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Films > Ghostbusters > Score Album
Original Motion Picture Score Album
2006 Official Release
Liner Notes Essay


One of the seminal scores of the 1980s, Elmer Bernstein's work on Ghostbusters became an instantly loved genre classic upon its release in 1984. An epic score by any measure (and containing over 70 minutes of music), Bernstein's massive orchestral work far exceeded the call of duty. His "king of comedy" moniker of the time, while not necessarily one of the composer's more appreciated titles, was undeniably apt when considering his similarly astounding work on Airplane! (1980), Stripes (1981) and Trading Places (1983).

Ironically, in spite of the film's enormous success, the acclaim that greeted the score, and the eminence of its composer, the score for Ghostbusters went unreleased at the time. A theme or two appearing on a compilation CD is hardly representative. But the 1980s were a different time and the climate was far less hospitable to composers. Score releases were a decidedly rarer event. Even for the masters. And even in the wake of box office blockbusters. Be it Ghostbusters, Bernstein's own Stripes, Jerry Goldsmith's concluding chapter of the Omen Trilogy (The Final Conflict - 1981), Alan Silvestri's Back To The Future (1985), Bill Conti's The Karate Kid (1984) or Dave Grusin's The Goonies (1985), in many ways it was the best of times and the worst of times. Great films scores ... no soundtracks. But by the end of the decade things had improved considerably and in the years since, a great number of the past's oversights have been addressed.

Finally, just three years shy of the film's twenty-fifth anniversary, Elmer Bernstein's wondrously fun score for Ghostbusters makes its long overdue premiere. In absolutely glorious sound and featuring cues not heard since they were recorded, this release allows the full scope of Bernstein's work for the picture to be heard and appreciated for the very first time. This disc includes music from the film, music composed for the film but not used, and music composed for the album but not used.

Elmer Bernstein was always one of film music's greatest champions. He worked tirelessly to do his part to preserve not only his own music but also, where he could, and even using his own funds, the works of his esteemed colleagues. The composer's passing in 2004 left an unfillable void in the world of film music but with each new release we honor his memory, his great legacy, and his remarkable music. Following our recent releases of Stripes and Spacehunter, this premiere release of Ghostbusters rounds out the preservation of a remarkable set of Bernstein's unreleased scores of the early 1980s. The composer took comedy very seriously and Ghostbusters was eminently more fun because of it.

-- Robert Townson   


Ghostbusters became a pop culture phenomenon. The rallying cry "Who ya gonna call?" entered the nation's lexicon and the film proved to be a merchandising bonanza, with everything from T-shirts and stickers to dolls and Ghostbuster uniforms for Halloween. Film devotees could join the official fan club for $8.95 and Madison Avenue used the instantly recognizable logo in ads for airlines, video equipment, dental services, and real estate.

This unlikely science fiction comedy hit about a trio of bumbling scientists (Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis) who rid New York City of spooks and specters featured a very funny script by Ackroyd and Ramis, Sigourney Weaver as the love interest, and a supporting cast headed by Rick Moranis and Annie Potts. But the state-of-the-art special effects ballooned the budget to $32 million, and articles compared it to Heaven's Gate, the 1980 flop that had become the poster child for fiscal excess in Hollywood, even before the film opened.

But Ghostbusters earned $40 million in its first two weekends and eventually topped the year's box office, beating Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. With a take of $220 million, it also became the highest-grossing film ever for Columbia Pictures.

Because success breeds greed, everyone wanted a slice of the Ghostbusters pie and Columbia found itself embroiled in numerous lawsuits. The Harvey Group of comic book publications filed a complaint over the logo, Filmation Studios claimed prior ownership of the Ghostbusters title for one of its Saturday morning children's programs in development, and Huey Lewis & The News (who had been approached earlier to write the title song, but turned it down) made headlines when they filed a suit against Ray Parker, Jr., claiming his chart-topping composition had plagiarized their earlier hit, I Want A New Drug. The court ruled against The Harvey Group, Columbia and Filmation settled out of court, and the Huey Lewis/Ray Parker suit dragged on for 11 years, until the case was finally settled in 1995 with Parker forced to pay damages.

No one, however, took umbrage at Elmer Bernstein's score, which can finally be heard in its entirety on this CD.

Ghostbusters was the sixth collaboration between director Ivan Reitman and Bernstein. Reitman had even produced and directed Bernstein's 1983 Broadway music flop, Merlin, starring magician Doug Henning. The partnership was so strong that Bernstein was hired before the actors were even signed.

Though he had scored such schlock fare as Robot Monster and Cat Women Of The Moon in the early "lean times" of his career, Bernstein found scoring science fiction "a composer's holiday. It gives you such a wide range of things you can do and experiment with." One of those experiments concerned the use of early electronic instruments, including the Hammond organ and the novachord.

Thirty years later, those early days served him well when it came time to score Ghostbusters. Bernstein supplemented the standard orchestra with three Yamaha DX-7 synthesizers and the ondes martenot (which he had used the previous year in the Reitman-produced Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone), a rare French keyboard instrument that created eerie, wavering sounds similar to that of the theremin. The ondes was, as always, performed by world virtuoso Cynthia Millar.

As for the comedy, Bernstein was the obvious choice. Following a string of hits, including National Lampoon's Animal House, Meatballs, Airplane!, and Stripes (most of them with Reitman), Bernstein had become the undisputed "king of comedy." "I think one of the reasons that the [earlier comedy] scores work," said Bernstein at the time, "is that I do not denigrate the film. I don't try to do anything hokey, I don't try to make the music funny. My theory is that if the comedy is working in the film, let the film do the comedy, and let the music get behind the emotion or the action, so as to add another element. If I just made the music funny, then it's funny on funny - so what do you need the music for?"

But Ghostbusters provided a unique challenge for the composer. "Part of it is comedy, and yet you have to take the ghost business quite seriously," said Bernstein. "You have to believe, along with these guys, that the ghosts really do exist. Therefore the score also had to walk a very fine line. ... It was probably one of the most difficult jobs I ever had to do."

The main theme for the Ghostbusters was particularly difficult. "What I did with the theme for the guys was to get a kind of 'antic' theme," said Bernstein, "it's kind of cute, without being really way out." The memorable theme was played on the ondes martenot and muted trumpet, accompanied by a spry piano countermelody and an ambling tuba. In his review in Films On Screen & Video, David Stoner pointed out that the "perky main title theme [was] orchestrated and presented in such a way so as to place the proceedings firmly in a humorous position but reminding the listener that we are entering a world of unpleasant and malevolent spirits."

Bernstein was particularly fond of the love theme, though unfortunately "because of the way the pictures goes there was relatively little I could do with it." The theme is first heard on the cello (to match Sigourney Weaver's role as a classical cellist) and later taken over by the ondes martenot as the Ghostbusters enter her life and she is possessed by the demon, Zool. The theme, as a joyful waltz, provides a moment of unbridled joy as Murray twirls around the Lincoln Center fountain, celebrating his upcoming date with Weaver.

"The other element," said Bernstein, "was the last part of the film, all that stuff with the possession and the climax on the top of the building. I treated that in an awesome and mystical way, and that was much easier to do, conceptually." The music would sound downright frightening if it weren't for the fun of watching a hundred-foot marshmallow man waddling up Central Park West.

The sticking point for Bernstein and fans of his music was the use of rock songs to overshadow, and in many instances replace, the score. "I have nothing against rock-and-roll, per se," said Bernstein. "I think if it's appropriate, then fine. What bothers me is that it's a shame that in a film like Ghostbusters one feels compelled to put in a rock-and-roll tune for public acceptance. There isn't any real reason why Ghostbusters had to have rock-and-roll music - after all it's not Footloose! I'd rather handle the whole thing myself and, ultimately, I don't think it's as good for the film as having a completely composed score."

Though Bernstein was more understanding when the Parker song replaced the title music and part of the end credits ("It's very hard to argue...when [the song] is up in the top ten"), cutting parts of the score proper made less sense. As the Ghostbusters flee from the library ghost (the last 30 seconds of Get Her!, track 6), Bernstein's rock version of the main theme was replaced with an instrumental portion of the song Cleanin' Up The Town. The vocal version by The Bus Boys supplanted Bernstein's Ghostbusters Theme and synth-driven accompaniment (We Got One!, track 14) as the guys rush off to bust their first real ghost at a hotel. A more driving, alternate version of We Got One!, which relied heavily on electric guitar, is added as a bonus track at the end of the CD. The last 35 seconds of both cues are the same and were used as the guys wait for the hotel elevator.

Bernstein was particularly incensed that his forceful cue for the scene in which the newly released Ghosts! (track 27) fly back to "Spook Central" was replaced with the wan song Magic by Mick Smiley, robbing the scene of its dramatic power. As the Ghostbusters! (track 30) arrive to save the day, Bernstein's cue was once again cut and substituted with the obviously titled song Savin' The Day, by Alessi.

The original soundtrack album on Arista Records was padded with Parker's song and the collection of the film's rock tunes by other Arista artists. But the popularity of the title song and the film still propelled the album to gold and it peaked at #6 on the charts.

Bernstein separately recorded four pieces for the soundtrack album, but only two were used: the Ghostbusters Theme (track 1) and Dana's Theme (track 13). The two other unused tracks provide first-ever bonuses for listeners familiar with the score. Because of its uptempo character, Magic (track 37) seems at odds with the previous tracks until you hear the downward slide of the ondes martenot at the end of the cue, firmly placing it within the sounds of the score. The second is Dana's possession by Zool (track 38) that was heard in track 23, minus the opening minute of music (which was cut from the film anyway).

Even with the number of songs, many critics wisely took note of the score's quality. David Edelstein in The Village Voice said, "Elmer Bernstein's sweeping, bombastic score [sets] the tone." David Ansen in Newsweek complimented the "unobtrusive but hardworking comic score by old pro Elmer Bernstein." And in an article in Cinefantastique devoted to the score, Randall Larson summed up, "When allowed its own space ... Bernstein's music breathes with its own seething life."

Ghostbusters received Academy Awards nominations for Visual Effects and Song. The film spawned a 1986 television cartoon and a sequel in 1989. Through all the stars were back on board and Ramis and Ackroyd once again wrote the script, Ghostbusters II raked in half the money of the original.

One of the conspicuous names missing from the sequel's credits was Elmer Bernstein. (Randy Edelman handled the scoring duties.) "When it came time to think of doing Ghostbusters II," said Bernstein, "I thought to myself maybe it's time for a change. The change came for me with My Left Foot, which was a small serious film. And it broke the comedy cycle. It was time."

From his earliest successes, Elmer Bernstein had been pigeonholed in various genres, including jazz, Westerns, and now comedy. Ghostbusters capped his comedy phase and provided a bridge to the final two decades of a 50-year career for this astonishing, chameleon-like composer.

-- James Lochner