The Ghostbuster Theme Song: A History

Ray Parker Jr.EXPAND
Ray Parker Jr.
YouTube screengrab

Last weekend saw the opening of the long-awaited new Ghostbusters movie. In a world where remakes and reboots have become increasingly more and more prevalent, with the growing trend of beloved franchises becoming “darker” and “grittier” to the point of their source material being unrecognizable, it’s refreshing how much the new Ghostbusters film maintains the spirit of the original. A big part of that is perhaps in thanks to the reboot retaining one of the original’s biggest contributions to pop culture: the “Ghostbusters” theme song.

Since its original release back in 1984, no Halloween playlist worth its weight in candy would be complete without its inclusion. Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” is a synth-heavy bit of perfection the world wouldn’t be the same without. Interestingly enough, it almost didn’t exist. The original choice to compose a theme for the film allegedly was Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Having just created the surprise soundtrack hit “Holiday Road” for National Lampoon’s Vacation, he became very in-demand in the film industry to make another quintessential soundtrack staple. Understandably not wanting to be pigeonholed, he passed.

Parker was given the chance to create an original tune, with the direction it had to be upbeat and contain the word “Ghostbusters,” and a deadline of about 48 hours. Racking his brain for a rhyme, he caught a middle-of-the-night commercial for local exterminators that inspired him to create the song as something of a brief jingle. Once it scored with the film’s creators, it became synonymous with the movie. The song went to the top of the charts, pulling three weeks at number one and was such an irresistible hit that Parker became one of the first black artists in rotation on MTV. It would go on to earn him an Academy Award nomination.

There has been much urban legend whispering surrounding the song’s similarities to Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Want a New Drug.” From testimonials from the crew stating the film’s original trailer was cut to “I Want a New Drug” to vague speculative comments of the studios wanting a “certain sound,” the songs have haunted each other for over three decades. There apparently was some sort of settlement in the ‘80s which Parker claims he himself doesn’t know the details of, but did receive substantial compensation when a non-disclosure clause between the parties involved was broken when Lewis referenced the lawsuit on the group’s 2001 episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. 

For Ghostbusters 2, an attempt to recreate and update the original’s success was made by Run-DMC. Very much at the midpoint between the phasing-out electro and rising hip-house movements in rap music at the time, it’s a strange curiosity that, for such a legendary group, isn’t typically remembered amongst their finest hours.

The uniqueness of the song’s structure, essentially a call-and-response faux-advertisement kept it alive as something of a punchline for a number of years, including the above SNL sketch where it’s referenced as a possible part of improvisational jazz riffing.

But the theme became such an indelible part of pop culture that, when the often nostalgia-leaning mash-up culture emerged, it became the basis for many of the most memorable turn-of-the-century creations. Our favorite is either the “Ghostbusters” additions to this remix of Mobb Deep’s “Got it Twisted that we’re stunned works every time we hear it or…

…more recently Neil Cicierega’s brilliant ground-up retooling of the entire song, titled “Bustin.” Absolutely brilliant how an entirely new track can be created from the original elements while still containing its fun vibe. The addition of an excellently cut video only further captures the track’s brilliance. This “Bustin’” truly makes us feel good.

Which brings us to Fall Out Boy’s Missy Elliot-assisted reworking of the theme song for the new film, “Ghostbusters (I’m Not Afraid).” Much has been written about the remake, little of it flattering. It weirdly feels like an entirely different song that somehow had the “Ghostbusters” lyrics shoe-horned into it. Ray Parker Jr. had nothing to do with it either, and has expressed that he wishes he had had some input on it. It’s perhaps also telling that, for as hyped as the track’s been, its presence in the actual film is kept to a minimum. Not since Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me” in 1998’s Godzilla has the touted major single created for a film been such an afterthought in its on-screen inclusion.

Despite the Fall Out Boy official remake, there’s still plenty of covers in existence that have delighted fans. The Halloween surprise Hoobastank made for fans a few years ago is one such heartfelt incarnation.

There’s also this one from Japanese that shows, no matter what the language, Ray Parker Jr. has made us not have to be afraid of no ghost.

Finally, we had to leave on this excellent mash-up with Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” solely based off of both being in the same key. If you need great Ecto Cooler sipping music, this is the track.


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