustin and Steve suspect that Starcourt is a front for some Russian conspiracy (which turns out to be right, of course), they spot a man wearing all-black clothing, dark sunglasses, and holding a duffle bag. They set up a surveillance to see where he may be headed, only to see him walk into a Jazzercise studio, pull off his jacket to reveal a pink tank top, and grab a boom box out of his duffle bag to put on “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Nothing could have made the reveal that Dustin and Steven's suspect was a Jazzercise instructor funnier than some deliciously cheesy bubble gum pop courtesy of Wham!
Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice” Plays When Eleven Breaks Up With Mike (Season 3)
Also in Season 3, we witnessed the (temporary) ending of Eleven’s relationship with Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), who was warned by Hop to keep his distance, leading El to feel ignored. After she and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) catch him in a lie outside of Starcourt, she tells him, “I dump your ass” - a cue to play “Cold As Ice.” One thing that could have made the scene funnier, especially when accompanied by the 1977 Foreigner hit, was if El had shoved her ice cream into Mike’s face.
The Gang Prepares For Battle To A Remix Of Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” (Season 4)
While there are many funny Stranger Things needle drops in earlier seasons, they take on a more frequently serious tone in Season 4 - such as during the final moment of its penultimate episode. The Hawkins gang silently contemplates the potentially dire consequences of their plan against Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), which includes using Max for bait, as we hear a new, stripped down version of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” that former Journey singer Steve Perry is a fan of. Bryce Miller and Troy MacCubbin’s remix is especially powerful for the way it lends itself to the season’s theme of separation, as most of the cast are in different parts of the world throughout.
Eddie Lures The Bats Away With Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” (Season 4)
One phase of the Hawkins gang’s plan is for Dustin and Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) to distract a flock of vicious winged creatures known as Demo-bats away from Vecna’s hideout in the Upside Down. Eddie’s MO: firing up his prized guitar for a face-melting rendition of “Master of Puppets” - a definitive Metallica hit and the title track off their third studio album from 1986 (the year in which Stranger Things Season 4 takes place). Dustin says it best himself when they take refuge from the bats in Eddie’s uncle’s RV, referring to the invigorating performance as the “most metal ever!”
Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” Saves Max (Season 4)
However, my vote for Stranger Things Season 4’s most powerful musical moment (and, perhaps, the most powerful in the whole series so far) goes to when Dustin, Steve, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) manage to rescue Max from Vecna’s trance in the nick of time by putting on her favorite song: “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. The English art pop queen’s 1985 ballad makes an epic, remixed reprise in an action-packed montage from the finale as Hopper lays waste to a Demogorgon with a sword, Eleven shows Vecna who is boss in his Mind Lair, and Steve, Nancy, and Robin (Maya Hawke) burn his physical form alive in the Upside Down.
Kate Bush experienced a major resurgence in popularity after “Running Up That Hill” showed up in Stranger Things Season 4 and soon hit Number One on the UK charts for the first time. I can’t wait to see what ‘80s staples get a new lease on life when they appear in the series’ fifth and final season on Netflix.
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Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.