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The 'Stranger Things' effect: which TV shows have brought back nostalgic hits?

Olly Alexander made 'It's a Sin' a second round hit with his cover with Elton John
Olly Alexander made 'It's a Sin' a second round hit with his cover with Elton John   -   Copyright  Jordan Strauss/Invision
By Tim Gallagher

The world is still waiting with baited breath to find out the ending of Netflix’s hit show ‘Stranger Things’. But whether the monsters of the Upside Down or the plucky gang from Hawkins triumph in the end the series already has one unexpected winner; Kate Bush.

‘Stranger Things’ has long been lauded for its 80s nostalgia and cult-film and TV references, but it’s the soundtrack to the undeniably traumatic lives of its characters which really gives it the edge.

One of Netflix’s most treasured original series, ‘Stranger Things’ already has form for revitalising nostalgic hits.

In 2017 the Hawkins end of year prom brought Cyndi Lauper’s classic ‘Time After Time’ to a fresh audience, and last season's hilarious rendition of ‘Never Ending Story,’ performed by Giorgia Moroder took TikTok by storm.

This time around it’s Bush’s classic ‘Running Up That Hill’ that’s getting the ‘Stranger Things’ treatment, with the track reentering the UK charts at no. 8, 37 years after its release.

“You might’ve heard that the first part of the fantastic, gripping new series of 'Stranger Things’ has recently been released on Netflix,” Bush, who is famously reclusive, wrote in a rare message on her website.

“It features the song, ‘Running Up That Hill’ which is being given a whole new lease of life by the young fans who love the show - I love it too! Because of this, 'Running Up That Hill' is charting around the world and has entered the UK chart at No. 8. It’s all really exciting!

“Thanks very much to everyone who has supported the song. I wait with baited breath for the rest of the series in July,” the 'Wuthering Heights' singer added.

But is ‘Stranger Things’ an outlier in revamping nostalgic tracks for a new audience? Over the years period pieces and cast covers have brought treasured originals back into the public consciousness, allowing recording artists to benefit from a listening landscape revolutionised by streaming and social media.

Let’s take a look at some of the old-school bangers that have made it back into the charts in an age of prestige TV.

Don’t Stop Believin', Glee

Matt Sayles/AP
The cast of Glee brought Journey back into the charts, the show is soon to be shown on Disney+Matt Sayles/AP

2009 was a different time, before COVID, before Netflix and when Twitter had roughly a fifth of the users it has now. In those hazy days Ryan Murphy wrote the pilot for a show about a plucky group of outcast musical theatre enthusiasts who were members of the Glee Club.

To finish off the pilot episode viewers watched Rachel, Kurt, Mercedes and the gang as they sang a rendition of ‘Don’t Stop Believin'' to a nearly empty auditorium.

In the following months the Journey track, which had already been in the US Top 10 after playing on reality TV show ‘Laguna Beach,’ was back in the charts again. The ‘Glee’ cover was propelled to #4 in the US Charts (four places higher than Journey’s version) and every ‘Glee’ fan has been humming it ever since.

It’s a Sin, It’s a Sin

Jonathan Short/AP
Is there going to be a second season of It's a Sin?: Season 1 got the Pet Shop Boys track noticed on SpotifyJonathan Short/AP

In the depths of a deep winter lockdown who would have thought that a drama about the HIV/AIDS epidemic would capture UK audiences?

‘It’s a Sin’ was written by queer television creator and ‘Doctor Who’ revamper Russell T Davies and told the story of a ragtag band of gay men (and one woman) as they navigated one of the worst periods in queer history.

As audiences shed tears over a lost generation, the show’s titular song (originally released by the Pet Shop Boys in 1987) entered the playlists of UK audiences in a manner not seen for 40 years.

Streams of ‘It’s a Sin’ in the UK went up 249% in the wake of the show, according to the Official Charts company, while a cover released by Elton John and Years & Years (whose lead singer Olly Alexander starred in the show) reached the top spot in the UK Top 40.

Simply the Best, Schitt’s Creek

Invision/AP
Creators of Schitt's Creek Eugene and Daniel LevyInvision/AP

Beloved Canadian sitcom ‘Schitt’s Creek’ told the story of a down-on-their-luck wealthy family pitching up in a small Ontario town.

In the later seasons a central romance blossomed between highly-strung son David and his business-partner-cum-newly-out-boyfriend Patrick, played by Patrick Reid.

In one memorable scene David’s eccentric mother Moira watches on as her son is serenaded by his partner singing a cover of Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ in the general store they own together.

With not a dry eye in the house, Reid’s cover shot to #1 on iTunes Canada Soundtrack Chart. Not bad for a small town boy.

Tomorrow Never Knows, Mad Men

Chris Pizzello/AP
Was Jon Hamm in Mad Men?: The show was a nostalgic fear but one song it used set tongues waggingChris Pizzello/AP

The alcoholism, workplace harassment and sharp suits of ‘Mad Men’ all made viewers nostalgic (or not) for the 1950s, but it was in its 1960s era that the show made its most iconic references.

Joan’s beehive loosened up, Roger Sterling’s daughter ran away to a commune, and in one memorable moment Don Draper’s young, would-be actress wife told him to listen to the Beatles.

‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ the sitar-infused record that Don drops the stylus onto, brought back memories for Beatles fans everywhere, and brought a new music genre to the fore for millennial viewers.

‘Mad Men’ studio Lionsgate reportedly paid €233,000 to play the track, a coup for Apple Corps and other beneficiaries of the Beatles’ back catalogue.