Thursday, December 5, 2013

"I Want A New Drug/Duck/Ghost" AKA Who You Gonna Call? My Lawyer

When Ray Parker, Jr. came out with the theme from Ghostbusters, everybody and their mother apparently thought, "Hey that sounds just like Huey Lewis and the News' 'I Want a New Drug'!" Everybody, except for four-year-old me, of course, who'd never heard "I Want a New Drug," but who had recently been scared shitless by a (possibly ill-advised?) theatrical viewing of Ghostbusters.

Years later I would see lists of Huey Lewis' hit song titles, and I was always confused by the title "I Want a New Drug." I thought drugs were bad, mmm-kay? Why would Huey Lewis, quite clearly a morally upright and decent person, be advocating drug use? Was the song supposed to be ironic? Was he playing a character? Even now, I'm looking at the lyrics and I have no idea why he's talking about drugs. According to Patrick Bateman, "not only is it the greatest antidrug song ever written, it's also a personal statement about how the band has grown up, shucked off their bad-boy image and learned to become more adult," but I'm not entirely buying it. Besides, nobody says, "I want a new drug." That's like saying "I want a new school." It just sounds awkward. Maybe you'd say, "I want to take a different kind of drug," but not "I want a new drug."

At any rate, in the late '90s I finally heard "I Want a New Drug," and you want to know the funny thing? It didn't even occur to me that the song sounded like "Ghostbusters." If anything, I would have assumed that Huey Lewis had ripped off Ray Parker, Jr. He certainly wasn't ripping off himself. "I Want A New Drug" is sort of Huey Lewis' stab at Aerobic Rock, and he stabbed well: not only did the song peak at #6, but it managed to top the Dance Club Play chart. I don't think Michael Jackson had anything to worry about.

The video featured the debut of Huey's now-iconic red sportcoat/black t-shirt/shades look, and, funny, but he keeps spotting the same girl everywhere he goes. Matter of fact, isn't that the same girl from the "Heart and Soul" video? Well by golly, it is! Her name is Signy Coleman, and fellow '80s blogger Noblemania managed to track her down recently:
How were you cast?

It was very funny. My agent said, “They’re looking for punk rockers so I want you to put some of that spray stuff in your hair and put on torn fishnet stockings.” I said, “Lynn, I’m not doing that. I don’t look anything like a punk rocker.” I said I’ll put on high heels but that’s about the extent of it. I went to the audition and there were 50 of the most hardcore punk rockers I’ve ever seen. I turned around to leave and the director popped his head out of the room they were casting in and said, “Hey, miniskirt, where are you going?” He pulled me in and said they were also looking for a girl who’s the opposite and stands out in the crowd of these unusual characters. I was asked to pretend to flirt with guy across the room, which I like to believe I had a little experience with at that point.

Did you have to audition for the second video (“I Want a New Drug”), or were you asked to be in it because of the first video?

I was just asked. They were filmed about a year apart. That one was more difficult. They had me on a boat in the bay when it was cold. The concert footage in it was real concert footage. Girls who are Huey fans are hardcore Huey fans. Right before they were about to start they walked me across the stage and put me dead center and there were girls in the front row of the audience who had all kinds of unladylike things to say to me. I won’t repeat them! The crew had to handpick a group of people to surround me so I didn’t get my hair ripped out, particularly when Huey leaned in to kiss me.
Lesson No. 1: Don't fuck with Huey Lewis fans. Lesson No. 2: Huey Lewis goes wherever he wants, even when it makes no sense. From Wikipedia: "The video is rather fast and loose with Bay Area geography: it starts with him driving toward downtown San Francisco, then on a ferry headed from Marin County toward San Francisco...then boarding a helicopter that flies over downtown back toward Marin County where the concert seems to be held." Hey, this was in the days before GPS, OK?

So, another solid hit, another tongue-in-cheek video - that it's, moving along, right? Not so fast.

One day, Huey was listening to the radio, minding his own business, when he heard a brand new song that sounded strangely ... familiar:
When the similarities between this song and the theme song of the 1984 film Ghostbusters were heard, Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for plagiarism, claiming that Parker had stolen the melody from "I Want a New Drug". Lewis had been approached to compose the main theme song for the film, but had to decline because of his work on the soundtrack for Back To The Future. The two parties settled out of court. Details of the settlement (specifically, that Columbia Pictures paid Lewis a settlement) were confidential until 2001, when Lewis commented on the payment in an episode of VH1's Behind The Music. Parker subsequently sued Lewis for breaching confidentiality.
Well, yeah. When something's confidential, it's confidential - even fifteen years later. Ray Parker, Jr. never forgets, bitch. OK, so maybe he ripped off "I Want a New Drug." But you know what? He actually made it ... better. Let's face it, "Ghostbusters" is funkier, catchier, and heavier than "I Want A New Drug" ever was. At the very least, it may be the most danceable song about ghosts ever written (with the arguable exception of "The Monster Mash"). Besides, the song always makes me think of the movie Ghostbusters, which is, you know, a great movie. "I Want a New Drug" just makes me think of the D.A.R.E. program. If anything, the song Ray Parker, Jr. actually ripped off was the Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger," but let's not split hairs. Maybe Huey was just pissed off that, in a delicious irony, "Ghostbusters" only made it to #6 on the Dance Club Play chart, but hit #1 on the pop chart.

The "Ghostbusters" video didn't quite have the same budget as the Ghostbusters movie, but it does have more neon furniture, and more celebrity cameos (Irene Cara? Peter Falk?!). At about the 3:08 mark, the damsel in distress shows up in some sort of light blue button-up blouse that's also a skirt (?), but in a strange way I find it kind of hot.

Perhaps the musician who had the clearest vision for how to improve "I Want a New Drug" was not Ray Parker, Jr., but Weird Al. Over the course of three minutes and thirty seconds, Yankovic unleashes every potentially groan-inducing duck pun known to man: "I'll tie him up with duck tape"; "The duck stops here"; "Show me how to get down"; "One that won't smell too foul" - the man could go all night. The only thing missing was a music video with Signy Coleman in a duck suit.

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