The use of The Clash’s 1982 hit single, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” in “Stranger Things” is a great example of why there’s a new Emmy category this season honoring the creativity of the music supervisor. The Duffer Brothers inserted the song into their ’80s sci-fi script to emotionally connect the Indiana family that’s separated by the Upside Down dimension. However, if Emmy-nominated music supervisor Nora Felder hadn’t convinced The Clash of its importance, the Duffers would’ve had to find a replacement.
Fortunately, the “Stranger Things” showrunners (Matt and Ross Duffer) were never aware there was even a problem obtaining the licensing rights. “It was my job to protect them,” said Felder Thursday night during a Q&A panel discussion. “They were worried about trivializing the song and needed to see how it was going to be used in scenes, and for the first time I put my English lit background to use,” she added.
Convincing The Clash
Felder convincingly offered a series of brief descriptions describing why the song was meaningful to Will (Noah Schnapp), and how he used it to communicate with his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) when he’s trapped in the Upside Down. Felder used the same method in acquiring the rights to other iconic ’80s songs (including “Go Nowhere” by Reagan Youth, “Deck the Halls” by Chicks with Hits, and “Raise a Little Hell” by Trooper).
But, of course, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” stands out as a thematic thread throughout Felder’s Emmy-nominated episode, “Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street,” which continues the search for Will while developing the relationship with El (Millie Bobby Brown), the mysterious girl with psychokinetic powers.
Will’s older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) hears the song on his car radio, and there’s a flashback where he introduces Will to the song to drown out their screaming parents fighting offscreen. Jonathan tells Will it’s going to “totally change your life,” which it does in unsuspecting ways.
The Life Changing “Should I Stay or Should I Go”
A song about breakup, The Clash anthem takes on different emotional meaning in “Stranger Things”: “Should I stay or should I go now?/Should I stay or should I go now?/If I go, there will be trouble/And if I stay it will be double/So come on and let me know…”
Toward the end of the episode the song takes on greater importance. Joyce receives another call from Will. But she can’t speak to him and becomes frightened by flickering lights. Then she hears the song coming from Will’s room. She investigates and gets her first glimpse of the monster from the Upside Down coming through the wall. She runs out of the house, gets in the car, and hears the song again on the radio. Yet, instead of driving off, the song helps her summon the strength to return to the house.
Throughout the season, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” becomes a way of calming Will when he sings it in the Upside Down, and a way of reminding Joyce and Jonathan that he’s still alive, lifting their spirits as well.
Felder almost didn’t take the “Stranger Things” gig. She was too busy supervising several other shows, including “Ray Donovan” and “The OA.” But when nominated editor Kevin Ross tried to recruit her (they worked together on “Californication”), he told her that she’d only have to license one or two songs an episode. “It’s a good thing he lied to me,” Felder said.
The other nominees for music supervision include Thomas Golubic (“Better Call Saul” — “Sunk Costs”), Susan Jacobs (“Big Little Lies” — “You Get What You Need”), Manish Raval, Jonathan Leahy, Tom Wolfe (“Girls”— “Goodbye Tour”), and Zach Cowie, Kerri Drootin (“Master of None” — “Amarsi Un Po”).