Watching Max listen to Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) by Kate Bush on the most recent season of Netflix series Stranger Things made me almost choke up.
Stranger Things has featured lots of great ‘80s music already - Material Girl by Madonna and Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Brixton Boys but to name a few. But Kate Bush is special because I love Kate Bush. I’ve loved her ever since my mum bought me a lilac-coloured vinyl called Hounds of Love. Watching one of her greatest songs take narrative and thematic centre stage in a major TV show was breathtaking.
That a Kate Bush song should get as much attention as Running Up That Hill has gotten is par for the course – she is a musical genius after all – but that it should get noticed via a show like Stranger Things is even more appropriate when you realise how perfectly they blend together. Stranger Things is a series primarily about the Cold War and ‘80s nostalgia, but it is also a show that predominantly features its characters playing tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, particularly in Season 4.
We’ve already touched on Stranger Things’ connection with D&D through Season 4’s main antagonist, Vecna, on Dicebreaker. However, there are plenty of other nods and references to the fantasy RPG throughout the latest season. The first episode has several major characters play a session of D&D together, juxtaposing an intense fight with a powerful enemy alongside a high school basketball match. The Upside Down is populated by all sorts of terrifying monsters reminiscent of creatures from Dungeons & Dragons’ universe. The different members of Stranger Things’ main cast also seem to favour D&D class-esque approaches, from Eleven’s sorcerer abilities to Eddie’s bard-like performance in the last episode.
If you listen through her discography, you’ll get the impression that she enjoys telling stories of the fantastical, the strange and the mystical.
It’s safe to say that Dungeons & Dragons is a major element of Stranger Things’ fourth season, and so is Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, but why exactly do these two cultural aspects work so well together?
Kate Bush has an exceptionally varied discography, with each new album bringing something different to the table. Running Up That Hill is taken from Hounds of Love, perhaps her most well-known album – and her best, in my humble opinion. Hounds of Love is a concept record that features most of the singles on its first side and uses its second side to tell the story of a woman lost at sea. The album itself is a revolutionary step in the evolution of progressive rock, with Bush using synthesizers, guitars, drum machines and orchestral music to inspire fear, wonder, sadness and more. All in all, it’s a masterpiece.
Besides her musical talent, Kate Bush is also an incredible lyricist. Her ability to brainstorm the weirdest ideas for songs possible certainly helps her stand out, with examples ranging from a cockney thief devising a bank heist (The Dreaming’s There Goes a Tenner) to a musical rendition of an entire section of James Joyce’s Ulysses (The Sensual World). If you listen through her discography, you’ll get the impression that she enjoys telling stories of the fantastical, the strange and the mystical. Whether it’s the terrifying possibility of an evil presence arising in Waking the Witch – found on Hounds of Love’s second side - or a woman seeking revenge against those who wronged her in The Wedding List from 1980’s Never for Ever, Bush has always been a storyteller, first and foremost.
There’s even a running joke in certain circles of Kate Bush fans that her many personas and characters could be sorted into different D&D classes.
Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 follow
Her music has an ethereal veneer about it, as if it comes from another world. Which is why it’s so fitting that it’s become connected to Dungeons & Dragons through Stranger Things. In Season 4, Max listens to Running Up That Hill in order to avoid being taken by Vecna in the Upside Down. The sounds of Bush’s voice and the rumbling drums of the music call Max back from the other plane - it’s easy to believe that it would work. Kate Bush’s music feels like it belongs in a land of monstrous creatures, magic and myths. There’s even a running joke in certain circles of Kate Bush fans that her many personas and characters could be sorted into different D&D classes, such as her camouflage for Army Dreamers being likened to a ranger or the cover of her second album Lionheart – wherein she’s wearing a lion suit – representing her druid form.
kate bush as dnd classes: a thread— johnny gin&tonic (@enotonik) September 22, 2020
paladin / cleric / ranger / bard pic.twitter.com/QAjU4eB0p1
Like Dungeons & Dragons, Bush’s music is designed to transport you to other places and introduce you to other people. Cloudbusting tells the story of a boy whose father invented a machine that can change the weather, Babooshka is the tale of wife who believes her husband is being unfaithful and Deeper Understanding puts us into the mind of a lonely person whose only companion is a computer. Though these stories likely wouldn’t appear in a traditional D&D campaign, they walk a similar line of the fantastical and the strange. Kate Bush doesn’t exactly write songs about adventuring parties defeating Beholders or raiding ancient tombs, but she does make storytelling music. And what is D&D about if not telling stories?
So, next time you play, be sure to whack on some The Kick Inside or The Sensual World before rolling your dice.