Sunday, July 03, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Cyndi Lauper - She's So Unusual (1983)

It's common that when one major female pop artist appears on the scene, you actually get two that are similar enough to draw instant comparisons. Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson. Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. Etc. Sometimes it's the one you don't expect that becomes the bigger star.

That was certainly the case in 1984, which saw the emergence of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. Both worked outrageous looks over cutting edge pop--Madonna treading more in dance pop waters while Lauper had a broader sound, encompassing dance pop, synth pop, even rock. And initially, Lauper was the biggest star. Madonna struggled to find a top 10 hit, which finally came with "Borderline" and then her biggest hit at that point, #4 single "Lucky Star." Although Lauper took awhile to catch on too, when she did, she was even bigger, scoring four top 5 singles from She's So Unusual, including #1 hit "Time After Time" and #2 "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"--both of which are easily '80s classics.

Of course, we all know that Madonna became the much, much bigger star, but in 1984, that outcome wasn't so obvious. In fact, I remember commentators at the time discussing how clearly Lauper would go on to bigger fame, since she the more creative of the two, and that Madonna lacked sufficient talent to have much staying power.

If She's So Unusual was all you had to go on, this wasn't such a bad assumption. The album was a massive pop success, jumping from the buoyant pop of "Girl Just Wanna Have Fun" to the goofy/dirty pop of "She Bop," to the synth-rock vibe of "Money Changes Everything." Lauper didn't have the best voice--it can be quite grating--but she had a lot of style, convincingly fitting into all of these styles. With her bright clothes and even brighter red hair, you'd think she couldn't nail a convincing ballad, but "Time After Time" was the album's biggest hit, and it remains a remarkable '80s pop ballad. Less impressive, but still enjoyable, is the album's other hit ballad, "All Through the Night." The production is very of the moment, but the songs themselves have proven to have staying power, especially "Time After Time," which is always being remade.

Lauper's follow-up, True Colors, gave her another #1 hit in the title track and a top 5 single, "Change of Heart," but the sales were a significant drop off, and then by the time she put out her third album in 1989 (which did yield the impressive single "I Drove All Night"), pop music had moved on.

Best: Time After Time, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, She Bop, All Through the Night

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