Gaming Soundtracks: Ghostbusters

This is post number 4 in the series “31 Days of Ghostbusters,” a celebration of the franchise’s return to the big screen.

The soundtrack to Ghostbusters is one of my favorites. The album mostly consists of 80s pop songs–some of which were clearly only added to pad out the song count–with a few pieces from Elmer Bernstein’s movie score. (A separate score album also exists, but that one sadly saw only a small print run.) While I’d prefer more of Bernstein’s amazing ghostly music, this album is a lot of fun and well worth repeated listenings.

As a GM running a Ghostbusters game, your use of this soundtrack might differ depending on your group of players. For a gang of long-time hardcore Ghostbusters fans–those likely to be familiar with the entire soundtrack, not just the main theme–use the whole thing. Several tracks do nothing to evoke a spooky mood (I’m looking at you, Laura Branigan), but for those of us who grew up listening to this album, they still scream Ghostbusters. If, instead, you have a group of players who don’t even know where in the movie “I Can Wait Forever” was featured, you might wanna stick to the key mood tracks, which for my money are “Ghostbusters” (both versions), “Cleanin’ Up the Town,” “Savin’ the Day,” “Magic,” “Main Title Theme,” and “Dana’s Theme.”

(Do you know which song appeared in the movie but not in the soundtrack? I’ll tell you in a minute.)

Track-specific notes:

  1. Ghostbusters (the theme song). Ray Parker, Jr. managed to create a catchy theme song without having to come up with a rhyme for “Ghostbusters,” and I appreciate that. I absolutely burned out on this song when it was first airing on the radio, but I can take it again now. Starting a game session with this theme song might be corny, but you know what? It’s Ghostbusters. Corn it up.
  2. Cleanin’ Up the Town. This is the music that played when the Ghostbusters got their first job and tore across town to bust the slimer at the Sedgewick Hotel. You might use it for chase music, or as background for a montage you and your players narrate about how the team captures a series of lesser ghosts before the night’s real action begins.
  3. Savin’ the Day. Love this one. Even more than the theme song, this is the track I think of when I imagine a team of Ghostbusters on the job and saving the city. (Yes, I imagine that a lot. Leave me alone.) Recommended for a montage as above, or when facing a difficult challenge that non-Ghostbusters just can’t handle.
  4. In the Name of Love. At this point in our listening, the soundtrack says, “Hey, remember how this movie was made in the 80s? Remember the Thompson Twins? Here they are!” This song has nothing to do with the film, and is only here because it was playing on the radio in the firehouse. And yet I love it, because I’ve listened to this album since I was 14. Use it in your game like they did in the movie: randomly.
  5. I Can Wait Forever. In my estimation, this Air Supply song is the low point of the soundtrack (still leaving it far superior to the best track of Ghostbusters 2). Here’s a tip for using this track: most music players have a “next track” button. Use it. (Fun fact: this song’s appearance in the movie was in the scene where the team is being evicted from the university; the song comes from a worker’s headphones.)
  6. Hot Night. I like this offering from Laura Branigan better, though it still doesn’t have a thing to do with the movie. It was playing in Louis Tully’s apartment while he talked to Dana about working out. With that in mind, you might use it in a scene involving exercise, or the 80s, or a ghost with heat powers? Good luck.
  7. Magic. I absolutely love Mick Smiley’s “Magic,” even though I have no idea what the hell it’s about. I just know it’s the song that was playing when the escaped ghosts were flying through the city and Dana’s apartment walls blew away, and that was BADASS! The song is mellow, and parts are a little eerie, so that might facilitate use in a scene where that’s the mood.
  8. Main Title Theme. We finally reach the first of the two tracks from Elmer Bernstein’s score. It appeared in the movie when the team was walking up the stairs of Dana’s apartment building toward the end. This is a wonderful piece, jaunty and whimsical and just a little reminiscent of ragtime music. It also features ghostly sounds that make it spooky, but in a fun way. To me, this music says, “Here are the Ghostbusters, and they’re doing something low-key.” It wouldn’t fit an action scene, but would be great background to social interaction, or searching for something, or even shopping for supplies.
  9. Dana’s Theme. Picture Dana walking across the street to carry her groceries up to her apartment. This is the music that was playing. Appropriately, it’s an orchestral piece in which Dana’s cello might feel right at home. The second of two Elmer Bernstein compositions, this track would make fine accompaniment to an exploration scene, or one introducing a new character (especially if the character is a love interest for a character with Sex as her Goal).
  10. Ghostbusters (Instrumental). Same as track 1, but without the singing. This might be a less-distracting way to work the theme song into your game. Just don’t be surprised if your players sing along anyway.

(By the way, the song that appeared in the film but not in the soundtrack was “Disco Inferno,” by the Trammps. It played during Louis Tully’s party. Speaking of “Disco Inferno,” stay tuned…I’ll have more on that topic later in the month.)

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