I, like many, was quite excited by the prospect of a second season of nostalgic goodness and 80s throwbacks that is Stranger Things. However after binge watching the season I felt slightly disappointed. Not by the storyline, or the acting, or the score. I was disappointed by the music selection.
The 80s was a rich period of synth driven darkness, prime for soundtracking some otherworldly, teen-driven set piece. Add to this Jonathan’s Byer’s obsession with the British new wave and post punk scene that dominated the soundtrack of Season One with bands like Joy Division and The Clash, I was excited to see what would be included in Season Two. Apart from the fantastic use of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” during the Snow Ball, I felt somewhat let down. Such care and dedication had been taken in recreating an accurate 1984 video arcade, why not spend some time mining the fertile banks of tracks from 1983/84 to augment the Duffer Brothers 1984 Hawkins, Indiana.
So, here is my list of missed opportunities:
There is so much from the Cure’s output, those exemplars of goth, that would fit perfectly into either season; “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Pictures of you”, and “Lullaby” with its imagery of being devoured by a giant spider. It’s so obvious a link that I expect the producers probably explored the possibility of using Robert Smith’s (a man notoriously protective of his music) tunes and came up with donuts. Licensing issues aside their creepy, atmospheric 1980 single about being lost in the woods complete with flanging synths would have been a great fit for first entering the upside down or when Eleven spends time in the woods whilst escaping the lab.
With a nod to Siouxsie Sioux in the series (the girl Jonathan meets at the Halloween party is dressed as her), why not include a track from their 1982 so-called “sexy album” Kiss in the Dreamhouse. Along with Robert Smith, Siouxsie Sioux personified the UK post punk/new wave goth scene. “So many blazing orchids” could easily refer to the opening head of the demidogs and with lines like “you are the melting man, you are the situation, there is not time to breathe” and “swimming in poison, gasping in fragrance” Siouxsie sums up much of the seasons pervading darkness in this song of tortured lust.
Bruce’s 1982 Nebraska album was a dark, sparse homage to small town America and miles away from 1984’s Born in the USA. The track State Trooper, with its narrator’s anguished howl as he drives through the dark night, would have blissfully accompanied Hopper as he entered the underground tunnels of “the thing”.
Devo’s 1980 hit “Whip It” plays during a school scene in Episode 2. It comes across as token and novelty, an all too obvious nod to the American art school underground. Beautiful World released in ’81, closer to the set date, would more likely be playing on a car radio and is an infinitely better match with the series. One look at the video for Beautiful World would cement the link. Mushroom clouds and other images of war and starvation spliced with clips of all American glory highlight the irony of the track’s title. Imagine Mark Mothersbaugh chanting “Its a beautiful world for you. Not me” as the upside down began turning.
In 1984 Prince released the best soundtrack to one of the worst films, “Purple Rain”. Prince is even more notorious than Robert Smith for maintaining control of his music, but with his death last year, opportunities to access his entire catalogue have opened right up. Any track from side 2 of “Purple Rain” would fit beautifully into a 1984 Hawkins with its imagery of a slightly skewed reality. “I would die 4 u” for its synth driven sentimentality would have to be my prime pick. Imagine Bob being eaten alive by demidogs to the sounds of Prince’s strange love song.
Tears For Fears released their debut in ’83. Jonathan Byers would have been all over this one. Its biggest single “Mad World” was used to perfection in “Donnie Darko” via a cover by Gary Jules, but the album yields more great dark 80s hits. “Change” has the chiming synths and high production of its chart topping sister and could have been used to great effect during this season, perhaps during Eleven or D’Art’s metamorphoses.
New Order emerged from the ashes of Joy Division after Ian Curtis’ suicide. Jonathan would have no doubt been a fan of these Factory Records stalwarts. Elegia from 1985’s Low-Life was used during Will’s funeral in Season One, but New Order’s 1983 release “Power, Corruption and Lies” features numerous tracks that are synth heavy, haunting and melodic. The closing track “Leave Me Alone” not only sums up many of the character’s feelings at various points during the events that occur, it also haunts with bittersweet earworms that keep creeping back into your brain for days. What better musical metaphor could there be for the probing tendrils of Will’s shadowmonster?
In 1983, just across Lake Michigan from Indiana in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the Violent Femmes released their eponymous debut album filled with teen angst, alienation and regrets. Surely some of those hip young Hawkinsians had heard it and connected. Lyrically “Gone Daddy Gone” seems like the best fit for the series, especially if it featured sometime during Eleven’s misadventures in Chicago.
Okay, so this is an easy miss. Obscure Japanese avant garde synth maestros Mariah are not exactly well known. But their 1983 album “Utakata no Hibi” sounds simultaneously futuristic and contemporaneous. An ideal match for the world’s possible end, funnelled through the teen uncertainty bottled in Stranger Things. The track “Shinzo No Tobira” I could easily imagine rounding out at least half of the season’s episodes. Do yourself a favour and check it out.
Released only earlier this year, this retro-futuristic synth track, is planted firmly in the dark wave era of ’84 Hawkins. The ethereal vocals over blissful flanging synth melancholia is slightly reminiscent of Julee Cruise’s iconic “Falling” from the original series of Twin Peaks. Haunting, synthy wind rushes open the track and cast you down a heartbreaking tunnel which would have had me in complete eye watering conniptions had it accompanied the scene of Eleven watching Max and Mike frolic in the gym. A big miss!