There's nothing better in TV and film than a good ol' fashioned needle drop. Currently, Stranger Things leads the pack in killer television soundtracks. It's no surprise why, seeing as the show takes place in the 80s: one of the greatest generations for music. Therefore, it has a large and quality catalogue to choose from within its jukebox of choices.
There have been many times while watching Stranger Things where we've had to pull out our phones, open Shazam or Soundhound, and try and figure out what song is playing while Eleven, Hopper, Nancy, or Mike are fighting evil monsters. Some needle drops in the show have served as epic or emotional moments for the characters. Some needle drops in the show serve as major plot devices. And other needle drops in Stranger Things have caused a cultural reset, boosting old artists' chart successes and introducing their work to a new generation.
Now that season 4 has been out for a while, we thought we'd take the time to rank Stranger Things' 10 best needle drops. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!) Grab your walkman and some cassettes, and let's get started.
10. "Psycho Killer" - Talking Heads
This needle drop just appeared in season 4, when Hawkins basketball team captain Jason Carver fires up his teenaged minions to go after supposed "psycho killer" Eddie Munson. As charismatic Jason convinces the boys that DnD is a game that rots your mind, the audience can see straight through his satanic panic to know he's the one who has truly gone off the rails.
We love the iconic bass thumps that come in while Jason starts his speech, and how the first verse blazes in while he lights up the Hellfire Club's photo from the yearbook. As David Byrne sings, Jason can't "face the facts," he's "tense and nervous, and can't relax."
9. "Moving In Stereo" - The Cars
We're going to say it: whenever Billy (Max's bully older step-brother) shows up on-screen, he usually gets a bomb needle drop to accompany his presence. This one is a favorite of ours from season 3, when he walks to his lifeguarding chair in that classic, sexy cinema slow motion.
Released in 1978 by The Cars, "Moving In Stereo" is a song that uses stereo as an allegory for putting thoughts you might not want to have into other places: which is a pretty fitting theme, considering the whole Mrs. Wheeler cougar subtext happening in this scene. (So scandalous!) We adore this track's use of audio mixing and stereo effects, and appreciate how its use in Stranger Things is actually an homage to a similar scene and needle drop in the 80s classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
8. "Separate Ways" - Journey
From the last episode of The Sopranos to the first episode of Netflix's Glow, you know it's an iconic scene when a Journey needle drop is used. Stranger Things chooses to break out the rock band in season 4, when the gang prepares to kill evil demon Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) just before the end of the season's first volume.
The Duffer Brothers choose to use a remixed version instead of the original cut of the song, and while normally we'd be annoyed by the decision (we are Journey purists over here at Live365) the boost of reverb and droning horror noises work very well for the tone of the epic scene. As the lyrics of the song suggest, parts of the group go their separate ways to face off against Vecna...but that doesn't make their strong bonds with each other any weaker. There's nothing that can accentuate the drama of a scene better than Steve Perry's rockin' voice.
7. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" - Scorpions
Another awesome Billy-related needle drop we love. This Scorpions song appears during the beginning of season 2, when we see Max and Billy at Hawkins High for the first time. This song blares on their car's radio, and as Billy exits the vehicle and makes a dramatic turn, the bangin' chorus flies in - as if Billy says himself, "Here I am! Rock you like a Hurricane!"
The Scorpions' “Rock You Like A Hurricane” is the group's most famous song and a classic example of a rock anthem. It was released in 1984 and was written by Rudolf Schenker, Klaus Meine, and Herman Rarebell. If we were a burly 80s mullet-toting bad guy like Billy, we'd also want this wild song playing in the background of our dramatic entrance.
6. "Heroes" - Peter Gabriel
This Peter Gabriel version of Bowie's song "Heroes" appears twice in Stranger Things. The first time happens in season 1, when Will's supposedly "dead" body is found in the lake. The second time happens during the heart-wrenching end of season 3, when Eleven, Joyce, Will, and Jonathan leave for California.
Gabriel's rendition of this song is sure to leave you teary-eyed. The added classical orchestra and slowed-down pace brings an extra level of feels that's perfect for a dramatic moment or two. Gabriel once explained the choice to turn the classic rock song into a moody musical experiment...
"“Heroes” for me was always one of the great Bowie tracks," he said. "It is heroism in the face of oppression and desperation. [...] We tried a few ways of looking at it and I wasn’t very happy, then I started manipulating some acoustic guitar samples until they became interesting, which gave me something to indicate to John where I wanted to go with it. We had talked about such composers as Arvo Part and Steve Reich as inspiration, but when John came back with his first draft of the arrangement I was blown away and think its one of the best string arrangements of a rock song I have ever heard."
With a certain tension that bursts open, this version of "Heroes" compliments the struggles against oppression and desperation our heroes of Stranger Things face.
5. "Every Breath You Take" - The Police
We'll never forget the adorableness of the Snow Ball at the end of season 2, and this heartfelt hit by The Police makes things even cuter. "Every Breath You Take" is a romantic track while also being one of the most "80s" 80s songs ever, so it's the perfect song to accompany romantic moments between Eleven and Mike, as well as Max and Lucas.
For a horror show like Stranger Things, we're happy the Duffer Brothers chose to use this song mostly in a cheery way as opposed to a spooky way (although there's some Upside Down spookiness at the end). For as sultry as "Every Breath You Take" is, it does have those stalker themes going on, so it matches the duality of Stranger Things pretty well.
4. "Material Girl" - Madonna
Eleven and Max's mall escapade was probably our favorite moment of season 3, and this perfectly-placed Madonna needle drop just made things ten times better. Like a Virgin classic "Material Girl" is all about the joys of buying things, so what better place to play it than inside a mall?
Additionally, "Material Girl" is a fun and energetic romp, so it also complements the hilarity of Mike and the boys as they try (and fail) to shop for nice things. “Material Girl” is an on-the-nose signal toward Max’s influence on Eleven, as she opens the superhero up to a world of self-spoiling: a world more than "stupid boys" like Hopper and Mike. It’s an important, foundational memory for both of them, and becomes an essential part of the show’s story in season 4.
3. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" - The Clash
This Clash track in season 1 of Stranger Things is more than just a good needle drop: it becomes something of an anthem for the series' debut set of episodes. It first plays during a flashback when Jonathan and Will have an adorable brotherly moment in the face of trauma, then appears again and again as Will keeps singing the song within the terrifying Upside Down as a form of mental survival.
Additionally, the song’s inclusion in season 2 walked so another awesome scene in the show (which we'll get to soon) could run. As Will is possessed by the Mind Flayer and acts as his real-world spy, Jonathan has an epiphany that he, his mom, and Mike can use the song to speak to the part of Will still conscious. Nothing about “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is profound, but the show gives it meaning. It's now something of a Byers family theme song!
2. "Master of Puppets" - Metallica
"Chrissy, this is for you!"
If we had to rank epic guitar solo scenes that save the day in film and TV, this one is right up there with that Twisted Sister reference in the Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Metalhead Eddie Munson finally breaks out his prized electric guitar in this Metallica needle drop in order to distract the Upside Down's fearsome demobats. And it's nothing short of amazing.
Fun fact: days after the release of the Stranger Things finale, "Master of Puppets" re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time since 1986. (At the time of writing this, it's managed to peak at #35). And another fun fact: the actual guitar solo performed on the episode was recorded by Tye Trujillo, son of Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.
1. "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" - Kate Bush
Even if you don't watch Stranger Things, you've probably heard about this Kate Bush song and its brilliant use in season 4. The fourth chapter of season 4 revolves around Max Mayfield's looming death at the hands of Vecna, as she has realized the monster placed a curse on her – as penance for her shame revolving around Billy’s death.
When Vecna is just about to kill Max, Nancy and Robin discover, by way of Vecna survivor Victor Creel, that a person’s favorite song can help free them from the monster’s clutches. Cue a cassette tape blasting Bush’s magnificent, ethereal track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” along with Sadie Sink giving a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and you’ve got one of the most profound and memorable moments of Stranger Things – maybe even one of the most iconic moments in television history.
"Running Up That Hill" plays in other episodes of season 4, but it's Max's Upside Down scene where it shines the brightest. And because of how awesome that scene is, it managed to bump "Running Up That Hill" to #1 on US iTunes charts in May 2022. The feature also helped it reach #1 on the UK charts, giving Kate Bush her first #1 in the country since “Wuthering Heights” in 1978. It also broke 3 chart records: the longest-ever gap between #1 singles, the longest time for a single to reach #1, and the oldest female artist ever to score a #1 hit.
At the time of writing this article, the song is still ranking pretty high on several charts across the internet. No other television show can claim they brought a nearly 40-year-old song back atop the Billboard charts and revived an amazing artist's career like Stranger Things can.
Check out our selection of free stations streaming 80s music at Live365.com.
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