It’s Only Supernatural: A Look Back at the “Ghostbusters” Soundtrack

Alex Koenig collects spores, molds, and fungus. Among the many nadirs of Ghostbusters star and co-writer Harold Ramis’ (AKA the film’s Egon Spengler) recent passing was that he didn’t live to...
By    February 26, 2014

GhostbustersSoundtrackcdbioAlex Koenig collects spores, molds, and fungus.

Among the many nadirs of Ghostbusters star and co-writer Harold Ramis’ (AKA the film’s Egon Spengler) recent passing was that he didn’t live to see his comedy turn 30 years old. Used by the eccentric parapsychologist characters of Ramis, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, the supernatural-suctioning equipment deserves to be permanently enshrined behind Plexiglass in the humor hall of fame, next to Back to the Future’s flux capacitors and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s cherry-red Ferrari. The animation, innovative in 1984, has an anachronistic but never cheesy charm when watched today. It’s an ageless motion picture that could have only been made during its time, and it continues to rightly deserve cherishment.

Nonetheless, with the exception of the film’s theme song – A Grammy-Nominated number that baby boomers probably sung more than the National Anthem, and has spawned more parodies than the Lonely Island—the rest of the soundtrack’s impact often appears to fall by the wayside. Even the AllMusic review myopically suggested that the film’s OST “follows the most common soundtrack formula for summer blockbuster hits: throw on a bunch of pop songs that were heard in the movie only for a few seconds, combine them with a couple of excerpts from the original score, and — voila! — you have a soundtrack album.”

Not every composition on Ghostbusters is essential to music history, but nearly every one is essential to the movie’s plot larks and triumphs. When the specter-crusading trio’s ghost containment grid is deactivated, unleashing hundreds of captured ghosts onto the city, Mick Smiley’s “Magic” goes on. It’s one of the film’s most radiant scenes, the song subtlety mocking the characters’ misfortune, as if to say, “Ha! Welcome to certain doom, peons.” Then there’s Elmer Bernstein’s gorgeous “Dana’s Theme,” a fluttering suite of romantic strings as intoxicating as unrequited passion. Bernstein’s moody score is the secret weapon that produces enchanted mayhem into the monsters, and raw pathos into the people.

Even the less necessary selections pay their dues. Spun in the background of Lewis’ client party is the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno,” a perfectly fine but overplayed ‘70s hit that regrettably doubles as Dance Music 101 for Bar Mitzvah DJs. The BusBoys’ “Cleanin’ Up The Town” is a track by a run-of-the-mill soul and R&B-tethered rock band whose legacy dovetails as the opening act for Eddie Murphy’s raunchy stand-up special Delirious, and as Saturday Night Live musical guests. Remove those from their scenes, however, and the film’s structure topples. You couldn’t imagine Ghostbusters-–or the 1980s, for that matter—without them.

If you yearn for the gold standard of cinematic gags, Ghostbusters will always answer your call. But next time you watch it, unclog the slime from your ears and pay attention to the tunes. Because they’re more than the glue that splices the scenes together; they’re stand-alone works of art that at their best, can scope as high as the flick’s Sumerian shape-shifting super-villain Gozer the Gozerian. Ghostbusters has received demigod status, and even if its score and soundtrack haven’t made an impact of biblical proportions, they should earn a modest appreciation. After all, that’s what Egon would have wanted.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!