She's So Unusual

She's So Unusual

When Cyndi Lauper first heard “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” she decided then and there to flip the script—and create a feminist anthem in the process. Written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979, the original arrangement had a rock melody ripped out of the ’50s and a message that felt almost as dated. “It sounded just like ‘girls just want to have sex,’ which I don't think is bad,” Lauper tells Apple Music. “But I didn't want to be the girl with the lobotomy who's just singing, 'We want to have fun, we want to have sex!' I wanted something more.” That she got: Her 1983 debut album She’s So Unusual has sold over 7 million copies and yielded four Top 10 hits, a Best New Artist Grammy, and a pop-cultural impact so instantly iconic and omnipresent that she can be fairly credited with helping turn WrestleMania into one of the biggest juggernauts in entertainment. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, she was a trained singer with exceptional lung power and a preternatural ability to make any song her own—a talent she perfected on Manhattan’s nightclub circuit. After her band Blue Angel broke up following an ill-fated record deal, Lauper was constantly mining the sounds of the city for inspiration and had plenty of ideas when she finally went into the studio to record her solo debut in the summer of 1983. Producer Rick Chertoff, who Lauper refers to as a “song collector,” brought a handful of songs to the sessions to see if any of them would be a fit, including Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and Jules Shear’s “All Through the Night.” With Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, a Philadelphia band she adored, Lauper started experimenting and incorporating sounds she loved. The gated snare that she heard in the streets as hip-hop's influence grew beyond the Bronx and punk gave way to New Wave; the cadence and riffs of reggae; even a melody inspired by the carnival organ heard floating over the Coney Island boardwalk—they all made it into the mix. These sounds bolstered her voice, which fluctuated between a defiant belt (“Money Changes Everything,” “I'll Kiss You”), cloud-grazing high notes (“When You Were Mine,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), and comforting serenade (“Time After Time,” “All Through the Night”) throughout the album. “I made them change the keys to each song to find where my voice sounded good,” she says. “Then the song had character, and it was a story.” For Lauper, the album is an anthology of sorts, with each song a chapter that tells the story of Cyndi Lauper coming into her own while embracing the experimental freedom of the early ’80s. Ballad or ball-busting kiss-off, her performance and the synth-laden arrangements that accompanied her were just as vivid, eccentric, and shockingly colorful as her technicolor hair, pounds of costume jewelry, and memorable thrift store ensembles. “A very famous man in the industry said to me once that rock ’n’ roll is disposable music,” Lauper says. “And I said, ‘Oh, hell no, it's not!’ I don't make songs that are disposable. I'm making songs that are going to last. I hope that when I'm old and gray and all gone, that my music will still give somebody hope, or lift, or help with something, the same way that I get it with other songs that other musicians have recorded that I sang forever.” Here, she shares the stories behind some of these immortal hits. “Money Changes Everything” “I always felt my voice was too low in the track, which I rectified when I did the live version. But I actually held that note for a long time at the end, and I surprised myself, it was very exciting to me. That was a high note for me—literally a high note!” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” “We are always taught we're the bad girls—and that's what I felt was a crock of shit. Because it's not that you're bad; you want the same civil liberties that your brother has or your friends have. You want to be free-thinking. You don't want to have to have braces on your brains, and if you don't act the way the society tells women to act, then you are labeled as a bad girl or a tramp. It was supposed to have a lot of sounds that were like summer, things that I remembered, like that summer organ sound that was very much like summer in Rockaway Park. I wanted all of that in there so that it would just be music that made you happy—and with that, you can also inject an idea that not only do girls want to have fun, but they should be allowed to have fun. Rob Hyman and I were laughing and listening to it, and he goes, ‘What kind of music is this, anyway?!’ And I said, ‘I don't know. Does it make you happy?' And he says, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Well, it's happy music.'” “When You Were Mine” “The Prince song was a big deal because nobody was writing about the everyday life like that. ‘You didn't have the decency to change the sheets’—that you would be talking about that was a big deal for me. [Executive producer] Lennie Petze said, 'Why don't you double your voice low, and sing high, and we put that together? And then it could be this rock thing, and you'd still hear the story.' So that's what we did." “Time After Time” “It was always a big fight for me to write, because [Chertoff] had all these songs. He didn't need me to now start writing, but I wanted to write—it was my album! I'm in my head going, 'I'm going to write something, and I hope that this song never goes away so that they remember to always give somebody a chance to write their own freaking music on their own freaking album.' And all of a sudden, I felt a hand on my shoulder telling me to let it go. So I did. And then I started to write: 'If you're lost, you can look and you'll find me. If you fall, I'll catch you.' I started writing about my relationship with my boyfriend-manager at the time. He had come over: I had a Betty Boop clock, which I loved, and I had a loft bed, so he climbed up one night and knocked the clock over and it literally smashed. Then he comes back with a clock from his mother's house that was so old and loud that I had to put it on a rug in the shower and close the door. I could still hear it while I was lying in bed. So that's where the first line came from: 'Lying in my bed, I hear the clock tick and think of you'—because how could you not? I should have known from just that that it wasn't going to work out.” “She Bop” “[Songwriter Stephen Broughton Lunt] called me up saying, ‘You got to sing this, it's about female masturbation.' I just thought it was really funny. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were recording [Double Fantasy] and she barricaded the vocal booth or something where nobody could see her, and she was touching herself or something weird there and singing. Every time I'm singing, I got all these people looking at me like I'm in a goldfish bowl. So I talked to Bill Wittman, who was the engineer and a guy who used to really listen to what I had to say, and made him run the wires all the way to this rehearsal space in the Record Plant, which was where KISS would rehearse. Nobody could see me, they could just hear me, and I could feel free. I sang 'She Bop' and I took my shirt off and I tickled myself because just the idea of being free and singing and not being watched was so extraordinary to me." “All Through the Night” “Marianne Faithfull had just come out with something on Island called Broken English, and I was so taken with her sound, and by the fact that her voice radically changed into some deep, rich, wonderful thing. Now, I wasn't going to try and do that, but I always did rasp my voice when I was in cover bands, singing the Rod Stewart songs. So, it had to be raspy, it had to be soft, it had to be high, it had to be singing to some little street urchin. That was the story in my mind, so I approached it like that, and Eric was really amazing with the drum machine and with the instruments, because he likes to tinker. We got it to work, and it created a space for this story.” “He’s So Unusual” “I would do, for fun, impersonations—I did a really great Ethel Merman sings The Beatles. I did Johnny Mathis sings ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ I did Helen Kane’s ‘He’s So Unusual.’ And so Rick said, ‘What if you did this Helen Kane song while this other song was playing?’”

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