Tag Archives: Dan Aykroyd

Rocks In The Attic #780: Elmer Bernstein – ‘Ghostbusters (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#780Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, spectre or ghost? If the answer is ‘yes’ then don’t wait another minute. Pick up the phone and call the professionals…

After a pre-order three months ago, and eight subsequent status-update emails from Amazon, it’s great to finally hold this in my hands. Thirty-five years after its original release in cinemas, the soundtrack score to Ghostbusters by Elmer Bernstein is finally available on vinyl.

From that first electronic flutter (played on a Yamaha DX7 synth) heard over the grainy Columbia Pictures logo, this score is part of my musical DNA. It’s as seminal to my upbringing as John Williams’ big-five (Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E.T.), Alan Silvestri’s Back To The Future, Dave Grusin’s Goonies and John Barry’s landmark Bond scores.

Just like those soundtracks, it’s easy to visualise the film when listening to Bernstein’s Ghostbusters score. Not only are the image and music melded together perfectly, it also helps when you’ve seen the film hundreds of times. There are a couple of unused cues on the soundtrack that are a little jarring (and perhaps should have been collected towards the end of the release), and I would have liked the first track to have been Library, as per the film (rather than the main Ghostbusters Theme, which again could have been collected at the end), but these are just superficial gripes about a superb release.

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My favourite of many musical moments is the end of the track News, which segues into the beginning of Judgement Day. In the film, this is used to soundtrack the conversation between Ray and Winston as they drive through the night after a busy day ghostbusting. It’s a rare moment of quiet, of serious reflection, in an otherwise comical film, and I’ve always liked that Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the scene for Ernie Hudson’s character – the ‘everyman’ archetype of the piece.

In terms of the package itself, the score is presented by Sony Classical as a double LP, on clear discs with slime green centres. The sleeve is a really nice, squidgy card-stock, similar to the type used by Brookvale Records on their From Dusk Till Dawn release from 2016.

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There’s been a fair bit of criticism online around the imagery used for the sleeve – the cover is the classic Ghostbusters logo (with the white ghost inverted from the version used on the original 1984 pop soundtrack), and the images on the gatefold and rear cover are straightforward stills from the film. Boutique soundtrack labels like Waxwork and Mondo have raised the game in terms of design, so this release feels a tad undercooked in this department.

The 4-panel photo booklet contained within the set features more images from the film, and includes liner notes from Elmer Bernstein’s son Peter, alongside full orchestra credits – something I always like to see on soundtrack releases.

Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we’ve been so busy lately is ’cause the dead HAVE been rising from the grave? ……….How ’bout a little music?

Hit: Ghostbusters Theme

Hidden Gem: News

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Rocks In The Attic #768: Various Artists – ‘Ghostbusters II (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

RITA#7681989. 11-years old. Painful disappointment at the cinema. Thankfully, the same year also gave us Tim Burton’s Batman just two months later, so all was not lost. It still hurts to think about how disappointing Ghostbusters II was though.

It should have been a sure-fire hit. Five years after the runaway success of the first film, director Ivan Reitman had managed to reunite the original cast – a post-Aliens Sigourney Weaver, a post-Scrooged Bill Murray, and a post-Dragnet Dan Aykroyd. No mean feat in itself. Reitman also managed to secure a script by Aykroyd and fellow co-star Harold Ramis, much like the first film. The same cast, the same writers and the same director, working with a larger budget? What could go wrong?

I watch Ghostbusters II every five years or so. I always want it to be better than it is, but I’m always let down. It just doesn’t have the spark of their first film. The humour isn’t as subtle, the characters aren’t as likable as their 1984 versions, and the story doesn’t have the same David and Goliath / us versus them sensibility.

RITA#768aThe soundtrack itself is a disappointment too. It’s heavily dependant on New Jack Swing, a genre of music that lasted all of a fortnight at the end of the ‘80s. As a result, it sounds incredibly dated. Only Howard Huntsberry’s timeless cover of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher, used as diagetic music blasted out of a walking Statue Of Liberty in the film, can raise a smile.

Ghostbusters II, Hudson Hawk, Super Mario Bros. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, Hollywood went through a seemingly aimless phase of producing big-budget genre films and turning them into flops. Big expensive turkeys – dry and disappointing.

Those who defend Ghostbusters II are deluded. They’re the same misguided fools who defend Spielberg’s Hook. Nostalgia is not, and never will be, a substitute for quality filmmaking.

Hit: On Our Own – Bobby Brown

Hidden Gem: Higher And Higher – Howard Huntsberry

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Rocks In The Attic #687: John Williams – ‘1941 (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#687You can sometimes find out more about a person’s failures as you can from their successes. Wunderkind director Steven Spielberg has had far more hits than misses, but the few occasions where he has missed the mark are very interesting.

His first failure came with 1941, his attempt at screwball comedy and a universally agreed thirty-five million dollar waste of time and effort. It’s difficult to put a finger on why it’s such a bad film – because there’s nothing redeemable about it. A weak link might be easy to spot, but when everything is egregiously bad, from the script to the performances to the music, it makes for a drastically awful film. Of course, all of this is amplified because it follows Spielberg’s huge mainstream successes, first with Jaws in 1975, and followed with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in 1977. If it hadn’t been bundled with such anticipation, and if they hadn’t spent the GDP of a small South American country on it, it might have stood a chance.

Looking back, it seems that Spielberg might be as ashamed of his portrayal of the Japanese in this film, as he is of the film’s critical and commercial failure. It’s widely been surmised that one of Spielberg’s motives for making Schindler’s List (1993) was in reparation for the way in which he had portrayed the Nazis as comedic fodder in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989). In 1941, we see the start of that light-hearted characterisation, with the invading Japanese armed forces played for laughs opposite Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

The musical score for 1941, composed by Spielberg alumni John Williams, is just as forgettable as the rest of the film, which is strange considering how the pairing usually produces gold. Spielberg, ever the amiable collaborator, has repeatedly stated in interviews that The March From 1941 is his favourite of Williams’ marches. This is extremely strange when you realise that the main title themes of Williams’ Superman: The Movie and Indiana Jones scores are both marches, and really there’s nothing better in all of cinema.

I recently saw the excellent HBO documentary Spielberg (2017) – a two and a half hour journey through the life and career of the director. Unsurprisingly, the film focuses on his successes and merely brushes over his failures. Of the latter, 1941 gets the most airtime for being his first disappointment, but later failures are mainly ignored.

RITA#687aHis first failure to me, long before I racked up the courage to watch 1941, was Always, an overly-sentimental (even for Spielberg’s standards) romantic drama from 1989 starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman. I saw this film at the cinema with my parents, at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square during our annual family trip to London. Coming straight after Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Empire Of The Sun – both of which I’d also seen at the cinema (I didn’t get to see The Color Purple until much later due to its adult nature), it really came as a shock. Everything I had seen by Spielberg up to that point had been a classic. What the hell was this schlocky mess?

Unsurprisingly, Susan Lacy’s Spielberg documentary doesn’t even mention Always. It also quickly skips over Hook – a later disappointment from 1991, which Spielberg has all but since disowned – and completely ignores The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), the sequel he said he would never make, and 2004’s The Terminal. In fact, The Terminal is such a bad film, that it’s a wonder he didn’t try to take his name off it.

The one interesting exclusion from the documentary is 2011’s The Adventures Of Tintin. While this may not have been the runaway commercial success it should have been, it’s still a great family film and a much stronger piece of work than 2016’s The BFG, itself a box-office disappointment yet referenced many times in Lacy’s film.

Hit: The March From 1941

Hidden Gem: The Invasion

Rocks In The Attic #365: Various Artists – ‘The Blues Brothers (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

RITA#365On a family holiday when I was around 14, we drove down to Newquay in Cornwall, and stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on the seafront. On our first day, in fact only twenty minutes after we had arrived, we walked around to the parade of shops next to the B&B. In one of the shops was a wall of second-hand cassettes. I bought this album on tape, together with Toys In The Attic by Aerosmith. Both cassettes became not only the soundtrack to that holiday, but they became first favourites that have never left me.

I love the music of The Blues Brothers just as much as I love the film itself. There’s an unfortunate pigeon-holing that seems to go on though, that resigns both the film and the soundtrack to the camp depths of party entertainment; cheesy music for poor people to sing karaoke to. It isn’t seen as the cultural landmark it should be regarded as, which is a shame. The film did so much for African American music, giving it a much needed shot in the arm. Who knows what would have happened had the film not been released – fewer James Brown records on the streets might have meant there wouldn’t have been as much sampling of Funky Drummer when hip-hop hit. That Clyde Stubblefield groove might have been taken up by the drum patterns of some non-funky white drummers instead. What a horrible thing to imagine.

What a rhythm section – Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper as he’s referred to in the film, although I’ve never seen that nickname anywhere else) – both from Booker T. & The M.G.s – and Willie Hall, from the Bar-Kays, on drums. The brass section, from TV’s Saturday Night Live, are also fantastic although it’s a shame the Memphis Horns weren’t part of the band. I guess it might have been a little too Memphis, had that been the case, and while I would have loved it, the SNL horns were an integral part of the band from its earliest days as a John Belushi / Dan Aykroyd skit on Saturday Night Live.

Where else can you hear Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown singing on the same record? Even if you take these guys out, the songs performed by just the Blues Brothers band are worth the price of admission alone. I could listen to a song like She Caught The Katy all day, preferably while driving around in an old police cruiser. Just fix the cigarette lighter.

Hit: Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: She Caught The Katy

Death Of A Ghostbuster

“Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning’s sample, it would be a Twinkie… thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.”

– Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), Ghostbusters (1984)

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Last Tuesday I got to work, turned on my computer and was shocked to see a headline on a news website: ‘Ghostbusters star Harold Ramis dies’. It’s always alarming to hear about one of your heroes dying, especially if you didn’t know they were ill and the news comes out of the blue. It’s been less than a month since Phillip Seymour Hoffman died – similarly without any advance warning – but as much as I respect, admire and enjoy Hoffman’s work (I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I saw him in Boogie Nights), the death of Harold Ramis has meant so much more to me.

I was six years old when I first saw Ghostbusters. In those days, you went to see a film on the weekend – a matinee showing probably – and they were an event. I remember seeing The Karate Kid one weekend, and on the way out of the cinema all the kids were doing karate chops and kicks on each other. When we saw Back to the Future, everybody was pestering their parents for a skateboard on the way home. I even recall a showing of Rocky V where the entire cinema – and I mean the entire cinema­ – was chanting Rocky’s name during the fight at the end of the film. Sitting in a darkened room, with a few hundred strangers, all shouting – “Ro-cky! Ro-cky! Ro-cky!” – was truly magical. That’s what cinema should be – rather than the bathtub of apathy and sarcasm it’s become.

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I would have seen Ghostbusters at the Roxy – an old-school cinema halfway between Oldham and Manchester. It’s been demolished now, but I saw so many great films there: Temple Of Doom, Back to the Future, Return of the Jedi, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, every James Bond film from Octopussy to License To Kill, the Police Academy films – the list is endless. In short, if there was a big film released in the 1980s, I saw it at the Roxy. When in the queue outside, you had to dodge the crazy old man who owned the place, but it was worth it. If you stood out of line, or were playing up, he’d “nudge” you with his walking stick; but you always knew that you’d soon be inside – in the dark, with the warm smell of popcorn taking you to a different place.

When you’re building a snowman in the schoolyard, you expect compliments from your friends; but when one of my friends looked at my creation and declared that it looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, I had no idea what he was talking about. Word was spreading around the school about this great new film, and I was taken to see it that night.

From that moment on, I wasn’t just into Star Wars and James Bond, I was into Ghostbusters too. The marketing people didn’t get it quite right though – perhaps they didn’t predict that the film would have such a following among kids – but I remember there was nothing you could buy. No toys, no t-shirts, nothing. When the Real Ghostbusters cartoon came along later in the decade, only then did the marketing machine catch up. I had all of the figures, the Ecto-1 car, Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I even had a t-shirt with an illustration of Slimer on it.

As co-writer of Ghostbusters – alongside Dan Aykroyd – Harold Ramis was responsible for one of the best films of the 1980s and undoubtedly one of the best comedies of all time. It might sound clichéd, but they really don’t make them like that anymore. Ghostbusters and Back to the Future – released a year apart – were very similar: a universal comedy, suitable for all ages, with a dash of science-fiction and making the most of the best visual effects available. Of the two, Ghostbusters always seemed a little edgier – it was more of a guy’s film, rather than Back to the Future which had a set of all-American family values at its core.

There was that scary ghost at the beginning too. It took me a long time to get over that. The librarian ghost looked harmless at first glance, but when she was riled up, it was truly frightening. When I look at it now, all I can see is a good-for-its-time piece of stop-motion trickery, but to a  six year old, it provoked nightmares.

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Harold Ramis’ character, Egon Spengler, was never my favourite Ghostbuster. The popular choice would have been Peter Venkman, Bill Murray’s character – the droll anarchist who didn’t really want to be there. Dan Aykroyd’s character, Ray Stantz, provided a lovable, childlike character, but Spengler was just as integral to the film as Venkman or Stantz. A straight man, Spengler was the real nerd of the team. Bespectacled and nebbish, he represented the respectable arm of the Ghostbusters. He was such a good fit for that role, that it always jarred when I saw him play another type of character. Watching him in something like Stripes just didn’t feel quite right.

Without really meaning to, I’ve seen nearly all of Ramis’ films, both as an actor and as a director. He’s always raised a smile, when he’s turned up recently in small roles like the doctor in As Good As It Gets, or Seth Rogen’s father in Knocked Up, but it’s always Ghostbusters he’ll be remembered for. What a great film – a true classic of my childhood. After not seeing it for a few years, I remember watching it in my bedroom at University, nursing the hangover from hell – and it was like watching it fresh again, just blown away by how strong a film it is.

I’m pretty sure Aykroyd was the driving force behind Ghostbusters – his name comes first in the screenwriting credits, and he’s never been shy at claiming the idea was his own in interviews – so I can only assume Ramis was brought in to add jokes and flesh out the script. Regardless, he’s had a hand in writing a film that has probably contributed more to my sense of humour than any other.

I salute Harold Ramis.

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Rocks In The Attic #291: The Blues Brothers – ‘Briefcase Full Of Blues’ (1978)

RITA#291It’s a real shame that the Blues Brothers are never taken seriously. To many people they’re a cheap gimmick act from the world of karaoke and hen nights; a look you can pull off with a cheap suit, a pair of sunglasses and a dusty fedora trilby. It also helps if you’re tall and skinny, and have a like-minded fat friend – or vice versa.

They’re more than that though. I don’t think Dan Aykroyd was a million miles away when he claimed that the Blues Brothers were probably the third best revue band in the world (behind James Brown’s and Tina Turner’s bands respectively). The experience is definitely there – the rhythm section from the Stax house band combined with the horn section from Saturday Night Live. Throw a couple of actors in there who obviously have a deep love of blues, rhythm & blues and soul, and you have something that may be imitated often, but never bettered.

Aykroyd himself is probably as much to blame as anybody else for watering down the Blues Brothers’ legacy in more recent years, reprising the act on stage with James Belushi and John Goodman – and I don’t even want to think about that awful film sequel.

My favourite part of this live album (and its follow-up, 1980’s Made In America) is Dan Aykroyd’s motor-mouth introduction. On this album, he squeezes around 300 words into a frantic minute of Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose – hitting his mark with perfection at the end of his speech.

Hit: Soul Man

Hidden Gem: Opening / I Can’t Turn You Loose