For years, Lee Ving, the vocalist and leader of impish punk bruisers Fear, has been teasing the release of a song the group recorded with John Belushi in 1981. He’s finally putting out the tune — the appropriately snotty-sounding “Neighbors,” which was supposed to accompany the Belushi movie of the same name — digitally on Halloween and as a special seven-inch in November. But even before the decades-long wait for its release, the origins of the recording were steeped in strife.
The SNL actor became a fan of Fear after catching them on the L.A.-based music-TV show New Wave Theatre in 1980. He got in touch with the show’s host, Peter Ivers, who gave the actor Ving’s phone number. “We had a couple of beers and became fast friends,” the Fear frontman recalls. Belushi asked Fear to write a song for the movie he was making at the time, Neighbors, a comedy about a family whose lives change when a younger couple, played by Dan Aykroyd and Cathy Moriarty, move in next door. The group obliged him on the offer, writing a plodding, charging barnburner.
Fear recorded the tune at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles with Belushi’s Blues Brothers buddy, legendary Stax Records house guitarist Steve Cropper, producing. But initially Belushi didn’t want to sing on it. “I kept arguing with John, ‘I wrote the lyrics for you to sing,'” Ving recalls. “I was quite militant on the punk-rock issue of being punk-correct in that I wasn’t looking forward to singing lyrics that I had written for someone else to sing that were based on a movie that didn’t touch my life. The lyrics weren’t authentic enough for me to sing them. We went back and forth, and eventually John says, ‘OK, OK, I’ll sing it.’ John, being such a good mimic, sings it, and you can tell it’s not me.” Ving sang backup on the recording, and then eventually he relented and recorded his own lead vocal take with Belushi on backup, which he did not intend to release at the time.
The three-minute tune kicks off with a typically punk — and typically Fear — “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4!” before a throbbing guitar line comes in and Belushi asks, “Where the fuck are we?” Then it kicks in with a powerful chorus (“Neighbors/Like your neighbors”), sung with the same the sort of slanted melody that made songs like “Let’s Have a War” and “I Don’t Care About You” on Fear’s 1982 debut The Record snide punk classics. The lyrics directly reference the movie’s characters and plot, including some spoilers, all sandwiching the sound of Belushi hawking up a loogie and saying, “Sorry folks, but you can color us gone.” It closes with a sax solo and elastic guitar solo, as Belushi and Ving shout the title. The movie, which was Belushi’s last before his death of an overdose in 1982, would go on to become a box-office hit. But it wouldn’t include his recording with Fear.
When Belushi presented the song to Neighbors‘ producers, they were appalled by it and refused to use it, much to the actor’s chagrin. So Belushi, feeling like he wanted to do right by his new friends, arranged for Fear to be booked as the musical guests for Saturday Night Live‘s Halloween episode in 1981. It would become one of the show’s most notorious musical segments. Rowdy punks — including Belushi, then–Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye and the Cro-Mags’ Harley Flanagan and John Joseph — moshed and stormed the stage as the group played “Let’s Have a War.” It didn’t go the way NBC had hoped it would when they agreed to have the band on.