So many controversial artists over the years ... so many controversial lyrics ... Elvis, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, the 2 Live Crew, Marilyn Manson, Eminem ... so many reasons for a parent to fret. What are our kids learning from these blatant, in-your-face distributors of sleaze?
Well, I'm here to challenge all those claims. Who's the worst offender in the history of rock n' roll? None other than Ray Parker, Jr.
What? Not the guy who recorded "Ghostbusters"? The very same. And no, I'm not like the parents of the girl in my high school class who wasn't allowed to read "Hamlet" because there was a ghost in it. No, "Ghostbusters" we can set aside as worthless '80s fluff once and for all. I'm talking about Ray's other twelve top 40 hits. Do you remember any of them?
Ray Parker, Jr. was born in Detroit, moved to California, and became a successful session guitarist for class acts like Stevie Wonder and Barry White. In 1977, he formed a group called Raydio, and their first single hit #8: "Jack and Jill."
"Now why do you think Jack snuck down the hill?/
'Cause he needed love, love he couldn't get from Jill."
It's a dated but pleasant-sounding R&B record, and it tells a story. Jill ignores Jack, so he cheats on her. Now, this situation has been presented in pop music many times; another example that comes to mind is the 1995 hit "Creep" by TLC. It lays out a questionable cause-and-effect relationship: 1) You ignore me. 2) I cheat. 3) I'm justified in cheating. There doesn't seem to be a confrontation step anywhere in there. There's nothing about refusing to stoop as low as the original cheater. But Ray is one among many to take this position, so let's move on to his second hit, "You Can't Change That":
"Honey, I'll always love ya/
I promise to always love ya/
'Cause I think the whole world of ya/
And you can't change that."
Aw, how sweet!
"You can change your telephone number/
And you can change your address, too/
But you can't stop me from loving you/
No, you can't change that."
Whoa, hang on. Things just took a turn for the creepy.
"You can change the color of your hair/
And you can change the clothes you wear ..."
Well, I guess even the Witness Protection Program won't stop him from loving her. Let's move on to Ray's next top 10 hit, "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)." Yeah, you do remember that one, don't you? It's such a nice-sounding song!
"Don't make the mistake of thinkin' old-fashioned/
Times have changed from yesterday/
But no longer will those old double standards/
Be accepted by the women of today."
Has Ray reformed? Has he been thinking about supporting the ERA?
"A woman needs love just like you do/
Hey, don't kid yourself into thinkin' that she don't/
She can fool around just like you do/
Unless you give her all the lovin' she wants."
OK, so let's get this straight. In "Jack and Jill," Ray feels totally justified in cheating simply because she hasn't been paying attention to him. Then it takes him three years to realize that payback's a bitch. In other words, she'll hold you hostage for sex, always dangling the possibility that she might take her goods somewhere else if you don't keep her satisfied. What a healthy relationship!
In 1982, Ray adds some edgy guitars and hits #4 with "The Other Woman":
"I'm just an average guy/
I fool around a little on the side/
Never thought it would amount to much/
Never met a girl whose love was so tough ..."
"I know the rules of the game/
You hit it once, then break away clean/
I should've never gone back, I know/
But I had to have just a little bit mo'."
All right, 'nuff said. We know by now that Ray is basically a scumbag, A charming, sexy scumbag who gets a lot of action, but a scumbag nonetheless. We also suspect some tendencies toward stalking. Then, in 1983, he releases the album Woman Out of Control. The single, "I Still Can't Get Over Loving You," hits #12. Ray has been dumped, and he's feeling pretty lost:
"I'm all confused and I don't know what to do/
'Cause I still can't get over loving you./
I've had time, but I can't get you off my mind/
No, I still can't get over loving you."
Could this be the moment when Ray finally realizes what a jerk he's been? Alas, no; his need for therapy becomes even clearer:
"Every time I run into your friends/
I just have to ask them with who and where you've been/
And when they tell me what I really didn't want to know/
It only breaks my heart, it makes me want to know more."
Let go, Ray! Let go! Before it's too late!
"Girl, I can't forget, 'cause it's not over yet/
I still can't get over loving you/
Every breath you take, I'll be watching you, girl/
'Cause I still can't get over loving you/
There's no way that this thing is through/
No, not yet—I ain't through loving you/
I'm gettin' mad, girl, don't you ever try to leave/
No, no, it'll be the last thing you ever do."
Yikes! He's a man out of control! Call the cops!
It is at this point that Ray Parker, Jr. is commissioned to write and record "Ghostbusters." Maybe someone saw that he was in trouble and thought he could get his mind off her by recording a song with no women in it. At any rate, "Ghostbusters" spends three weeks at #1 and goes down as Ray's only memorable song. But does it help? Oh, no. His very next hit, which makes it to #14, is called "Jamie":
"Watch what you say about Jamie/
Because she used to be my girl/
I don't wanna see her kissin' no one else besides myself."
He then dispenses advice to Jamie's new man on how to love her:
"When you're lovin' Jamie, you gotta hold her tight/
'Cause she's the kind of girl that has to have it every night."
Has he finally let go? Is Ray finally going to let his girl's supposed nymphomania remain someone else's problem? Alas, no:
"You see, I trained her just the way I wanted her/
I taught her every trick in the book/
It ain't fair for her to give it all to some other guy/
Jamie, you know you got me hooked."
Oh, I see—it's an addiction. So Ray isn't actually responsible for his actions:
"Jamie used to be my girl/
To me, she's still my girl/
Watch what you say to me, Jamie/
Watch who you're layin' with, Jamie/
'Cause to me you're still my girl."
Luckily, "Jamie" was Ray's final top 20 hit. It seems that someone had the right idea by handing him "Ghostbusters": get him labeled as a novelty artist and maybe he'll fade away naturally. It worked. Ray only scored one more solo top 40 hit, this one in 1985:
"Girls are more fun, ooh/
Girls are more fun/
The party ain't begun 'til all the girls come/
'Cause girls are more fun."
It's an irretrievably stupid song, and it peaks at #34. But we can learn a little more from a line toward the end of the song, where Ray appears to be ad-libbing:
"For those of you who've gone the other WAY/
Girls are more fun."
He jumps up about an octave on the word "way," apparently implying that gay men have high, squeaky voices. I suppose I might have thought that was true, too, when I was about eight. So as if Ray doesn't have enough problems relating to women, he now has to convince all the gay men in the world that they're missing out on something great. Something tells me Ray could "go the other way" himself, and it still wouldn't help.
Move over, Eminem. Here's to the king of misogyny, Ray Parker, Jr.!