Back in the late Fall of 1983, two new female artists had sprung to the attention of the music underground, though neither would remain an underground sensation by the time 1984 rolled around. Still, let’s back up to the Quarter Break of 1983 that took place around Thanksgiving, as usual. While home on break, I discovered these two women who would go on to shape popular music for years to come. The women were Madonna, whose debut was quietly dropped back in July 1983, and Cyndi Lauper, the woman with the thrift-shop clothes, Brooklyn accent and big pipes, whose debut, She’s So Unusual was released in October 1983. Little did we realize that these two woman would battle it out on the charts for the better part of three years, until one’s hits dried up while the other became a cultural icon. But, when these albums were released, many music fans were picking Cyndi Lauper to have the long, influential career. Her vocals were much stronger than Madonna’s at this stage in their careers and Lauper showed on her debut album that she had songwriting chops. And, initially, Lauper was the clear winner. However, by the two’s third releases, Madonna began to capture the imaginations of little girls who wanted to be like her and boys who wanted their girlfriends to act like her. And, for some reason, Lauper lost her touch on mainstream music, and began a quick descent into obscurity, although many would have preferred her woman power message to have won out over Madonna’s strong woman in the bedroom persona. But, that was not meant to be. So, let’s go back to celebrate that great debut album that Cyndi Lauper gave us back on October 14, 1983.
Immediately, Cyndi Lauper jumped into our family rooms via her great video for that “Girl Power” (yes, the Spice Girls stole Lauper’s shtick a decade later) anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. From the beginning of that song, as the guitar, synthesizer and electronic drums crash together in order to grab the listeners attention, we were all mesmerized by the images of Cyndi, in her Goodwill clothing, pleading with her parents to allow Miss Lauper and her girlfriends out of their homes so they can just have fun. The song became the weekend party anthem of young college women on the Ball State campus. Everywhere you went for nearly the rest of that school year, you could hear the refrain coming from small clusters of young women singing their newly adopted anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. And, Lauper’s video even threw a bone to guys everywhere as World Wrestling Federation (back in those days!) icon Captain Albano was cast as Lauper’s father in the video. It was a marketing coup that paid dividends for both pro wrestling and Lauper, and one she continued to court throughout the Eighties.
Yet, what could have been a novelty song in less talented hands, easily transitioned into an anthem as sales of her album began to take off. Suddenly, we realized this woman was more than a party girl looking for fun. No, Lauper had depth, as she displayed on her heartbreaking ballad “Time After Time”. And, who couldn’t related to her sentiment of a relationship ending as the two people in the couple just slowly begin too drift apart even though they are trying to cling to each other against that current of breakup.
Side One also had a third hit, “Money Changes Everything”, which displayed Lauper’s pop/rocker side, and a song that should have been a HUGE hit, a cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine”, which showed her new wave side. In both cases, the female protagonists in each song are strong woman who are not afraid to face life with a man and their one-sided relationships. Rarely had a woman’s strong side been on display in rock music since Aretha Franklin came on the radio demanding her man to show some “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Finally, women and girls had a female rock artist not afraid to show her strength off to the public. Sure, the Wilson sisters of Heart, Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders and Pat Benatar all had shows of strength. But, to devote a whole side of an album to this was new ground in 1983.
And, while we were blown away by Side One, nothing on God’s green earth prepared us for what Cyndi Lauper did on Side Two. The whole second side of the album is a new wave tour de force lead by the backing band from Philadelphia who would have some chart success in 1985-6 known as The Hooters. Their muscular rock sound with new wave pop touches only allows Lauper to flex her vocal muscles around these songs. Although only one hit song was on this side, these songs represented the true meat of Cyndi’s message of being a strong female. Yet, it was the one hit song on this side, the Top Five “She Bop” that made most of the noise.
And, why was that? Upon first glance, “She Bop” is a great new wave dance song. But, as you read the lyric sheet, you notice that this is a song about a woman telling the world that she loves to have a little female alone time. Of course, males have been disguising songs about masturbation throughout the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Come on, what do you think the Everly Brothers are dreaming about when they sang “All I Have to Do Is Dream”? Or, what exactly is going on in that seemingly bubblegummy hit from 1977 by Alan O’Day called “Undercover Angel”? Or, how about “Imaginary Lover” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section? Or, “Rosie” by Jackson Browne, “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors, or Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”? Up to this point, rock music was full of songs about males relieving themselves. But, females? Good girls didn’t do such things. Or did they?
Well, Cyndi Lauper blew the lid off the subject and confirmed to the world that women did such things and she did too. And, “She Bop” got passed the censurers, became a huge hit and answered to the world that women liked sex, even if they needed to help themselves from time to time. The subject matter blew the lid off a then-taboo subject, as the Eighties began to shed the code words and started to be more direct in their lyrics, especially with the use of expletives, which led to songs in the Nineties and beyond to release both “clean” and “dirty” versions of songs and albums. Yet, it was Lauper, not Madonna, who blew the lid off this subject matter, a fact that is lost to history, especially since you rarely hear “She Bop” played on free radio’s “Eighties Weekends”. I understand why radio will no longer play the Genesis song “Illegal Alien”, but “She Bop”? Come on! That cat’s out of the bag, pardon the pun. Let’s just move passed it and let this great song live on.
Now, if you were comparing debut albums, you can see why people were expecting huge things from Lauper. However, if she had gotten as big as Madonna did, I don’t think we would have seen such a rich and diverse career that Lauper has had. Cyndi has branched into acting, allowing her to score some awards along the way. Still, 35 years later, I can more fully appreciate the greatness in the gift she left us when she released She’s So Unusual. One last thing: you can see Cyndi Lauper perform live on tour as she is Rod Stewart’s opening act this summer. Maybe Cyndi could sing “She Bop”, and then Rod could follow it up with “Tonight’s the Night”. That would be a nice one-two punch of sexuality.