Ray Parker Jr vs Huey Lewis and the battle for ‘Ghostbusters’

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Being a one-hit wonder isn’t always a bad thing, especially if that one hit ends up becoming embedded into the cultural consciousness and remaining there for decades on end, which is exactly what happened to Ray Parker Jr when Ghostbusters was released.

The musician has been feasting on those royalties ever since, especially when Ivan Reitman’s classic supernatural comedy spawned an enduring multimedia franchise that’s encompassed sequels, reboots, TV shows, video games, toys, and plenty more besides.

It’s one of the most iconic and catchy theme songs any movie has ever been lucky enough to have, but not everyone was thrilled about it. Parker Jr definitely was after ‘Ghostbusters’ spent three weeks heading up the Billboard Hot 100 charts, sold millions of copies worldwide, and has been a fixture of all related media ever since. On the other hand, Huey Lewis was not best pleased.

Not long after Ghostbusters exploded into cinemas on June 8th, 1984, Lewis took legal action and sued Parker Jr for plagiarism, alleging he’d lifted the melody and bassline from his 1983 song ‘I Want a New Drug’. As the writer and producer of the track, Parker Jr was almost entirely liable if he were to be found guilty of stealing from another musician, and a settlement was ultimately reached.

The sum was undisclosed, and a confidentiality agreement was signed to ensure neither party spoke about the case in public. However, the bad blood nonetheless rumbled for decades. In a 2001 episode of Behind the Music per MTV, Lewis broke that clause when he referenced the litigation.

“The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker Jr had ripped this song off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something; they wanted our wave, and they wanted to buy it,” he said. “It’s not for sale. In the end, I suppose they were right. I suppose it was for sale, because, basically, they bought it.”

In response, Parker Jr sued Lewis for breaching the terms of the initial agreement, which ended with him receiving a payout that ran into the tens of thousands of dollars. Incidentally, it’s not as if Lewis was out of line accusing Ghostbusters of copying his compositions because some of the creatives involved with the movie basically admitted it.

It was confirmed that ‘I Want a New Drug’ was used as temp music when Ghostbusters was being pieced together, with Huey Lewis and the News even declining the chance to write the film’s theme song. When he was given the job, Parker Jr was given scenes with Lewis’ track as background music to inspire his own writing, so it’s little wonder it almost went to court.

‘Ghostbusters’ may have led to a war of words that spanned decades, then, but that’ll never detract from its status as one of cinema’s all-time great themes.

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