When you’re making a “Stephen King book directed by Steven Spielberg” like Stranger Things, music is key. And one key piece of music in the first season almost didn’t happen.
Eleven returns in Stranger Things Season 2. Image: Netflix
Speaking at an event hosted by Variety, music supervisor Nora Felder admitted she had a difficult time getting permission to use the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The song plays a key role in the show, first as a bond between brothers, later as a sign from another dimension. But Felder said the rights holders didn’t want the song to be used as a joke in a show about “monsters from an alternative world.”
So to convince the rights holders, she pitched them that the song was not about monsters or other dimensions. It was about bonds between family. And every time there was a new use, she had to go back and explain again. “You don’t want anyone to think they’re trivialising your music or making fun of it,” she explained.
(“I didn’t know about any of this,” said co-creator Matt Duffer.)
Matt, along with his brother Ross, also explained at the event that the show was very close to never happening because of a shift in the industry. “Nobody wanted to hear movie ideas. They wanted to hear television ideas,” Matt said, recalling when they first started to pitch the idea.
So they revamped their pitch and swung for the fences, proposing an eight-hour version of the story that could work on television. And again, it wasn’t an instant sell, but Shawn Levy and his production company 21 Laps saw something special in the material, the filmmakers, and the way it could be watched.
“You could choose to take breaks,” Levy said of this long-form story. “But if you opted to watch it straight through, as many people have, we wanted it to feel of one unique piece of film that happens to be on a television screen.”
In the case of Stranger Things, it feels like you see a microcosm for why television is on the rise and movies are on a decline. Studios often see movies as big, expensive gambles, which is why they try to stick to tentpoles, franchises, and films that are as sure-bets as possible. Not to mention there are only a limited amount of movie screens for the studios to use. But just about everyone has a television, or a way to stream TV shows, and there’s no end to the amount of channels that need content. Somehow, that wide open space has allowed television to take more risks out of bare necessity. And it’s paid off.
And, when it comes to Stranger Things, which earned instant success, a massive fan base, and 18 Emmy nominations, all of it seems to have worked out.
Stranger Things season two premieres October 27 on Netflix. Let’s watch that awesome trailer one more time, which contains a very different (but equally difficult-to-license) piece of music.