Ghostbusters – music by Elmer Bernstein

GhostbustersThough Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score for Ghostbusters was represented by a pair of tracks on the original soundtrack that arrived in record stores as the movie itself arrived in theaters back in 1984, the full score wasn’t made available until Varese Sarabande issued it on CD in 2006, two years after composer Elmer Bernstein’s death. Listening to the complete score is a fascinating experience, because you quickly realize how much of what Bernstein wrote and recorded didn’t wind up in the movie. And that’s not because it’s lacking in any way, but because the studio (Columbia Pictures in this case) had a surefire hit in Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song, as well as a “various artists” album featuring other songs prominently placed in the movie (Mick Smiley’s “Magic” bring the only song to get nearly as much screen time as Parker’s). And the thing is, Parker’s single brought the movie so much free publicity (adding as much as $20,000,000 to the movie’s gross, according to at least one estimate), yeah, you want to drop the song into the movie where you can. Most of this happens in the first two-thirds of the film: after Venkman talks himself and his fellow Ghostbusters out of prison, there’s no place for the Parker song after the police escort scene until the end credits.

With that in mind, be prepared to hear plenty of Bernstein-crafted “pop music” scoring that you’ve simply never heard in the movie before. Much of it is along the lines of the scene where Ray and Winston turn on the car radio after discussing Biblical prophecy, though many of the dropped cues riff on Bernstein’s jazzy, almost-klezmer-inspired theme for the Ghostbusters, a tune which is capable of being driven through a surprising number of major and minor key changes and rhythm changes… most of which was covered up by the movie’s signature single. Some good stuff was left on the cutting room floor, but this is case where, somewhat reluctantly, I have to agree with the decision to track parts of the movie with Ray Parker Jr.’s song (particularly in the movie’s montages).

And the stuff you do remember hearing in the movie? It’s great listening minus the dialogue: Bernstein really seems to get his teeth into the darker, more supernatural scenes. Early in the movie, the ghost sightings are played for laughs, complete with the theramin-esque sounds of the Ondes Martenot, but as the story progresses and the depth of the ghost-sighting crisis is revealed, Bernstein nails it to the wall with some real dramatic scoring. Much like the script for Ghostbusters, Bernstein’s music for the movie manages to dance effortlessly on the knife’s edge between comedy scoring and dramatic scoring. (it’s worth pointing out that Bernstein was a master of his medium – he scored The Ten Commandments as easily as he scored Airplane!, with no detectable drop in quality to hint at any feelings that comedy might somehow be “beneath” him. For those too young to remember much of Bernstein’s work, if you need a gauge of the composer’s cool factor, consider this: he also personally mentored Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica fame.)

The music for the final third of the movie, with Zuul’s multiple attempts to stop the Ghostbusters before they can show the supernatural big bad to the door, is breathtaking and memorable stuff. And yet, to really get the full effect of the movie’s music as you remember it, you’re probably going to need both this album and the original 1984 “various artists” album combined. I don’t often say this of movies where perfectly serviceable score 4 out of 4was jettisoned to make way for pop songs, but the tunes featured in Ghostbusters, from the overplayed-by-radio-before-the-movie-even-opened theme tune to such songs as “Cleaning Up The Town” and “Magic”, are extraordinarily well-judged, and in their own way become an indelible part of the movie’s sound.

Listen to both, set up a custom playlist, and travel back in time to the corner penthouse of Spook Central. It’s some of Bernstein’s best, and fit the movie like a glove.

Order this CD

  1. Ghostbusters Theme (3:00)
  2. Library and Title (3:02)
  3. Venkman (0:31)
  4. Walk (0:30)
  5. Hello (1:36)
  6. Get Her! (2:01)
  7. Plan (1:25)
  8. Taken (1:08)
  9. Fridge (1:01)
  10. Sign (0:54)
  11. Client (0:35)
  12. The Apartment (2:45)
  13. Dana’s Theme (3:31)
  14. We Got One! (2:02)
  15. Halls (2:01)
  16. Trap (1:56)
  17. Meeting (0:38)
  18. I Respect You (0:54)
  19. Cross Rip (1:07)
  20. Attack (1:30)
  21. Dogs (0:57)
  22. Date (0:45)
  23. Zool (4:12)
  24. Dana’s Room (1:40)
  25. Judgment Day (1:19)
  26. The Protection Grid (0:42)
  27. Ghosts! (2:15)
  28. The Gatekeeper (1:12)
  29. Earthquake (0:33)
  30. Ghostbusters! (1:13)
  31. Stairwell (1:14)
  32. Gozer (2:48)
  33. Marshmallow Terror (1:25)
  34. Final Battle (1:30)
  35. Finish (2:13)
  36. End Credits (5:04)
  37. Magic (1:37)
  38. Zool (3:12)
  39. We Got One! (Alternate) (2:04)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 68:55