How ‘Stranger Things’ Orchestrated Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’
No one expected Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (Make a Deal With God)” to become one of the biggest hits of 2022, including musician Rob Simonsen, who arranged the orchestral version featured in season 4 of “Stranger Things.”
Because the song is featured prominently in the Netflix series — as Max, played by Sadie Sink, grieves her half-brother Billy’s death, hat vulnerability leaves her open to the show’s villain, Vecna, who preys on his victims through their trauma — and is used to soundtrack a pivotal moment, its resonance carries in large part due to its orchestral treatment.
The combination of the two — Bush’s 1985 classic and the instrumental version — helped push the song to top the U.K. charts, and the Top 5 in the U.S.
So how did the grafted instrumental come about?
While Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon served as the show’s composers, Simonsen was tasked by director and executive produceer Shawn Levy to write four orchestral pieces including one for “Running Up That Hill.” Says Simonsen: “’Running Up That Hill’ is my favorite Kate Bush song, and I got so excited about having to do this orchestral treatment for it.”
In putting the music together, Simonsen says he wanted the instrumental to feel almost like a lullaby which he achieved with the addition of a choir. It was all about hitting the right emotional tone. “There was a big juggernaut of a full orchestra with the song and giving it a lot of muscle in the penultimate scene as we fade out with the kids,” he says. “The choir is mostly singing the ‘oohs’ and there are beautiful melodic bits.”
For Simonsen, the ideal room in which to record the arrangement was London’s famous Air Studios. The perfect musicians? “The London contemporary orchestra. “I wrote for that space and that ensemble in mind because it’s a very special reverberant space that has pristine sound,” he says. “It sounds both clear and lush at the same time.”
See footage from the recording session below: