The entire existence of Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” is a curious thing. This is a song by one of the biggest stars of 80s pop music which is heavily based on the plot of the film Ghostbusters 2.
Reason 1 – A Rap Verse which is just a synopsis of the film
The very core, the foundation of why I keep listening to this song, is the rap verse. The first funny thing about the verse is that it’s a rapped synopsis of the film.
Every bar here uses a phrase never heard in hip hop before or since – “The slime was under the building”, “Proton Packs”, “Vigo, the master of evil”, and “throwin’ a party for a bunch of children”, which is funny in its own right. Raps about the synopses of children’s movies were a proud tradition into the late 1990s (the soundtrack to Addams Family Values was probably the peak of this trend).
But what’s bizarre and thus most fascinating about the rap verse is its placement within the song. It’s repeated – it functions as both an intro and an outro to the song itself. This completely steps outside of the expected generic boundaries of a rap verse within a pop song. It’s not especially rare to hear a verse in a pop song’s intro – One of my favorite verses in the past few years was Cardi B’s intro to “Finesse” in 2018. However, to hear the same verse in both the intro and the outro is completely abnormal, and speaks to an era of pop music where the understanding of a “rap” was completely different. Nowadays, I don’t think you could easily get away with doing an identical verse multiple times, especially with the added caveat of the verse being a direct synopsis of a film which states that any resistance to the Ghostbusters is an illegal act.
Reason 2 – Outside of the rap verse, the song has next to nothing to do with the Ghostbusters.
I think this is one of the underrated aspects of why this song is both hilarious and fascinating. The verses and chorus are more reflective of a song about, like, trying hard, I think. It’s vague enough that it could be Bobby telling people that they need to work harder to get to his position, which I guess thematically fits with the Reaganite politics of the first Ghostbusters, and it could be Bobby telling you that you and he need to damn the rules and work together to get ahead, just you and him.
But there are no far-too-specific references to Proton Packs or Vigo or Getting a Handle from a Ghost outside of the rap verse. You could feasibly swap out the rap verse with a very specific verse about any other film and it’d work just as well. If Bobby had performed the rap verse about any other eighties/nineties movie, the rest of the song would’ve fit just as well. For example:
Too hot to handle, too cold to hold
They’re called Bill & Ted and they’re in control
Had ’em eating nachos at the Circle K
While all of the while, the time was actin’ strange
So they got in the booth, got a grip, came equipped
Brought Socrates to the mall and they split
Found out about evil robot thems, the master of evil
Try to battle my boys? That’s not legal!
That’s a prototype verse but it’d fit with the rest of the song, probably. How about this one?
Too hot to handle, too cold to hold
He’s called Barton Fink and he’s in control
Had ‘im living in LA writing scripts he was hating
While all of the while he stared at a painting
So he got out a pen, got a grip, came equipped
Wrote a overwrought, long, and boring film script
Found out about Charlie, a killer who’s gnarly
Try to implicate my boy in a dual arson/serial murder plot? That’s not legal!
But, see? That’d work with the whole rest of the song, easy. Any other film could’ve put this on the soundtrack with a different rap.
Reason 3 – This is one of three original songs, about the Ghostbusters, on the Ghostbusters II soundtrack.
Bobby is joined by Run D.M.C., with the song “Ghostbusters”, which is different from the Ray Parker Jr. song of the same name, and an Oingo Boingo song barely used in the film. Those are three huge artists in their respective genres, each of whom brought something to the Ghostbusters II soundtrack.
I feel like, again, this was phased out of film soundtracks over the next few decades. You hardly ever see big name popstars performing originals about movies for movies. Like, there wasn’t a Taylor Swift song about Captain America’s struggle on the Avengers: Endgame soundtrack.
Unfortunately, none of these songs have made a huge hit in the cultural zeitgeist the way that Ray Parker Jr.’s did. Parker’s theme is one of the best film themes of all time, it works on a level that few themes do. It works well as a sort of pop-jazz song, it works well as an advertisement for the film, and it seems like it could fit in a world where one could actually call the Ghostbusters. It’s a song about the Ghostbusters as a concept, moreso than the characters or the plot of the movie like On Our Own is. The Run D.M.C. “Ghostbusters” song tries to follow this up, but sounds more like a attempt to strike gold again than a new take on the established song.
Reason 4 – Three legendary songwriters and producers worked together to make it.
It’s produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, LA Reid, and Daryl Simmons. There are fifteen Grammy awards between the three of them (most of which are Babyface’s, to be fair). The next decade of R&B and Hip-Hop music is defined by music produced by these three. Boyz II Men, TLC, Outkast, all of them made huge hits with this all-star group of producers. And they came together to create this song.
And y’know what? It works! It’s one of the best proto-New Jack Swing songs, it prefaces what would come to dominate the first half of the next decade! It’s one of the better songs of the era period! It’s one of the best songs in Bobby Brown’s discography! And yet… it’s a song about the plot of Ghostbusters II. Inexplicable. Reid and Babyface created LaFace Records later that year, featuring Simmons as a significant contributor. LaFace went on to basically define the music of the next decade, and we have the Ghostbusters, I guess, to thank for that.
Reason 5 – Trump in the video?
Yeah, funny thing about that. Before he was president, Trump’s whole thing was that you could basically get him to cameo in anything you asked him to. That’s why he’s got, like, a video game, and a board game, and he makes appearances in like every piece of media since the early eighties. So it’s no surprise that, in a music video about a movie set in New York, featuring a bunch of local New York celebs (Jane Curtin, the Ramones, Malcolm Forbes), Trump makes an appearance outside of his huge building. The modern equivalent would be Cardi B making a soundtrack hit for the next Spider-Man movie where she hangs out in New York and modern New York celebs like Jimmy Kimmel, Chris Mullin, Felix Biederman, et cetera, see her and go “Oh shit it’s Cardi B! And she’s rapping about Spider-Man!”
This is kind of a shitty video, basically like “what if we got a bunch of famous people to look at a screen with Bobby Brown on it?” that’s meant to promote a movie about busting ghosts. But it’s interesting. This whole song is inexplicable, really. A product of a very precise moment in time – a proto New Jack soundtrack hit, coming at the end of a decade of huge soundtrack hits, and right before a decade of New Jack Swing hits. And right at the middle of it stands Bobby Brown, singing very generally about believing in yourself and rapping very specifically about how Vigo, the Master of Evil, put all the slime under a building and it’s not legal to battle the Ghostbusters, who are friends of Bobby Brown’s. Also the fucking president’s there.
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Reason 6 – My Favorite Line in Music History
“I think this is gonna be another one of those funky ones” is one of the funniest things I’ve heard an artist say in their own song, and I have a hard time completely articulating why. Why does Bobby need to reassure us that it’s gonna be one of the funky ones? Has he put out a song that wasn’t one of those funky ones? The idea that he has to assure us that this one will be one of those funky ones kind of implies that he’s not 100% confident that, when he makes a song, it’s one of those funky ones. The fact that he says “I think…” implies that he’s not sure? Like it’s entirely possible that this song becomes a non-funky one, like a ballad or a pirate sea shanty, and I guess he wouldn’t expect it any more than a listener would? That would be fascinating, I’d actually like to hear that.
Anyway, that’s the whole post. Thanks