Earworm Weekly: The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You”

This week’s earworm is “The Ghost in You” by The Psychedelic Furs, a minor synthpop classic from 1984. Lead singer Richard Butler’s abraded voice isn’t particularly pretty, but he certainly makes the most of it. Even at his sprightliest, he always sounds mildly melancholic. Similarly, the production on “The Ghost in You” is bright and glossy, yet it still manages to sound delicately wistful.

There’s just one thing. I have no idea what the heck this song means.

Fortunately, I am not alone. It’s clearly a love song of some sort, but beyond that, opinions range all over the map. Some listeners theorize that the song is about love lost. The singer is saying that his feelings “don’t fade,” even though they’re now just a ghost, with nothing substantial to fix upon. This is why he sings, “Love, you can’t give it away:” She’s not accepting his offer any more. In fact, maybe his lover is dead, and that explains all the talk about angels and heaven and such.

Others argue that it’s about new love. The “news of the day” is “falling over you,” i.e. falling for someone new. When the singer sings, “Don’t you go, it makes no sense,” he’s just expressing the kind of jittery insecurity that comes with a fragile new relationship. The same with the line, “I’m in the mood for you – or running away.” That kind of ambivalence is not uncommon at the dawn of romance. He’ll get over it.

And hey, maybe both camps are wrong. Maybe it’s a current love. It’s sung in the present tense, after all. Or maybe he’s the one who’s dead! He “runs a light,” gets into a fatal car accident, and lies bleeding in the street, thinking about his loved one in a fugue state while dying. He’s staring up at the starry night sky, imagining angels coming down “like rain” and feeling his “engines die.” Because he is dying, he can see his lover’s immortal soul – “the ghost in you, she don’t fade” – and knows that there will be an afterlife where they will meet again someday.

Butler, who was also the primary songwriter for The Psychedelic Furs, has been close-lipped about the meaning of this particular song, which he co-wrote with his brother, bassist Tim Butler. So, perhaps, all the above interpretations can be correct. Love has broken free from the confines of time and space. Past, present, or future, this emotion doesn’t fade.

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