15 Songs That Stranger Things Should Make Blow Up Next

No shame to poor, brave Eddie (Joseph Quinn), but the biggest breakout star of Stranger Things Season 4 wasn’t an actor, but a song. Kate Bush’s 1985 classic “Running Up That Hill” literally saves the life and soul of  Max (Sadie Sink). Suddenly lots of kids who had never heard of Kate Bush wanted to be saved the same way. Bush has earned a stunning $2.3 million and counting since the episode aired.

In the second half of the season, Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is played to distract a bunch of monster vampire bats. And sure enough, that song is climbing the charts too.

15 Songs That Stranger Things Should Make Blow Up Next

15 Songs That Stranger Things Should Make Blow Up Next
Image Credit: Netflix.

Kate Bush is an underrated genius and a faerie talisman of good; she deserves all the hype and moolah. Metallica have kind of turned into a bloated parody of themselves over the last 30 years, but “Master of Puppets” is still great. They wouldn’t have been my first choice for late-career accolades, but I’ll allow it.

But that raises the question: what would be your first choice for late-career renaissance? If you were the Stranger Thing’s showrunners and could make any 80s song trend, which awesome semi-neglected artist of the past would you shovel money towards? Here are my best suggestions.

Image Credit: Netflix.

“Roxanne's Revenge”—Roxanne Shante (1984)

15 Songs That Stranger Things Should Make Blow Up Next
Image Credit: Roxanne Shante at 2016 Juice Crew Reunion (BB Kings NYC) CC BY-SA 2.0

This is one of early raps defining moments. New Yorker Roxanne Shante was only 14 when she spit fire on this answer record to UTFO’s misogynist “Roxanne, Roxanne.” “Roxanne’s Revenge” obliterates the guy’s macho poses in a hail of sneering rhymes and a Marly Marl production that sounds like it was recorded in a basement inch-thick in filth. Shante didn’t ever have a follow-up and her career languished. It would be great to see her get a sudden explosion of fame and fortune.

Image Credit: TMoneyDee.

“Mandinka”— Sinéad O'Connor (1987)

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Image Credit: Leah Pritchard from Den Haag, Netherlands – cropped from File:Sinéad O’Connor.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0

Irish singer/songwriter Sinéad O’Connor’s vocals soar, howl, and yap over the driving New Wave beat and snarling guitars on this adrenalin-pounding single from her first album The Lion and the Cobra. She had a few more years of stardom. But her outspoken criticism of the Catholic Church helped derail her career, and she’s not much of a pop culture presence these days. It would be great if she was though.

Image Credit: Leah Pritchard.

“Sweet Love” —Anita Baker (1986)

anita baker
Image Credit: Elektra Records via (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y9DYGiDL1o)

 

There is no 80s jam more smooth than Anita Baker’s multi-octave, sensually silken “Sweet Love.” What could be a better backdrop for the inevitable Nancy/Steve (Natalia Dyer/Joe Keery) reconciliation!? Baker had to fight to get her masters back from Elektra. Now that she has them, it would be a good time for a new generation to find that sweet voice again.

Image Credit: Elektra Records.

“Just Like Honey”—Jesus and Mary Chain (1985)

Jesus and Mary Chain 2007
Image Credit: Liane Chan from Buena Park, United States – P1080632.JPG, CC BY 2.0

Scottish twins Jim and William Reid are a key bridge from New Wave to shoegaze. They aren’t exactly obscure, but they’re no longer household names either.  “Just Like Honey”, from their debut Psychocandy, features stiff post-punk rhythms and an oceanic tide of feedback. It’s emo you start to dissolve.

Image Credit: Liane Chan.

“Slave to the Rhythm”— Grace Jones (1985)

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Image Credit: Bruce Baker – https://www.flickr.com/photos/theholygrail/18229578078/, CC BY 2.0

The towering, stentorian Jamaican singer Grace Jones has rarely sounded as towering and stentorian as on this bombastic exercise in New Wave-meets-musical theater. “Slave to the Rhythm” would absolutely work as a soundtrack for apocalypse. And it’s always the right time for a Grace Jones renaissance.

Image Credit: Bruce Baker.

“Radio M.U.S.I.C Man” —Womack and Womack (1985)

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Image Credit: Electra Records.

Husband/wife duo Linda and Cecil Womack combine post-Prince funk, sweet harmonies, and Quiet Storm into an impossibly catchy celebration of everything 80s radio. It should have been a hit, but was not. Stranger Things could make it one, though, and that would be awesome.

Image Credit: Electra Records.

“Donimo”—Cocteau Twins (1984)

coctaeu twins
Image Credit: Cocteau Twins (via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL6Xxly4dP0)

The band that put the ether in “ethereal.” Robin Guthrie’s guitars verge on shoegaze ambient, and Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning multi-tracked soprano is the stuff of celestial skyclad witchy choirs. “Donimo” (misspelling intentional) from their album Treasure is a signature track. If Max loves Kate Bush, this should be on her playlist close by.

Image Credit: Cocteau Twins.

“What Have You Done for Me Lately?”—Janet Jackson (1986)

Janet Jackson
Image Credit: Dan Ingram from Chicago, U.S.A – Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Stranger Things should feature music from at least one Indiana home-team singer, right? “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” was a cultural touchstone, and Jackson’s still a star. But I don’t think the kids today quite realize just how hard this song went. That Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis production makes Trent Reznor sound like he’s playing at industrial with tinker toys.

Image Credit: Dan Ingram.

“Angel With a Lariat”—k.d. lang (1987)

Kd lang
Image Credit: Mandy Hall – originally posted to Flickr as kd lang, CC BY 2.0

Canadian cowgirl lang helped bootstrap alt-country with this blast of retro honky-tonk. It’s delivered with an ironic wink, the joke being that lang’s voice is every bit as enormous as all the Cline’s and Wynette’s of yore. And the other joke being that the gender of that angel with a lariat is more than a little ambiguous. Robin (Maya Hawke) may or may not like country, but if she does, she should love this.

Image Credit: Mandy Hall.

“Walk This Way”—Run-DMC and Aerosmith (1986)

run DMC Aerosmith
Image Credit: Run DMC & Aerosmith. (via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B_UYYPb-Gk)

This joyously, cheesily heavy rock/rap crossover helped reignite Aerosmith’s career in the mid-80s. At the time, before producer Rick Rubin suggested the collaboration, Run-DMC’s Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and (the sadly deceased) Jam Master Jay didn’t even know who Aerosmith was. These days, I think a lot of people don’t know who Run-DMC is. Stranger Things could fix that. And should!

Image Credit: Run DMC and Aerosmith.

“Guitar Town” — Steve Earle (1986)

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Image Credit: Sean Rowe – https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjr-images/2738490768/, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Steve Earle’s first song on his first album is an outlaw road anthem for truckers, hitchhikers, and all highway refugees who want to turn the radio up and push the gas peddle down. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work as well for that purpose in 2023 as it did in 1986.

Image Credit: Sean Rowe.

“The Glamorous Life”—Sheila E (1984)

Sheila E. 2014
Image Credit: Justin Higuchi from Los Angeles, CA, USA, 9/06/2014 #7, CC BY 2.0 at Huntington Beach Food Art & Music Festival 2014

Sheila E fused Prince to Latin percussion and came up with this absolute rhythm monster. If you can sit still through all 9 minutes you are dead and your family might as well start pricing coffins. “The Glamorous Life” got a lot of radio play at the time, but Sheila E in general is underappreciated, and should receive as many dollars as this song has funk. Which is, to be clear, a lot.

Image Credit: Justin Higuchi.

“I Don’t Want to Grow Up”— Descendents (1985)

1800px Descendents 2014 09 28 01
Image Credit: IllaZilla – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Descendents, 2014, L to R (Stephen Egerton, Milo Aukerman, Bill Stevenson, and Karl Alvarez)

For a show mired in perpetual 80s high school nostalgia, what could be more appropriate than this snotty LA hardcore anthem about never getting out of high school? El (Millie Bobbie Brown) could play it while contemplating her evil(ish) Papa (Matthew Modine.)

Image Credit: IllaZilla.

“Conga”—Miami Sound Machine (1985)

MIAMI SOUND MACHINE
Image Credit: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. (via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54ItEmCnP80)

A giant hit turned wedding standard, this song has become terminally unhip. But if you listen to it, it is not unhip. It is awesome. Singer Gloria Estefan and drummer/songwriter Enrique Garcia took the crazed Cuban hip-shaking salsa of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, gave it an electro sheen,  and pointed it right towards the dance floor. They could play it when Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) get married, right?

Image Credit: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

Raining Blood—Slayer (1986)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

It might seem like overkill to play Slayer the season after you played Metallica. But then, Slayer is all about overkill. Maybe they can even resurrect Eddie to perform it. It would be appropriate since this song sounds so evil only the undead could possibly perform it.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

___

So what else would you put on the list? Before you leap to answer, I should say I’ve tried to stick to songs released between around 1984-87, which is the timeframe of season 4-5. That means ESG’s “Moody” was too early, and Living Colour’s “Middle Man” was too late. I also avoided anything where I really couldn’t justify giving the artist a big payday. Thus no Morrissey.

Finally, I went for music that the gang might reasonably be expected to have heard. I love Danielle Dax and Beverly Glenn-Copeland, but it would be hard for kids in small-town Indiana to have encountered them in those pre-Internet days. But don’t let that stop you from streaming those artists yourselves.! I doubt this list can make anyone $2 million dollars, but there’s nothing wrong with trying.

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Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.