Sounds of the Upside Down: The music and musicians of Stranger Things
Not only has Stranger Things pushed Kate Bush to number one in the charts, but its cast are a right musical bunch. Steve Sutherland looks at the musicians and music fans in the cast of the hit Netflix series.
It’s been big news how Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill has topped the charts 37 years after its initial release thanks to its inclusion in the latest series of Netflix smasher Stranger Things.
What’s not so well known is that many of the cast have musical careers as well as being actors.
So we thought it would be fun to check out what music the cast have been making and find out what they listen to when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Millie Bobby Brown, who, of course, plays Eleven says that her favourite all-time band is Oasis and Wonderwall is her track of choice.
Joe Keery, who plays the part of Steve Harrington, also has a pretty impressive musical pedigree. He used to be in a Chicago-based band called Post Animal, singing and playing guitar and drums.
They released an album in 2018 called When I Think Of You In A Castle, then Keery quit and now has a well-regrded pysch-pop career under the title Djo.
His debut solo LP, Twenty Twenty, released in 2019, is a corker and has been compared to Tame Impala, who Keery loves.
He has a new album, Decide, coming out in September and a track from it, Change, is on music streaming sites now.
When asked about what music he likes, his pick is Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)’s seventh LP, Out Of The Blue, released in 1977, the one that includes Mr Blue Sky.
“They’re one of the bands that my dad loved,” says Keery.
“One that I kind of grew up on. If one day I could just say to Jeff Lynne… you know, even just ask him one question about one song… he’s got a brilliant musical mind… that would probably make me pretty weak at the knees!”
Finn Wolfhard also has a burgeoning music career. The actor who plays Mike Wheeler in hit TV show was also the vocalist, guitarist and songwriter in a Vancouver-based band called Calpurnia who released an EP called Scout in 2018. They split in 2019 and Finn has now formed a band called The Aubreys who put out a critically lauded album called Karaoke Alone last year.
He has a couple of choices when talking about his favourite records.
First is I, Jonathan by Jonathan Richman, the fourth solo album by the former founder and leader of The Modern Lovers, which came out in 1992.
“I first heard Jonathan Richman on the Roadrunner single, which is his band The Modern Lovers’ big hit, and then I was reading an interview with Mac DeMarco, who was talking about how inspirational Jonathan Richman was and how young people should really listen to him,” he said.
“So I bought The Modern Lovers on vinyl and listened to the whole thing over and over again. Then I started listening to his solo stuff.
“I like I, Jonathan a lot. It’s like the happiest music ever. It was so ahead of its time, and there’s so much social commentary in his music that applies to this weird time that we live in.”
The other album he’d like to recommend is Vessel by Frankie Cosmos which is the third album released by singer/songwriter Greta Kline under her pseudonym.
It came out on Sub Pop in 2018 and Wolfhard says: “I have a playlist of stuff that I listen to on the way to set, which includes Frankie Cosmos’ song Jesse. There’s something about their music that is very chill, and Greta Kline’s voice is almost hypnotizing. If I ever catch one of her songs on the radio, it’s almost like I can only focus on that.”
Maya Hawke, whose parents are Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, plays the part of Robin Buckley and released her debut solo LP, Blush, on Mom + Pop in 2020.
The Pitchfork website described it as: “Refreshingly thoughtful and understated, with emotionally incisive songwriting and a featherlight voice wrapped up in Laurel Canyon arrangements.”
Maya’s recommendation is Jack Kittel’s Psycho, an album released in 1973 and named after its title track, which was written by Leon Payne, a blind country and western singer songwriter from Texas in 1968.
Maya says: “Jack Kittel’s version was shown to me by (actor) Jason Schwartzman on the set of this movie I did called Mainstream.
“It’s just a weird song. I love old country music, and how intense and smart and deep and demented and sad the lyrics can be. I love it when those things feel really truthful and poetic, but also manage to be funny. There’s something about when you can find humour in depth that’s just my favourite thing in the world.”
Winona Ryder, who plays Joyce Byers, is obviously one of the most famous members of the cast with a resume that includes iconic performances in Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Heathers et al.
Her musical choice is The Replacements’ Let It Be which was the rowdy Minneapolis band’s third album, released in 1984.
“Paul Westerberg (singer/ songwriter) is like—I swear, I get teary-eyed when I think about him. If I were to have a hero or a personal god, it would be him,” says Ryder.
Her favourite song is Sixteen Blue.
“To me, the song is about inconsistency,” she says. “It’s about thinking you are crazy—that’s how you feel when you’re 16.”
According to websites that know about these things, she briefly dated Westerberg back in the Eighties.
Sadie Sink, whose character Max Mayfield’s liking for Running Up That Hill is responsible for the Kate Bush revival, delves back to her childhood for her favourite track.
She’s picked Upside Down from surf dude Jack Johnson’s 2006 movie soundtrack Sing-A-Longs And Lullabies For The Film Curious George. “I love this song,”
Sink says: “I used to listen to it when I was little.”
Sink also played the lead role in Taylor Swift’s 2021 release All Too Well: The Short Film.
Newbie to the Stranger Things team is Joseph Quinn who plays Eddie Munson.
Eddie’s the freaked-out, metal-loving head of The Hellfire Club so it’s no surprise he picks Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality for the Cool Collection.
It was Ozzy and co’s third LP, released in 1971, and Quinn says: “That album was going around in my head for years.”
One of the older cast members is Matthew Modine who plays the creepy Dr. Martin Brenner.
His pick is Shaved Fish, the compilation LP of post-Beatle John Lennon tracks that came out in 1975.
“I’m the youngest of seven, so I got a steady diet of The Beatles from my brothers and sisters at a young age,” he says.
“I loved the political aspects of John Lennon, the intrigue and impact of Yoko Ono and whether she was really responsible for breaking up the band.
“Their bed-ins for peace sit-in was so provocative. Every Christmas they still put up a billboard in Times Square that says: ‘War is over! If you want it’.
"The important part of that statement is: if you want it.
“I have always felt that human beings have such a terrible love of war that they don’t seem to want to find peaceful solutions. When you think about it, almost every Beatles song is about peace and love.”
Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas Sinclair, released his debut single, Neighbourhood, last year and has recently followed it up with Soul Travel, a neat slice of R&B.
His Black Boy Joy Spotify playlist featured 51 tracks including The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, Drake’s God’s Plan, Childish Gambino’s Redbone, Pop Smoke’s What You Know Bout Love and Kanye West’s The Glory.
Series favourite Gaten Matarazzo who plays Dustin Henderson is in a band called Work In Progress.
Gaten’s the singer, their base is in New Jersey, they have two singles on Apple Music – Dream Eater and Waste My Time.
They’re rock-y and Gaten says they’re influenced by Pearl Jam, Paramore (who they’ve toured with) and Green Day.
And finally there’s Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays the creepy Henry Creel/Vecna/ Number One. He’s been the singer and main songwriter in a couple of bands – Darling Buds and the heavier Counterfeit, who released an album called Together We Are Stronger in 2017, then split up a couple of years ago.
Campbell Bower says: “I grew up with My Chem, Blink, Linkin Park: All those bands are very influential, but it wasn’t until I saw Gallows play at Radio 1’s Big Weekend that I truly experienced the ‘nah factor.’ They went on that stage, and they just like tore it up. It was wild.”
His music’s been called punk and he agrees to a certain extent: “Punk music is ‘Pick up your guitar even if you can’t play and go out there and do it.’ The Horrors massively inspired me in that sense.”