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Revisiting the (Very Weird) Original ‘Ghostbusters’ Soundtrack

An ode to a beautiful mid-’80s artifact

Getty Images
Getty Images

Let us speak now of the single greatest musical cue in ’80s cinema. Yes, it’s in the original Ghostbusters. No, not Ray Parker Jr.’s ebullient and legally ill-advised theme song, which is delightful, obviously, but no. Nor is it Air Supply’s treacly power ballad “I Can Wait Forever,” which is only in the movie for a second and might not even make your personal Treacly Air Supply Power Ballad Top Five. (It’s certainly no “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.”)

Look, here. It’s this:

Amazing. Behold the sights and sounds and, somehow, luxuriant smells of chillwave being born. Mick Smiley’s pornographically ethereal “Magic” gets a full 90 seconds of screen time as we bathe in the finest special effects 1984 has to offer: a sperm-like spectral infusion swirling above the NYC skyline, a shrieking white bat-like apparition emerging from the subway, a Cryptkeeper-like dude commandeering a taxi, Rick Moranis staggering around looking disheveled, etc. Slimer rising from a food cart with a mouthful of hot dogs is a particularly indelible image.

Plus you get a demonically possessed (and magnificently rouged) Sigourney Weaver basically making her own private Kate Bush video, which is a super-erotic triangulation for some of you, I presume. Please keep me out of it.

Meanwhile, “Magic” is a jam, a sumptuous soft-rock drone with an addictive baby-cowbell pulse that Lil B, or Lil Yachty, or A$AP Rocky really ought to have jumped on by now. The full song is absolutely worth your time: a sonic diptych, if you will. A suite! A buffet of Reagan-era seduction techniques. The first half is an explicit (but not quite legally actionable) “In the Air Tonight” rip with extremely corny lyrics — “I never felt this with a woman, any woman” — and a fake-Springsteen power-chord chorus that the movie wisely avoids entirely. But the abrupt second-half pivot is startling onscreen and off, Mick’s voice dropping to a softie-tough-guy murmur as he coaxes us gently Cinemax-ward:

My baby told me once

My baby told me twice

My baby told me three times

Three times nice

Please

Please

Please

Yoy. Take a minute to compose yourself. But, uh, who is this guy, and what is he doing sitting across from you in your bathtub? Please enjoy this fantastically terse 2011 interview with Mick Smiley, who is justifiably low-key pissed that “Magic” did not score him a record deal, and that MTV never deigned to play the song’s classy diner-set, interracial-romance video, wherein he employs his trenchcoat, poofy hair, fearsome dimples, and B+ lip-syncing abilities to maximum sensual effect.

Mick’s other brush with greatness was writing Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” which is super-amazing, though to him, uh-huh, it ain’t no big thang. Say hello if you see him, but per that interview, don’t ask him to do a Q&A, maybe. (Q: “How often do ‘Magic’ fans locate you?” A: “They don’t.” OK! Those were all the questions I had!)

The Ghostbusters soundtrack in full is a pleasingly strange and eclectic beast, rubbing shoulders with such titans of the ’80s grab-bag OST as Footloose (“Let’s Hear It for the Boy”!) and Top Gun (“Take My Breath Away”!) and, sure, Dirty Dancing (“Hungry Eyes”!). I can personally attest to the fact that Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is the coolest possible piece of music to a 6-year-old, far superior to Huey Lewis and the News’s “I Want a New Drug,” which unnerved me due to Huey’s intimidating animal magnetism and the word drug in the title. (I took my DARE classes seriously.) “Ghostbusters” remains the only acceptable context in which to speak or sing the words, “Bustin’ makes me feel good,” so be grateful, and please honor any confidentiality agreements you may have signed.

You also get a dorky, rollicking blues number from the Bus Boys probably included at Dan Aykroyd’s insistence, a third-tier Thompson Twins song that sounds suspiciously like the Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, and some innocuous instrumental stuff. If you’re streaming this action, alas, Spotify and Tidal at least will cruelly deny you the pleasure of the identical-twin duo Alessi Brothers’ stirring Jazzercise jam “Savin’ the Day” and Laura Branigan’s extra-stirring flashdance jam “Hot Night”; you’re resourceful, though, and it’s worth honoring the full track list’s original intent. It’s a journey. The death of the Movie Soundtrack Era (the ’90s had its moments, too, for sure) is a huge drag. Dig this, man.

Yes, the best thing about 1989’s Ghostbusters II by orders of magnitude is Bobby Brown’s astounding “On Our Own,” which I will claim is Bobby’s finest hour if I’m feeling salty enough.

Whatever your opinion of the troll-beleaguered new movie, the soundtrack has the same, uh, anarchic spirit, which is to say the words “Fall Out Boy (ft. Missy Elliott)” are involved.

Yeah, that’s terrible, sorry, and it’s keeping very weird company here. G-Eazy? Zayn? Elle King? Passion Pit and A$AP Ferg, together at last? God bless. We all gotta eat. There is a cozy and familiar randomness to this, but a crossover-minded desperation, too. So here’s one aspect of the 1984 Ghostbusters worth valorizing, and preserving. Walk the Moon is no match for dear old Mick Smiley; synergy is not the same thing as magic.