Stranger Things was the ultimate pleasant surprise TV of 2016, in my opinion. Released with minimal marketing last fall, the show blew up via word of mouth. And it’s easy to see why. Phenomenal storyline. Outstanding music including an original score. Stellar acting. And hugely nostalgic cinematic and thematic references for anyone who grew up in the 1980s.
One of the things that truly made the first season of Stranger Things unique was the music. So I set out to pull together 5 albums from my collection I consider must-haves for fans of the show.
We start with the obvious.
1. Stranger Things Soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
If you’re a fan of Stranger Things and of music, just go get the damn soundtrack, Dummy.
Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are the music masterminds behind the Duffer Brothers’ creation with an original score that helped bring to life the show and make it stand apart from the rest of the clutter.
And there was no more memorable song than the show’s theme.
Like the show itself, which draws upon a wide range of cinematic influences from decades gone, Dixon and Stein did their research to create a sound that draws upon the influence of a variety of artists seminal to an other-worldly, supernatural sound.
If you haven’t watched it, I strongly recommend checking out Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution. The film covers the a multitude of artists and sounds Dixon and Stein drew influence from in creating the Stranger Things soundtrack.
Here’s the opening 11 minutes (fitting, right?) to get you hooked:
Keep watching…you’ll discover some amazing music and likely learn a thing or two.
2. Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre
It’s hard to talk about anything relating to Stranger Things without a core keyword: influence.
Not only will the Duffer Brothers and the duo of Dixon and Stein both be influencers, it’s absolutely impossible to ignore their influences.
One album that I feel embodies the style Dixon and Stein employed on the original score of Stranger Things is none other than the electronic mastermind Jean Michel Jarre and his 1976 LP Oxygene.
Sure, there are plenty of other artists that you could argue have equal or greater influence, as far ranging within the original electronic era of as Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and Mike Oldfield. But, overall, there are many elements within Oxygene that I feel Stranger Things fans would find quite familiar.
3. Ocean Rain by Echo And The Bunnymen
Of all the great music in Stranger Things no one song had more of an ah-ha! moment to it than the placement of “Nocturnal Me” by Echo And The Bunnymen at the end of Episode 5: The Flea and the Acrobat.
Nancy Wheeler, played by Natalia Dyer, just entered The Upside Down and has a run-in with the monster…the Demogorgan. The episode ends as this dark, moody song with its stark vocal progression and driving guitar, string arrangement and percussion kicks into gear.
The song is off the band’s fifth LP, Ocean Rain, which was released in 1984. It features another track, perhaps the one the band is most known for: “Killing Moon”. Here’s the original music video for that one:
“Killing Moon” found its way into another great film featuring alternate universes and a stellar soundtrack chalk full of amazing (and dark) music from the 1980s: Donnie Darko.
4. The House of Love by The House of Love
This one is a little bit of a stretch, but I think it would be a fitting addition to Season 2: The House of Love by The House of Love.
This band released a few self-titled LPs in their 7-year tenure. There was their debut self-titled LP and there was this, an 8-song compilation LP on the highly influential Creation Records (responsible for many of the late 80s/early 90s shoegaze greats).
“Shine On” initially drew me in with its powerful melody and easy-to-love pop sensibilities. It has core single written all over it. And, it has an opening that somewhat mimics that of “Nocturnal Me”.
Released in 1987, this album includes a few tracks steeped in that dark, moody 1980s sound you just heard with Echo And The Bunnymen. I think it’s a fitting sound for the town of Hawkins, Indiana.
5. “Between Two Mysteries” by Mount Eerie
Today (as I start writing this, as opposed to a publishing date, since it likely won’t be published until later) is February 24, or Twin Peaks Day. It’s the day FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper enters the town of Twin Peaks for the first time in David Lynch’s supernatural television show from the 1990s.
Diane, 11:30 AM, February 24th. Entering the town of Twin Peaks. It’s 5 miles south of the Canadian border, 12 miles west of the state line. Never seen so many trees in my life. As W.C. Fields would say, ‘I’d rather be here than Philadelphia.
So on Twin Peaks Day I found it an appropriate to conclude this list with an album featuring a song that samples the theme. In the most symbolic track off the 2009 LP Wind’s Poem, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum samples (or at least recreates to some extent) the memorable, recognizable Twin Peaks theme song by Angelo Badalamenti.
How does a Twin Peaks reference relate to Stranger Things?
Well, outside of the alternate dimension aspect both shows have, and a predilection toward unique original scores, probably not much. But Mount Eerie, a local band to my Washington state county of Skagit, creates music that I feel could easily encompass that division between this world and the Upside Down.
“Between Two Mysteries” is a memorable track not only in that signifying reference to Twin Peaks but in the way Elverum’s overall sound comes together, which is very much thematic of something out of a Twin Peaks or Stranger Things style landscape.
Wind’s Poem is one of those albums that has the ability to alter reality without drugs. Sometimes soft and melodic, as found on the almost dreamy “Wind Speaks”, it is just as apt to transition into a startling and deafening roar. Enter “The Mouth of Sky”, for example. Here’s the former:
There you have it. 5 must-have records to accompany your obsession with Stranger Things and tide you over (at least to some extent, in between random binge-rewatching of the show) until Season 2 drops this fall.
And, though I’m sure you’ve already seen the Season 2 trailer, how about we take one more peek for fun’s sake.