As it turns out, R&B musician Ray Parker Jr. is, in fact, afraid of ghosts—an admission he confessed to The Daily Beast last week during a visit to SXSW.
“I always have been afraid of ghosts—and spooky old hotels,” revealed Parker, whose iconic Ghostbusters theme song took the decade by storm, topped the charts in the U.S. and across the globe, and earned him an Academy Award nomination back in 1984.
Set to a funky ’80s synth beat, “Ghostbusters” was a game changer for the Detroit-born musician and made him one of the most famous sidemen to make it big in recording history. And while he was content enough before “Something strange… in the neighborhood” took him to the pop music stratosphere, he says he still loves the supernatural anthem that made his career.
“People say, ‘Aren’t you tired of the Ghostbusters song?’” said Parker, who says fans still come up to him “countless times, every single day” shout-singing, Who ya gonna call? “Absolutely not! It’s a wonderful thing. I thought I had done really well before and life was already wonderful. But for some reason this Ghostbusters thing was really, really huge. It went on and on, it never slows down, it never stops, all the kids still love it even today.”
Parker worked professionally as a musician for decades before he was tapped to whip up a song for Ivan Reitman’s supernatural comedy about misfit parapsychologists catching ghosts in New York City. In his teens, he’d played guitar for Bohannon, The Spinners, and Marvin Gaye before linking up with his future mentor, Stevie Wonder, at the tender age of 18—a fruitful run documented in the SXSW film Hired Gun, about the unsung session musicians of rock and pop history.
Parker then went on to work with superstars like Aretha, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross. In 1978 he took a shot at center stage with his titular band Raydio, whose disco-flecked R&B hit “Jack and Jill” went gold, before he went solo.
He was working with New Edition on the lover’s jam “Mr. Telephone Man” (“Mr. Telephone Man, there’s something wrong with my line / when I dial my baby’s number, I get a click every time”) when he got the call for Ghostbusters, which came with a very specific request: The song had to include the word “ghostbusters.”
“I only had a few days, because the film was coming out and they needed somebody to write a song very quickly,” Parker remembered. He ended up writing it in just a few days, a testament to the procrastinators of the world.
“In school I was one of those kids who waited until the last moment to do my homework,” Parker laughed. “I had two weeks to do the recording. I waited until Friday, Saturday night and then it was Monday. Maybe if I had two or three weeks to do it, it wouldn’t have happened!”
Ironically, he found himself at the Academy Awards up against Wonder, who won for “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” “He had never won an Oscar,” said Parker, chuckling to himself. “He was awfully quiet that day, I’ll tell you that. If I had won the Oscar and he didn’t win, I don’t know that we could still be friends.”
Parker also starred in the memorable “Ghostbusters” music video, also directed by Reitman, in which he chased a leggy blonde around a neon-infused haunted house and danced down Broadway with stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson. Filled with random celebrity cameos, the video landed in heavy rotation on MTV. Five years later, a post-New Edition Bobby Brown would follow suit and hit the charts with his Ghostbusters 2 song “On Our Own,” one of the greatest movie tracks of all time.
Over the decades (and through a legal tussle with Huey Lewis, who accused Parker of lifting the melody from his “I Want A New Drug” and later settled out of court) the Ghostbusters theme has endured, ingrained into the fabric of our aural pop landscape. But even Parker wasn’t sure if it would make it into Sony’s upcoming female-led Ghostbusters reboot starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones—until, that is, he watched the first trailer.
“I heard the piano go ‘doo doo doo doo doo-doo’ and I thought to myself, boy, it must be a really recognizable melody if you can just hit a few notes on a piano and everybody still knows what it is,” he said. “So that part was nice! And at that moment I thought, ‘Well, I guess they are going to use my song in the film!’”
Nowadays, Parker’s attentions are on producing and recording, with projects ranging from the upcoming LeAnn Rimes album to his own next release (“It’ll be a funky record… to me it sounds like we’re in 1983”). In 2016, as he did three decades ago under the guidance of Clive Davis, Parker makes music about the ladies. “My songs are still about women, love, and romance,” he said. “Somebody’s gotta do it! I’m not a gangsta rapper or anything, I don’t want to bring down the police, none of that stuff. I don’t care. I’m not a politician. I like girls.”
As a child of the ’80s, in hindsight I can now see that the family-friendly Ghostbusters theme song was clearly filled with dirty, dirty, double entendre—a revelation I brought up to Parker.
“Slightly, yes!” he teased. “The words are very simple for kids, but adults, they can read a couple of other things into it.”
I mean—‘Bustin’ makes me feel good’…? “That’s self-explanatory!” he laughed. “Everybody likes that line.”