I’ll bet that not a lot of casual fans of Cyndi Lauper would know that, before her 1983 debut album She’s So Unusual made her famous, she had already been performing as a professional singer for some ten years. At one point Lauper formed her own band Blue Angel releasing their one and only album, which unfortunately bombed and eventually led to a lawsuit by the band’s manager that forced Lauper into bankruptcy. With Lauper’s stalled music career and financial woes, it should have been reason enough for her to look for another day job. (She even damaged her vocal chords on more than one occasion.) But the eccentric Lauper with her dogged determination wasn’t washed up just yet. She turned tragedy into triumph when she took the world by storm with her signature song Girls Just Want To Have Fun, which exemplified her courageous spirit of standing up for oneself and having some fun in the process. Over the decades this song in particular would become an anthem for women everywhere.
As a whole, She So Unusual is a riotous ride of 80s new wave-inspired songs that showcases Lauper’s self-confidence and emotional depth as a musician. It would sell six million copies in the US alone, earning Lauper a Grammy along the way for “Best New Artist”. Interestingly, one of the fascinating things about the album was its unusual makeup of cover songs, in fact six in total, which Lauper and her producer Rick Chertoff revamped to suit not only Lauper’s stunning vocal range but her appetite to shine a light on female empowerment. It’s fair to say with a knack for personalising many of the songs on the album, Lauper’s striking but subtle change for instances to the lyrics of Money Changes Everything from “She said” to “I said” leaves us in no doubt whose in charge. Lauper in particular shows off her vocal prowess on “Money”, especially as she repeats its mantra in the climatic outro. It’s a track that I believe still sounds stunning today as it did back in the 80s with its electric rock vibe.
To her credit, Lauper was also cluey enough not to take herself too serious on an album like She’s So Unusual, often showing off her lively sense of humour in songs like She Bops, the tongue-in-cheek ode to masturbation. But while songs like Girls Just Want To Have Fun felt more representative of Lauper’s vision of fun and self awareness for the album, she still though managed to tackle more serious issues around relationships and heartache on tracks like When You Were Mine, Witness and Time After Time. On the latter, written together with The Hooters Rob Hyman, Lauper produces one of the greatest pop ballads ever. Never has a song about longing, and looking back on a relationship that has run its course, sounded so tragic and uplifting at the same time.
Fun Fact: Lauper’s record company wanted to release Time After Time as the lead single but Lauper pushed back on the idea. She wanted something a little more buoyant to restart her career. She also feared of being pegged as a balladeer. Yet despite those initial fears Time After Time would incredibly reward Lauper with her first #1 single on the US Billboard charts.
Of all the tracks on the album worthy of a final mention, the obvious stand out in my mind is All Through The Night. The story goes that Lauper initially intended to do a straight cover of Jules Shear’s folk-rock version of All Through The Night, but decided to rearrange it into a lush electronic-led pop ballad. Here again Lauper’s incredible soprano vocals leave you spellbound. But don’t just take my word for it. Revisit the unique charm of this song and the rest of the album for yourself.
I love Cyndi Lauper and this is a brilliant album – with one of the best album covers ever. Despite her lighthearted and fun ‘etty Boop-like vocals on many of her songs, she’s an amazing singer.
Funny you should mention the album cover. It was the initial inspiration for this new classic album feature. Stay tuned for my upcoming top 20 best album covers of all time.
I never connected All Through the Night to this record or to Lauper – that’s a lot of hits on a record, it’s getting up there with Thriller and Born in the USA.