For the more eagle-eyed fans of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things, you may have noticed the classic song hidden in the first episode of season four. Well, after making it through the flashback opening sequence, but during the start of the episode proper, we get a pop music needle drop.
That would be ‘California Dreamin’, the sunny and indelible hit single originally released by The Mamas and the Papas. A top-five hit during early 1966, the song worked as the key connector to remind anyone who might have forgotten that Eleven, Will, Jonathan, and Joyce all moved to the Golden State at the end of the third season.
In fact, even if you couldn’t hear it, you would have still been told that ‘California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas was playing as we first enter El’s room. The subtitles for the episode credit the needle drop to the folk-rock quartet, but that’s not actually the version that’s being played in the episode.
Instead, the Duffer Brothers elected to use the 1986 cover version of the song by The Beach Boys in place of the original. The substitution is understandable: the cover came out in 1986, the same year that the fourth season of Stranger Things takes place.
If you really wanted to read into it, maybe the exhalation of the original would have been out of place for someone like El, who is faking her way through enjoying her new surroundings. What better way to underscore fakeness than a past-their-prime Mike Love-helmed Beach Boys?
Whatever way you want to interpret the song’s usage, ‘California Dreamin’ is most assuredly not what El is doing when we meet her at the start of season four. Maybe she can pick up the pieces and learn to love the state by the end, but it seems unlikely – all the action seems to be heading back to Hawkins, Indiana for the final two episodes.