Stranger Things 3 - Soundtrack Wishlist

With Stranger Things 3 we return to the fictional Hawkins, Indiana in the summer of 1985. Just a few hours from where my parents were enjoying one of their last real adolescent summers in a small town in Illinois.

When we sat down to watch Strangers Things with they were a little freaked out at first, simply because of how precisely it resembled what they remembered about growing up in a small rural community in middle America. It also didn't help that Steve and Nancy were accurate depictions of my father and mother—I mean, my Dad's name is actually Steve. They kind of even look like them, my Mom joking wether Steve Jones or Steve Harrington had more ridiculous hair.

We watched the whole first and second seasons together and they were just amazed by the show how the captured the time. The posters from Jaws and John Carpenter's The Thing that were in Mike's basement were also on the walls of my Dad's childhood bedroom. He instantly made some observations about the interior of Dustin's house; hideously-colored carpeting and tacky wood panelling left over from a "trashy wannabe-disco"-chic from the delusions of the early 70s decorating trends.

But what was most eerie to them was the way they could recall certain moments when they had been listening to the exact songs that were played in the soundtrack. When "Whip It" came on my Dad groaned. My Mom did the about same when they played Cyndi Lauper. But they played the Furs, the Police, the Clash, and Foreigner and my parents would pause it and be like, "Okay, this is too weird. When I used to work late shifts at Pizza Hut...." and they launch into some story about a time and place that they hadn't been able to recall so viscerally in thirty years.

Experiencing their nostalgia secondhand is also an interesting byproduct for me. Minus the few newer artists my Dad would get into, I grew up listening almost exclusively to 60s rock, 70s punk, and 80s alternative. As a result, when I hear Prince or the Police playing I don't think of the 80s—I think of my childhood.

My parents and I have waited with great anticipation for the next season of Stranger Things, so we were pretty excited when the official Netflix premier announcement was released. The screen flashed 'Summer of 1985' and my mom immediately noted, "it's going to have a killer soundtrack."

This isn't a "prediction" list

1985 was certainly a defining year, arguably of the second most important of the entire decade, behind 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Russia. In 1985 Gorbachev takes office, dozens of artists come together for the recording of "We Are The World" and the LIVE AID fundraising concert, a hole in the ozone is found, Microsoft releases Windows 1.0 to the world, and The Breakfast Club plays in theaters across the country.

Some the top albums from that year (based on chart popularity and release) include:

  • Purple Rain - Prince
  • Born In The USA - Bruce Springsteen
  • Like A Virgin - Madonna
  • Songs From The Big Chair - Tears For Fears
  • Make It Big - Wham!
  • No Jacket Required - Phil Collins
  • Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits

Funny enough, the soundtrack to Miami Vice was also a hit that year. Produced by legend and electronica genre forefather Jan Hammer, it utilized the synthesizer for a futuristic and spacey vibe that is so integral to the sound of Stranger Things and ultimately what many people think of when they think of "80s music".

So now I'll dive into some thoughts on tracks I think we might see, tracks we deserve to see, and tracks we absolutely will see. I've tried to avoid all of the trailers to preserve the purity of the viewing experience, so we'll see how this compares in a couple of days.

Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen

ST3 is being launched on the 4th of July and I'd assume that's coupled with the timeline of the episodes, the same way previous seasons have been coupled with autumn and Halloween. Excluding the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, I don't think there is a more patriotic-sounding song than "Born In The U.S.A." Although we know now that Springsteen meant it largely as a skeptical commentary on nationalism, it doesn't really matter because it was one of the biggest songs of the year and ultimately the decade. I have a strong feeling that in the first episode this song will be playing either as people participate in a 4th of July parade or as fireworks close out with something foreboding happening in contrast to the music.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World - Tears For Fears

It's hard to say which song off this album should be picked. Arguably the most iconic usage of a song from Songs From The Big Chair was of the "Head Over Heels" school montage from Donnie Darko, which is set in 1988. While this is my favorite song from the album and also in my top five favorite scenes in film ever, but for that reason alone I think it's unusable.

Allow me a second to enter some meta-commentary territory on this regarding Simple Mind's "Don't You Forget About Me". Is it a 'good idea' for a film/TV set in a specific time (in this case 1985) to use a song from a film that was made in that specific time? The Breakfast Club came out and "Don't You Forget About Me" skyrocketed to number one on the charts in the spring of 1985 but I can't see the Duffer brothers wanting to use it in ST3, because it's too blunt. They've managed walk a razors edge that uses the borderline-fetishy 80s-hypernostalgia as a substrate for doing something new and captivating. Using the iconic moments from actual 80s-era films isn't something that they're going to stoop down to and nor should they.

While any number of songs from Songs From The Big Chair are viable, this song aesthetically deserves to be in the soundtrack, simply for it's indistinguishable riff that is inseparably tied to the 80s. I could see it not being included because it's just too popular, but it really deserves to be in there... "Welcome to your life... there's no turning back..." I bet you're hearing that chugging bassline.

Like A Virgin - Madonna

Also in the spring of 1985 we saw Madonna's first tour—geniusly named the "Like A Virgin Tour". I said something about bluntness, what was it? Anyway. Her second album was an unadulterated smash and was ultimately her defining work. From the trailers that have been released thus far it seems like there's a bubblegum-cotton-candy pastel visual aesthetic to the Starcourt Mall which will be a main location in the ST3 narrative. Is there a better song to play as teenagers run around a foodcourt in neon leggings, Chuck Taylors, and Reebok hightops? No, there really isn't.

The Perfect Kiss - New Order

The Duffer brother clearly like New Order, something easily noticed in ST1. I was going through the New Order discography trying to guess what song might appear in ST3 and I noticed something interesting. New Order's Low Life was released in 1985 and contains a song "Elegia", which upon listening some of you might recognize as a song used in ST1, which is set in 1983. Now this kind of is loose-timeline is acceptable all things considered because it's an instrumental song and it's only observed by the audience and not the characters (I'm sure there a technical word for that). Also it was used perfectly to set the mood of Will's funeral ("Elegia" is Greek for "elegy") and even more the song was originally written as a tribute to the life of Ian Curtis, Joy Division's singer who tragically committed suicide, ultimately leading his bandmates to go on to form New Order.

New Order's sound is extremely aligned with the 80s synth aesthetic the Duffer Brothers have carefully cultivated for the show. I really could imagine any of the songs from Low Life being used, but "The Perfect Kiss" represents the best of the eclectic electric sound New Order has to offer. The track has a sheer massiveness and intensity in the outro (check out the frog noises and cowbells). It's one of the few songs I know that exists that is cinematic and danceable at the same time. However I'm going to generalize a bit here beyond a specific prediction and assert that we certainly see at least one New Order song in the ST3 soundtrack and I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of their more popular singles that were prior released prior to 1985. In particular "Bizarre Love Triangle" or "Thieves Like Us".

When Love Breaks Down - Prefab Sprout

We've already shown that the Duffer Brothers are not particularly concerned with the actual historical popularity of the tracks that are chosen, and if anything they've leaned toward New Wave and Alternative of the era. "When Love Breaks Down" is a wonderful upbeat ballad from Britpop band Prefab Sprout's second album Steve McQueen.

Every element of the song is a perfectly crafted representation of 80s pop ballads. Soft synth chimes coming from the iconic Yamaha e-pianos that ubiquitous on pop records of the era. Airy synth choruses that are so painfully characteristic of the mid-80s. Massive delay and reverb filling the space around the not-so-challenging lyrics of 'love gone bad'. Overall, it's a really warm and bright track (feels like a good hug), I think it could be spliced into some summer-love romantic narrative in the show to great effect.

Sussudio - Phil Collins

What about Phil Collins? What about Phil Collins.

No Jack Required was released as a permanent divergence from his brand as being a former prog-rocking lead Genesis and established him as pure purporter of pop. Nothing wrong with any of that, it's just was what it was. We saw the same thing happen with former Genesis bass player Mike Rutherford and his new band Mike & The Mechanics (who I also have listed below). But the reason I've selected this is because the show is set to take place on July 4th, 1985 and Sussudio was number 1 on the charts that week. That would be like not including the "Old Town Road Remix" in the timepiece set in the summer of 2019. Hmm.... did I just make a strong argument for why Sussudio shouldn't be in there?

Hounds of Love - Kate Bush

I've gone back and forth over which Kate Bush song I think should appear on the soundtrack and I really feel that it has to be the title track of her 1985 album Hounds of Love. The song employs a few major devices that lend itself to an ideal soundtrack-track for ST3 in particular. Right of the bat, the song begins with the verses:

It's in the trees 

It's coming

When I was a child

Running in the night

Afraid of what might be

Hiding in the dark

Hiding in the street

And of what was following me

Sounds familiar right? Not to mention the "cinematic" orchestral sounds present in the track. Staccato cello stabs and pounding distant drums driving beneath droning strings all come together to craft an energy that has a uniquely curious intensity. What would be really, really cool would be they remixed the song into a more uptempo synthwave arrangement. Imagine instead of the strings and cellos it's the replaced with the synth sounds of the Stranger Things theme. A gritty warbling synth horn blaring above a thick AF bass while Kate belts it out with her particularly divine creepiness. 100% yes.

All I Need Is A Miracle - Mike and the Mechanics

This song is so cheesy that it's perfect? It's too perfect and that makes it's cheesy? I don't know, but Mike has a ridiculous voice for being a bass player and wraps the best (and worst) parts of 80s pop music into one song that could be a great filler into a soundtrack that's trying to ground itself in a very distinct musical timeframe.

This Charming Man - The Smiths

If there's going to be a Smiths song (which there should be) it really, really should be this one. Given the Vonnegut references and The Clash cassette, self-proclaimed 'weirdo' Jonathan Byers' character seems like the kind of guy who would be really into Morrissey and The Smiths. And what better song to summarize their high-quality danceable quirkiness than the jangle-pop ABSOLUTE BOP that is their 1984 smash hit "This Charming Man".

Regardless of what songs do or don't show up in the soundtrack I'm pretty sure I'll be on the edge of my seat for 7+ hours aggressively fist-pumping as #Milleven, Hopp, and our boy Steve save Hawkins from total destruction from another dimension set to the beat of the best the 80s have to offer.

Happy viewing (and listening)!