Revisiting the Ghostbusters Soundtrack

I was in the shower recently and found myself humming a few bars of Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own.” The fact that I was humming the somewhat obnoxious and catchy single from Ghostbusters II meant that I had to do what I did as a disappointed 9-year-old who had just bought the Ghostbusters II CD: listen to the original soundtrack and hope that Ray Parker Jr.’s anthemic theme song would wash away the mediocrity.

I’ll admit to being biased, since the first film is one of my all-time favorites. Ghostbusters is a fun movie that in many ways shouldn’t have worked, especially when one considers that the movie was originally conceived by Dan Aykroyd as a serious science fiction film with some comedic elements. Director/producer Ivan Reitman liked the concept but told Aykroyd it needed a major overhaul. Enter SCTV veteran Harold Ramis to lend a hand, and a winning screenplay was forged. The movie would ultimately gross almost $300 million and young’uns like me clamored for a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man toy. Before any of that, however, I remember receiving my cassette copy of the soundtrack for Christmas of ’84 (there would be no action figures until The Real Ghostbusters cartoon in 1986). The soundtrack was good enough, based mainly on the strength of Ray Parker Jr.’s iconic title song.

Which is what makes this revisitation over 25 years later so interesting. While the soundtrack has a couple of awesome songs, it also feels very utilitarian. For instance, even with the two Elmer Bernstein pieces and the theme instrumental, there are only a total of ten tracks! In retrospect, it’s amazing how much of an afterthought the album feels like, considering how many pop stars are featured on the Ghostbusters II soundtrack.

I was in the shower recently and found myself humming a few bars of Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own.”

Still, there’s that kickoff song. From the first spooky synth opening notes, it would become synonymous with ’80s pop culture and intertwined in the fabric of the Ghostbusters franchise. Megastar Huey Lewis—upon discovering “Ghostbusters” resembled one of his songs—would even share the wealth and give the song to Ray Parker Jr. to remodel into a song about how good it feels to bust ghosts. Well… not quite, but that’s another story.

One could not ask for a better theme song that encompasses the creepy, comedic and outright ’80s stamp than “Ghostbusters.” It’s no wonder Ray Parker Jr. received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song!

The follow-up track from The BusBoys, “Cleanin’ Up The Town,” evokes fond memories of the sequence where

the Ghostbusters get their first call of a disturbance at the Sedgewick Hotel. Back in the early ’80s, The BusBoys were heavily promoted by Eddie Murphy when their song, “Boys Are Back in Town,” became a hit after appearing in Murphy’s breakthrough film 48 Hours. Fun fact: Eddie Murphy was originally considered for the role of Winston Zeddemore! Due to his commitment to filming Beverly Hills Cop, though, he bailed out of the role. If he was in the movie, who knows what kind of (in Bill Cosby’s words) “filth flarn filth” he might have added?

A good soundtrack should take you through the movie song for scene, but the Ghostbusters soundtrack throws the best at you right off the bat and then digresses into licensed music and the aforementioned excerpts from the excellent Elmer Bernstein score (a little redundant since that score is available as a separate release). Track three, the Alessi Brother’s “Savin’ the Day,” is memorable for leading into the final showdown sequence at Dana’s apartment building. After this we enter no man’s land with tracks by the Thompson Twins, Air Supply, and “Self Control” songstress Laurie Branigan. What’s weird about these tracks is that they all appear in the movie for what seems like a combined total of 30 seconds, mostly muffled in the background on a radio or played while cool ghost shit is happening. The weirdest track is probably Mick Smiley’s “Magic.” You remember the scene backed by this song: the ghosts have escaped the Containment Unit and are causing all kinds of mayhem around the city. Oddly enough, that’s only the last two minutes of the song! The first two minutes and twenty seconds are basically a Danny Elfman meets Phil Collins meditation. It almost seems like Smiley realizes the track is boring and changes the keyboard pattern to kick it into its memorable, sinister second gear.

The Elmer Bernstein tracks, “Main Title” and “Dana’s Theme,” are both wonderful. The former is a Manhattan daytime street soliloquy circa 1984 and the latter a romantic yet spooky evocation of Sigourney Weaver—an oddly appropriate combo. While these tracks are padding, they’re a rewarding treat after a confusing middle section. The “Ghostbusters” instrumental at the end is an appropriate bookend. The track even includes the weird breakdown music from the scene where it’s implied that Ray is receiving a BJ from a sexy, floating ghost lady.

While not perfect, the Ghostbusters soundtrack does have moments that match the awesomeness of the movie. For the 21st century connoisseur, it’s about $4-$5 worth of downloads from iTunes. Sad but true, it is not necessary to the overall album experience to listen to Air Supply’s “I Can Wait Forever.” Funny enough, Arista even rereleased the album in 2006 with two bonus tracks: “Disco Inferno,” from the scene where Lewis is having his awesome client party and an extended version of “Ghostbusters.”

Moments of wonderful nostalgia were had while revisiting this soundtrack album, but sadly these feelings were not sustained through every track. It has inspired me to listen to more soundtracks from my youth, though!

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