Born Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper on June 22, 1953, Cyndi Lauper is best known as the kooky, squeaky-voiced singer with the multi-colored hair and a giddy onstage persona. Yet despite that flighty attitude, she made some serious impressions on the pop charts early on. In the mid '80s she dominated the airwaves courtesy of her first solo album, 1983's She's So Unusual, an album that spawned four top five singles (the first time in history that a female achieved that distinction) -- "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (soon to be her signature song), "Time After Time," "She Bop," and "All Through the Night." It also earned her Best New Artist nods at the Grammy Awards in 1985.
With its 1986 follow-up True Colors, Lauper's popularity continued to accelerate, propelling her to worldwide fame. Two of the songs from that album -- the title track and "Change of Heart" -- earned Grammy nominations and helped keep her in the spotlight through the end of the '80s and beyond.
Lauper released another nine albums, culminating in a comeback of sorts that resulted from reinventing herself as a blues chanteuse. The album that followed -- her most recent to date -- Memphis Blues, topped the Billboard Blues charts and remained at number one for thirteen consecutive weeks, becoming her most successful effort since the start of her solo career. With total album sales of more than 50 million albums and 20 million singles, she's earned the distinction of being one of the best-selling artists of the past 30 years.
Lauper moved in a musical direction starting at an early age. At twelve, she learned to play guitar and began composing her first songs. Even then, she was dying her hair and wearing wild fashions. Her first big break came with the band Blue Angel which managed to sign a recording deal with Polydor Records mainly on the strength of Lauper's voice. The band's new wave stance managed to attract critical notice, but weak sales led the group to disband. They sued their former manager and Lauper was left in bankruptcy, forced to work in a thrift store to make ends meet. Eventually she secured new management as well as a deal with Epic Records, which led her to her real big breakthrough.
Lauper's fame escalated from there. She appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in May 1984, as well as the covers of Time, Newsweek, and People. The readers of Ms. Magazine also voted her among its women of the year.
As Lauper's career progressed into the succeeding decades, it found her flexing her creativity in a variety of ways as she ventured into film, television, and an increasing number of charitable endeavors. She participated in the recording of the all-star "We Are the World" single in 1985, Roger Waters' worldwide broadcast of The Wall recording live from Berlin, and joined forces with her friend Yoko Ono in a 1990 John Lennon tribute concert in Liverpool.
Likewise, her albums became increasingly issue-oriented in nature. Her fourth album, Hat Full Of Stars tackled such topics as homophobia, spousal abuse, racism, and abortion. Its follow-up, Sisters of Avalon, continued on that tack with the songs "Ballad of Cleo and Joe" detailing a drag queen's double life, "Brimstone and Fire" painting a portrait of a lesbian relationship, "Say a Prayer" addressing the issue of AIDS, and "You Don't Know" offering some political posturing.
Lauper was spurred into action after her sister Ellen, an AIDS activist, came out as a lesbian. She participated in numerous gay rights events, including closing ceremonies at Gay Games IV in New York City, the True Colors Tour for Human Rights, the Sydney Australia Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras party, her own Give a Damn and True Colors campaigns, and the Fashion Against AIDS initiative. It should be noted however that Lauper herself is unflinchingly heterosexual. She's been married to actor David Thornton since 1991, and the couple has a 14 year old son, Declyn Wallace Thornton, who was named after Declan McManus, otherwise known as Elvis Costello.
Nevertheless, for all her serious intents, the song "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" is the one that continues to define Lauper's colorful persona. Written from the point of view of a woman seeking to please a man, she changed the lyrics to reflect a more liberated attitude. The video became a staple on MTV, casting professional wrestling icon "Captain" Lou Albano as her father and her real-life mother, Catrine, as her mom. It ultimately won the first-ever award for Best Female Video at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. It also helped garner her international headlines as recently as last year. While looking for a way to pass the time while waiting for a delayed flight from Buenos Aires, Lauper launched into an impromptu performance of her signature song, encouraging other passengers to join in and sing along. A video was later posted on YouTube.
Given the fact that pop music's main preoccupation seems to be all about having fun, few songs actually allude to that activity directly in their titles. Here's a few others that do:
The Beach Boys: "Fun Fun Fun"
One of the most popular songs of the early Beach Boys' canon, it was supposedly inspired by Shirley Johnson, whose dad owned a radio station in Salt Lake City.
As the story goes, she borrowed her father's Thunderbird to drive to the University of Utah library to study, but once there, she met up with some friends and accompanied them to a hamburger stand and a drive-in movie. That was the extent of teenage mischief back in the sunny '60s it seems -- at least at the time. When daddy found out, he took the T-Bird away, causing her to complain about it when she went to the radio station the next day.
The Beach Boys happened to be visiting at the time, Brian Wilson and Mike Love took the cue, and one of the band's great early rockers was born. Ironically, their manager -- and the Wilson Brothers' own dad, Murray -- thought it was a poor idea and tried to prevent them from recording it. Inevitably, the song became a hit and Murray was fired shortly thereafter.
Sly and the Family Stone: "Hot Fun in the Summertime"
Recorded in 1969, and released shortly after the group's triumphant appearance at Woodstock, "Hot Fun" was hot indeed. A wistful reflection of the good times the band encountered that previous summer -- culminating with the aforementioned gig at Woodstock -- it was intended for inclusion on an album the band was recording at the time, but apparently the band was having so much fun, the LP was never completed, leaving it to reside instead on a greatest hits released the following year.
Ironically, the Beach Boys covered the song in 1992, but the album they pegged it for, 1992's Summer in Paradise, was so critically panned, their version quickly faded into well-deserved obscurity. Nevertheless, it did inspire greater glories. Phil Collins cited it as one of the musical inspirations for Genesis' song "Misunderstanding," while Toto called it their basis for the hit "Hold the Line." (No, we don't hear that connection either.)
Sheryl Crow: "All I Wanna Do (Is have Some Fun)"
Crow's breakthrough hit from her 1993 debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, the song garnered both the 1995 Grammy Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and was also nominated for Song of the Year. It eventually hit number one on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Pop chart.
Originally inspired by a poem called "Fun" by Wyn Cooper which was contained in a volume of poetry Crow's producer found in a used bookstore, Crow adapted the verse for her song, earning Cooper considerable royalties, and causing his book to leap from a limited edition into multiple reprints.
The opening spoken line, "This ain't no disco," refers to the refrain of "Life During Wartime" by Talking Heads, but played live, Crow would often change the line to accommodate local environs.
Britney Spears: "I've Just Begun (Having My Fun)"
Britney's never been what one would call a deep thinker, so the fact that the song refers to her penchant for partying ought to come as little surprise. Nor should it be a shock to learn the critics were generally dismissive. However, it was considered worthy of placement on the soundtrack for the film Bridesmaids. No great revelation there either.
Originally recorded for Spears' fourth studio album, In the Zone, it was truly a team effort, given that writing credits were shared by Spears and five collaborators. It kind of reminds of us of the old joke: "How many (fill in the blank) does it take to screw in a light bulb?" When you're Britney Spears, you presumably need all the asssistance you can gather.
Toby Keith: "You Ain't Much Fun Since I Quit Drinking"
This is our nominee for best song title of the bunch, hands down. Keith told an interviewer that his co-writer, Carl Goff Junior, joined him on his tour bus one night and began complaining about having a fight with his wife because she had threatened to leave him unless he stopped drinking. So now he was spending his time in the yard and doing chores, until one evening when he accidentally hit himself in the hand with one of his tools. When his wife asked him why he was in such agony, he replied, "You ain't much fun since I quit drinkin'."
Thus, a country classic was born. (None of Keith's songs are really available on YouTube. Take this one instead. Not much fun, but eh.)
Merciful Fate - "Nuns Have No Fun"
Leave it to a heavy metal outfit like Mercyful Fate to concoct lyrics like these:
"Upon a cross a nun will be hanged, she will be raped by an evil man,
Knock spikes through her hands, things won't come she won't understand,
You're a nun you haven't had no fun, living your life as virgin queen,
I'm gonna change it and I'll get it done, tomorrow you won't be a virgin
And that's just for starters. It gets really messy from there. We'd share the rest with you, but this being a family publication, we think it best that you investigate for yourself.
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