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Weekend Earworms: The Horror of a Great Theme Song

Weekend Earworms: The Horror of a Great Theme Song

An estimated 92% of us experience earworms. Despite the annoying times we can’t get a chorus or a hook of an overplayed pop song out of our heads, getting a really good earworm stuck can be one of the best things, ever. We here at Nerdist are dead set on bringing you those types of songs—even if only for the weekend. So shove this into your grey matter!

Well, it’s been a week since San Diego Comic Con came to a close and while there are certainly loads of collectibles, stories, and keepsakes to remember the week by, I managed to bring home the worst souvenir of all; the dreaded “Comic Con Flu!” It’s real, folks. I’ve been to SDCC for the better part of a decade now and always managed to luck out by not getting it. It seems it was just laying in wait for me this year and hit me like a ton of bricks.

Why mention such an unfortunate fact? Well, in addition to the cold meds, gallons of water, and completely normal levels of adult whimpering I was finally able to binge everything that’s been piling up. I’ve had a week of “Netflix and Ill” and have come away from it in complete awe of how utterly phenomenal Stranger Things was. Needless to say, I’ve had one song stuck in my head all week.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this show will go down as one of the best in years. It perfectly executed a mix of familiar themes from horror and suspense movies of the ’70s and ’80s, while still remaining an original story. The homages to other films aren’t just in the visuals (though they are extensive) but in the music itself. I was originally going to make a post of every awesome ’70s and ’80s track the show uses, but I decided there should be more focus on the synth score from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. The show’s been out a few weeks, and the theme has already been remixed in impressive ways.


This remix by MATEUS seems only slightly changed from the original and I believe it’s because the original just might be one of the most perfect pieces of scored music in a very long time. There’s no need to dress it up beyond adding drum flourishes, because it’s already pretty damn complete.

As you can probably guess, I’m pretty obsessed with this song and it’s because it, and the music of Stranger Things, may have been one of the most important characters in the entire show. The suspense and horror would have still been there without it, but the show wouldn’t have been as good. The score, a clear tip-of-the-hat to old ’80s horror, immerses us in the world of 1980s Indiana by remaining consistent over the course of the series. We subconsciously learn the musical cues and are primed for scenes by the synth tracks created by Dixon and Stein. In time, they become all too familiar and set us up for each scene. This suspense only leads to a deeper investment in what happens to the kids and the people of Hawkins.

The song has now become so familiar that it’s still recognizable even when slowed down to a crawl.


Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s synth music, but there aren’t many songs that can still seem coherent when slowed down 500%.

Now, this shouldn’t serve to downplay the the hits of that era that play their part in pivotal moments of the show, but those still have the ability to take us out of the show momentarily. Hearing a song like The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is always great and certainly feeds the narrative of the show, but our minds (or at least mine) will inevitably connect that to the real world and pull us away from the kids, Eleven, and the Upside Down. The “character” of the synth score has the ability to be a reminder of only our experience watching Stranger Things. Much like how hearing Ennio Morricone’s theme to 1982’s The Thing can bring you back to being the terrified little boy you once were that one time you insisted you were cool enough to watch the movie with your older brothers. Oh, why’d we have to watch it during a snowstorm!?

Alright, I’m a big boy now; let’s not allow horrifying memories to derail the article. Let’s finish it up with an incredibly spot-on cover of the theme played in real-time on hardware synths by Wandertalk.

One of the coolest things about the Stranger Things score and how it was made to sound like it’s straight from 1983 is that, in 2016, there’s nothing else like it. It scratches all the right itches in our brains for how much we loved The Thing, Alien, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Firestarter, Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Explorers, and of course E.T. while skipping over the last few decades of cinema that went on to using different forms of scored music. It may seem contradictory to say, but it’s a refreshing and new take on something we find so familiar.

What are your favorite musical moments of Stranger Things? What other movie scores have been burned into your brains? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

Image: Netflix


Blake Rodgers writes for Nerdist from Chicago, IL where he lives happily with his Guinness World Record for High Fives. You can be his pal by following him on Twitter (@TheBlakeRodgers)

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