Catapulted to global fame via the title track of the film ‘Ghostbusters’ in 1984/85, Ray Parker Jr. was already a household name among soul fans via his leader’s role in the group Raydio and, more generally, he was a highly respected studio musician whose guitar work has graced some of the most important recordings of the 1970’s, most notably ‘Songs in the key of life’ by Stevie Wonder. This double CD anthology represents the first real attempt to chronicle his work in the United Kingdom that goes beyond his brief flirtation with commercial work in the mid-late 1980’s and covers also his most creative work, both with Raydio in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and his solo work that culminated in the major pop hit of the film soundtrack. In showcasing his pre-Ghostbusters career on the first CD, the anthology serves the very useful purpose of introducing British listeners to quality soul music that was rarely aired on the radio here, or at best only a limited number of singles rather than the albums which were available on import.
Nonetheless, the smooth, understated vocal delivery that Parker possessed proved to be a hit with both soul and pop fans in the United States and this is reflected on the first CD which starts off with two of his most memorable songs, ‘A woman needs love (just like you do)’ and ‘Jack and Jill’. Parker repeated the formula with another US pop hit, ‘Two places at the same time’, from 1980. Quite why these did not register with a British audience at the time can only be down to a lack of adequate promotion of the singer, but viewed from a distance of over thirty years, they stand out as quality soul-pop music that should have been bigger hits on the this side of the pond.
However, there is another grittier side to Ray Parker Jr. that is part and parcel of his leadership of the group Raydio. Similar to other funk and soul groups of the era, Lionel Richie and the Commodores being a prime example, groups diversified and were equally adept in uptempo and ballad idioms. On the funkier edged, ‘Is this a love thing?’, there are definite echoes of the Rod Temperton influenced Heatwave sound. A 12″ version of ‘It’s time to party now’, is in a similar vein and was a minor disco hit at the time. From the same album as ‘A woman needs love’, the synth-funk of ‘It’s your night’ made for an interesting contrast between the harder edged instrumentation and the soft and gentle background vocals.
It was just a matter of time before Ray Parker Jr. hit the big time and ‘Ghostbusters’ proved to be his finest hour, with a goofy comedy starring Bill Murray serving as the pretext to the singer reaching a global audience and here the full length 12″ version is a permanent testament to the mid-1980’s use of synthesized instrumentation. There then followed a series of lesser hits, which form the basis of the second CD, including ‘The other woman’ and ‘I don’t think that man should sleep alone’. Ray Parker Jr., like many singers who had parallel careers in the pop and soul charts, got stuck in a rut and was unable to carve out a new career or sound and his progress had largely petered out by the beginning of the 1990’s and some of the latter songs in his career were of a significantly lesser standard. That said, the second CD makes up for this by incorporating the full length 12″ reading of ‘Jack and Jill’, and other choice album cuts. Well illustrated colour photos of the singer with his band and from his solo period.