The Ghostbusters Suit: Huey Lewis vs. Ray Parker, Jr.
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March 28th, 2013 | 02:15 AM
1984 was the year of Ghostbusters and Huey Lewis and the News, in more ways than just box office and chart success. In perhaps one of the most well-known music-related lawsuits of the decade, the two faced off in the courtroom. It all started when the producers of Ghostbusters hired musician Ray Parker, Jr. to create the theme song for the film. The resulting tune was a smash hit, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling over a million copies to become certified Gold, and earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Later, both Columbia Pictures and Parker found themselves the defendants in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought on by Huey Lewis, who felt "Ghostbusters" was a little too similar to his band's hit that same year, "I Want A New Drug." Ultimately, the two parties settled out of court in 1985, and details of the settlements were confidential. Until 2001. In an episode of VH1's Behind the Music spotlighting Huey Lewis and the News, Lewis commented on the lawsuit, saying:
off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something. They wanted
our wave, and they wanted to buy it . . . It's not for sale. In the end, I suppose
they were right. I suppose it was for sale because, basically, they bought it."
According to Parker, the fact money was paid to resolve the lawsuit had been protected by a confidentiality agreement, which he felt Lewis's comments had breached. He also claimed the settlement had barred either of them from revealing any additional information that had not been included in a press release they jointly issued in 1985, which stated that the matter had been "amicably resolved." Thus, on March 22, 2001, Parker filed a lawsuit against Lewis for breaching confidentiality, seeking "all the consideration" the defendants were awarded in the original settlement, plus an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, lawyer's fees, and "further relief as the Court deems just and proper."
Interestingly, in a 2004 Premiere article celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Ghostbusters, the filmmakers admitted to using the song "I Want A New Drug" as temporary music in some scenes. They revealed that they had made an offer to Huey Lewis and the News to write and record a theme song, but they declined. After hiring Parker, they provided him film footage, with "New Drug" still on the temp track, to aid him in writing his song. Now, this doesn't mean that the filmmakers deliberately asked Parker to rip off "I Want A New Drug." I don't believe that's the case, nor do I believe that Parker intentionally set out to rip it off either. When it comes to creating music for films, temp track influence is a fairly common thing. Parker has spoken of the difficulty he had in writing the song in the first place, finding it hard to create a regular song and fit the film's title into lyrics, so "New Drug" may have simply been a strong influence, perhaps moreso than he intended.
Of course, fans of both musicians like to fling mud and belittle the other. Parker fans enjoy saying that Lewis was just jealous of the song's success, especially since he had passed on the chance to be involved with the movie, while Lewis fans like to say that Parker is a one hit wonder has-been who just wanted to get his name back in the spotlight by suing Lewis. Lewis has since reportedly stated that the whole experience may have been indirectly responsible for getting his band involved with Back to the Future when it came along a short time later. Results of the second suit brought on by Parker in 2001 remain unknown. As of several years ago, I remember hearing that it was still ongoing, but if it has since been resolved, no one seems to know.