This Halloween season, my four-year-old son discovered Ghostbusters. That means I’ve spent much of the last few weeks sitting through endless screenings of the 1984 original (“Ghostbusters boys”), its 1989 sequel (“Two Ghostbusters”), and the 2016 reboot which is honestly not as bad as the Internet wants you to think (“Ghostbusters ladies”). But it also means that I’ve spent a lot of time in the car, driving to and from daycare, listening to the soundtracks of those films and pondering their respective merits. And I’ve come to a conclusion that may be controversial: Ray Parker, Jr.‘s theme for the original movie is not the best Ghostbusters theme song. Instead, that honor goes to “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters II, performed by Mr. Bobby Brown.
Now before you object, let me clarify a few things: this is not about the relative merits of the first two Ghostbusters films, between which I would probably still give the nod to the original (though I will say that Ghostbusters II is severely underrated). Nor is this about comparing the career-long achievements of Parker and Brown. I understand, of course, that Ray Parker, Jr. was a very accomplished session guitarist and songwriter; listen to his “Ghostbusters” purely on its own merits, however, and it’s…not that great. Even aside from the notorious similarities with “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and the News, the music is pedestrian at best (again, Huey Lewis), and as a singer, Parker is a very accomplished session guitarist and songwriter. The song has definite camp appeal, and the call-and-response chorus is tons of fun (just ask my four-year-old). I can definitely understand why it was a hit. But as far as listening to it outside of a Halloween party setting, it ranks somewhere below “Thriller” and above “Monster Mash.”
The appeal of “On Our Own,” on the other hand, isn’t strictly limited to its context. Sure, there’s the rap, which basically prefigured Will Smith’s whole late ’90s career by delivering a full synopsis of the film in a few rudimentary rhyming bars; but give or take a couple references to battling “Vigo, the master of evil,” it otherwise just sounds like a typical New Jack Swing song. And a pretty damn good one, at that: the track was written and produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, who certainly knew a thing or two about crafting New Jack Swing hits. Sometimes I even suspect that “On Our Own” wasn’t written for Ghostbusters at all, but is just a repurposed outtake from Don’t Be Cruel; its themes of going it alone are, after all, pretty close to Bobby’s usual “My Prerogative” wheelhouse.
Some, of course, might argue that the wide applicably of “On Our Own” is what makes it a weaker Ghostbusters song: if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, there’s nothing especially spooky about it. But I think it’s worth acknowledging the fact that Reid, Babyface, and Brown gave us a song that can work both as a Halloween staple and as an R&B hit more generally. Parker’s “Ghostbusters” is fun in the month of October; but “On Our Own” is a jam all year round. And besides, even if I’m wrong, then at least we can all agree that it’s better than the new Ghostbusters song. That one is straight garbage.