30 Years Ago: Ray Parker Jr. Releases ‘Ghostbusters’
Thirty years ago, when the producers of the now-classic supernatural comedy ‘Ghostbusters’ were in the need for a catchy theme song for their nascent film, there was only one man they thought to call; Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Luckily, when that fell through they reached out to Detroit’s own Ray Parker Jr., who went on to write one of the most recognized title themes in cinema history.
Parker spent his earliest years in the music business as a sideman and session musician for some of the biggest names in soul and funk including Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock. In 1977, he formed and fronted the group Raydio, which went on to become quite a successful outfit. Just one year after their formation, they scored a top-ten hit with the song ‘Jack and Jill.’
After spending four years in Raydio, Parker decided to break up the band and go it alone. In 1982 he hit it big again with his song, ‘The Other Woman’ from the album of the same name. The single raced up the charts topping out at number four and established the singer as a major player in the early '80s music scene.
In 1984, the production team for the comedy ‘Ghostbusters’ were putting the final touches on their film and were casting about for someone to write the theme song. Their first thought, as alluded to above, was Lindsey Buckingham, who was friends with Harold Ramis, the co-writer of the movie as well as the actor portraying brainy Ghostbuster Egon Spengler in the film. However, Buckingham -- who had already contributed the song ‘Holiday Road’ for the film ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ -- was reluctant to get pegged as a soundtrack guy and turned them down.
With time running short, they turned to Parker, who agreed to take on the assignment. He soon discovered however, that what appeared to be an easy task from the outset was instead a much bigger challenge than he realized. As he mentioned in an interview with George Cole, “It sounds easy now because you've heard the song. But if somebody told you to write a song with the word ‘Ghostbusters’ in it, it's pretty difficult. That was the hard part -- getting the title in the song.”
Parker spent days trying to come up with a solution to this sticky situation, until either fate, some divine force or maybe even a metaphysical being intervened on his behalf. “I was dead, half-asleep — it's about 4:30 in the morning — and a commercial comes on,” he recalled to mixonline. “They flash this phone number, and it reminded me of a spot in the movie where the Ghostbusters have their packs on and they show a phone number, like they're advertising. And that was it! I came up with the idea of ‘Who you gonna call?’ And then I thought, there's no way you're going to sing ‘Ghostbusters’ in a song and make it sound good, so instead of singing it, I'd have a crowd answer me.”
After he turned it in, everyone agreed that it was a great song, but no one could have predicted the monster hit that it would become. "I like all my songs,” Parker stated. “But, obviously, the 'Ghostbusters' thing was so past being huge." The subsequent music video featured Parker decked out as a ghost haunting a pretty young woman while some of the biggest stars of the day chant the song's title.
Just a few months after its release, the single displaced the Prince track ‘When Doves Cry’ to take the top spot on the charts, where it remained for three consecutive weeks. It was even nominated for an Oscar, but lost out to Stevie Wonder’s mega-hit ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ from the film ‘The Woman in Red.’
‘Ghostbusters’ would go on to sell millions of copies on its way to full platinum certification. It also spawned a number of well-regarded remixes and covers, with the most notable coming from Run D.M.C. for the film’s sequel.
As movie theme songs go, there aren’t many that have reached the rarified air of success that ‘Ghostbusters’ has. Thirty years later it’s still enjoyed by children and adults alike. Some genius even thought to release a special 30th anniversary edition of the single on glow in the dark, slime-colored vinyl this past Record Store Day. Unsurprisingly, it was a big success, sending 'Ghostbusters' back up the charts yet again.