Cyndi’s Musical Detour

Cyndi lauper cr chapman baehler
Cyndi Lauper

I’m sure all of you have heard the saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” However, even when experiencing adverse conditions, months and years rapidly move ahead. I can think back to 1983 and remember various events that left indelible marks upon my memory. While attending college, I can remember a young woman who burst on the musical scene with a major hit song. The artist was Cyndi Lauper, and the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” At the time I thought that Lauper was quite different from other artists. Not different with a negative connotation, but in Lauper’s case the word different meant fresh, or unique. The song and video found a large audience and entertained music fans worldwide. Thirty-three years later, Lauper is still enjoying a long career in the entertainment industry. She has experienced a few detours, or a shifts in musical direction.

In 2013, Lauper won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for composing the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, making her the first woman to win the category by herself. The musical was awarded five other Tonys including Tony Award for Best New Musical. In 2014, Lauper was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for the cast recording. On May 6, 2016, Lauper released her eleventh studio album Detour. It is a country music album for Warner Music under its Sire Records label, recorded in Nashville and produced by Tony Brown. At this late stage in Cyndi Lauper’s career, she has taken a sharp musical turn, a detour.

Cynthia Ann Stephanie “Cyndi” Lauper was born June 22, 1953. She grew up in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens and as a child, listened to such artists as The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday. At age 12, she began writing songs and playing an acoustic guitar given to her by her sister. Lauper expressed herself with a variety of hair colors, eccentric clothing and even took a friend’s advice to spell her name as “Cyndi” rather than “Cindy”.

By 1978, Lauper joined a band called Blue Angel. The band enjoyed a good start and eventually signed with Polydor Records. Blue Angel released an album in 1980 that received much critical acclaim, but did not sell well. As a result the band broke up. After Blue Angel broke up and due to her financial problems, Lauper spent time working in retail stores, waitressing at IHOP, and singing in local clubs. In 1981, while singing in a local New York bar, Lauper met David Wolff, who took over as her manager and had her sign a recording contract with Portrait Records, a subsidiary of Epic Records.

On October 14, 1983, Lauper released her first solo album, She’s So Unusual. The album peaked at No. 4 in the US, and became a worldwide hit. Lauper was interested in writing her own songs, but the record company provided her with songs to record that were written by other writers. Lauper sometimes changed the lyrics in the material she was given by the record company; such is the case with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Lauper found the original lyrics to be misogynistic, so she rewrote the song as an anthem for young women.

As I mentioned earlier, the appeal was for more than the song. The video came along at a time when the visual entertainment to go with the song was somewhat new. When I saw Captain Lou Albano, the professional wrestling manager, it added just the right amount of comedy to attract an audience of all ages. That song and video opened the door for the rest of the songs on the aptly titled She’s So Unusual album. The album’s second single “Time After Time” was co-written by Lauper and Rob Hyman. “Time After Time” hit No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. The song would earn Lauper an RIAA Gold certification for record sales that reached 500,000 copies. The other Billboard Hot 100 singles on She’s So Unusual were “She Bop” (No. 3), “All Through the Night” (No. 5), written by Jules Shear and “Money Changes Everything” (No.27). The album made Lauper the first female to have four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 top five hits from one album. The LP stayed in the Top 200 charts for more than 65 weeks. Lauper won Best New Artist at the 1985 Grammy Awards. She’s So Unusual also received nominations for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), and Song of the Year (for “Time After Time”). It also won the Grammy for Best Album Package, which went to the art director, Janet Perr.

Cyndi Lauper would go on to release nine more studio albums until her current album Detour, was released earlier this month. I took the time to listen to the entire album. At first, I thought it was interesting to hear Lauper tackle the country music arena. As time, and the songs played on, I began to really enjoy her interpretation of the country classics. It was great to hear her in good voice, entertaining fans once again. I’m not the only one who thought Lauper did a good job. Music critic Keith Harris of Rolling Stone magazine wrote “Aging rock and pop stars often seek a late-career safe harbor in country music, but 62-year-old Cyndi Lauper tackles the genre with characteristically daring eccentricity.” John Paul of PopMatters wrote “Not entirely successful yet not entirely without merit, Cyndi Lauper’s work on Detour is just that: a detour from the norm and an attempt at finding something new in something old.”

The Broadway musical Kinky Boots, and the country music album Detour, for certain are moves in a different direction for Lauper. I don’t think she would surprise anyone if there is another move toward a different type of music. Lauper is certainly daring enough to take another musical detour.

* photo by Chapman Baehler

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