Ray Erskine Parker, Jr. on May 1, 1954 in Detroit, Michigan
As a consistent producer of smooth R&B containing various blends of soul, funk, rock and pop, Parker built a solid and occasionally superstar career throughout the '80s. Unfortunately saddled as a bit of a novelty act based on a high-profile movie soundtrack contribution and a slightly goofy lothario persona, Parker was also genuinely accomplished as a musician and singer-songwriter. On the strength of hits generated with his band, Raydio, Parker spent the first half of the decade as one of its most successful solo performers of radio-friendly pop.
Growing up in Detroit during the mid to late '60s, Parker found himself at the center of a thriving live music scene that created ample opportunity for on-the-job training as a guitarist. As a teenager, Parker honed his chops and quickly drew the attention of some major Motown figures of the early '70s - including Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Barry White and Boz Scaggs. Following some years as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, Parker and some like-minded musicians formed the R&B/funk/pop outfit Raydio as an outlet for his songwriting.
Raydio - Initial Years as Hitmaker:
As leader of Raydio, Parker eschewed many of the popular disco elements of the time, opting instead for a smooth, accessible R&B sound that proved quite commercially viable. Leaving much of the band's lead vocal performances in the capable hands of bandmate Arnell Carmichael, Parker nevertheless emerged as a skilled songwriter. The group scored two Top 10 U.S. pop hits from its first two albums - 1978's "Jack and Jill" and 1979's particularly excellent "You Can't Change That." Still, the time of collaboration would not be long-lasting, as Parker quickly became the visual and vocal center of Raydio as the '80s began.
More Success, Impending Solo Career:
The arrival of the '80s brought increasing recognition for Parker as frontman and the face of Raydio, so much so that by 1981's A Woman Needs Love, the group was billed as Ray Parker, Jr. & Raydio. Along with this shift of nomenclature inevitably came a rising role for Parker as lead singer. The album's title track certainly reflects this, and the song - sung charismatically by Parker - peaked at No. 4 on the pop charts in early 1981. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Parker would officially strike out on his own as a solo artist for his next release.
Solo Years & Additional Hits:
Parker's first solo LP, 1982's The Other Woman, reached the Top 10 on the U.S. Billboard album charts - just like its predecessor. Even more notable is that its title track - also a memorable example of Parker's easygoing Billy Dee Williams-inspired persona - peaked at No. 4 on the pop singles charts, the same spot attained by "A Woman Needs Love." Parker's photo had been increasingly dominating Raydio album covers for years anyway, but now the singer's handsome mug enjoyed the singular spotlight. Parker would crack the Top 10 only once more in his career, but that occasion was unique in the way it launched him to yet another level of stardom.
Dubious Cinematic Jackpot - Who Ya Gonna Call?:
Despite some considerable success as a pop star, perhaps no one could have predicted the depth of Parker's popularity after he wrote and recorded "Ghostbusters," the theme song for the blockbuster 1984 comedy of the same name. The single shot to No. 1 in both the U.S. and U.K., certainly cashing in on the film's summer success more than any of its own inherent genuine quality. At best described as a novelty hit and at worst a pile of something usually stated with salty language, the tune represents nothing of Parker's gifts as an R&B crooner and also none of the sly sense of humor that characterized many of his romantic hits of the past. Famously later, Parker and Columbia Pictures were named in a copyright infringement lawsuit regarding the song's alleged similarity to Huey Lewis & the News' equally nauseating "I Want a New Drug." This, sadly, is the most entertaining result to come out of the song's ubiquitous mid-'80s presence.
Continuing Career & Legacy:
Some may still enjoy "Ghostbusters" as a fun diversion of a bygone era, so Parker's reputation may not have taken such a permanent hit as implied above. Nevertheless, all subsequent releases of the late '80s into the early '90s failed to make an impact even approaching the singer's early-'80s heyday. Perhaps the Parker vibe had simply run its course, but it may be no exaggeration to suggest that his most famous song was both his greatest triumph and most bitter failure. Parker continues to record in a variety of styles, though he has released only one studio album during the past two decades or more.