More ‘Ghostbusters’ Trouble

The much-maligned movie's misfortunes are multiplying with a new, bad theme song

by Greg Hartman | Updated 28 Jun 2016 at 12:12 PM

Fans of the original “Ghostbusters” have a lengthy litany of gripes about the July 15 reboot — complaints the classic comedy didn’t need a reboot; back-and-forth sniping about the female cast; allegations of racism among the crew and derision for the trailer, which was panned even by enthusiastic supporters such as director Kevin Smith.

“Oh, it’s bad. Hauntingly bad.”

Now they’ve got a new effigy to burn: “Ghostbusters (I’m Not Afraid),” a Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliott collaboration.

It’s a soulless, nerve-scraping remix of the beloved, catchy original theme — one the “CIA will soon be using to torture detainees,” as Consequence of Sound’s Alex Young put it.

Los Angeles Times writer Randall Roberts was even more harsh: “Oh, it’s bad. Hauntingly bad.” So bad that if you “locked it in a safe and buried it under the Empire State Building, [it] would still flatulently seep to the surface to torture millions.”

Time’s Melissa Locker opined that at best, the song might “inspire some ninth-grader to timidly pump their fists in the air before adding the track to their emo-goth playlist.”

Polygon’s Julia Alexander was more charitable, saying it’s “not quite as terrible as Vanilla Ice’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2’ song.” Talk about damning with faint praise.

With the song lambasted as a freezer-burned rehash, it’s easy to forget the beloved classic generated plenty of its own scorched-earth fallout: three lawsuits that are still drawing blood 31 years later.

In January, 1984, Huey Lewis and the News' album "Sports" was churning its way up the charts, headed for No. 1 and a 7x Platinum rating, and spawning four top-10 singles.

One of those singles, "I Want a New Drug," caught the ears of producers for "Ghostbusters," scheduled for release that summer. They wanted Lewis for their theme song, and were so confident he'd jump at the chance they'd gone as far as including "I Want a New Drug" as placeholder music in some scenes. But Lewis dashed that confidence with his answer: No thanks. He already had a full calendar, including soundtrack work for "Back to the Future."

After some scrambling, they tapped Ray Parker Jr. for the job instead, giving him the screenplay, footage samples — including the scenes featuring "I Want a New Drug" — and a three-day deadline. Parker rose to the challenge with the corny-but-iconic "Who ya gonna call?" chorus. It was a runaway success, hitting No. 1 and garnering Parker an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

Huey Lewis took issue with the term "original," however, claiming the melody and bass line were blatant ripoffs from "I Want a New Drug," and sued. The suit dragged on until 1995 with an out-of-court — and confidential — settlement.

But in 2001 the song sparked another lawsuit when Lewis, in VH1's Behind the Music, revealed he'd received $5 million from Columbia:

"The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker Jr. had ripped this song off," Lewis said, adding his gripe had been with an industry that assumed it could buy anything, even if it wasn't for sale. "In the end, I suppose they were right. I suppose it was for sale, because, basically, they bought it."

Ray Parker Jr. sued Lewis, citing breach of confidentiality, plus the requisite emotional distress. They settled out of court again — so far respecting the confidentiality clause this time.

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But the fun isn't over yet.

In 2013, Parker filed yet another suit against EMI and Sony/ATV Music, announcing they'd been ripping him off for years. The suit claims the "Ghostbusters" theme generated a cool $20 million of the film's revenue, of which Parker was entitled to 75 percent. And that wasn't even accounting for its inclusion in dozens of videogames, hundreds of other movies and TV shows, and a slew of covers, by bands from Run-D.M.C. to Hoobastank.

Meanwhile, the new "Ghostbusters "and its new theme song have big shoes to fill. Maybe the movie will survive crossing streams with the original and kill it at the box office.

On the other hand, Hollywood's never been shy about running franchises into the ground with endless sequels, prequels, spinoffs, ripoffs, and reboots. That alone has predisposed many to despise the movie sight unseen.

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