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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Throwing Back to 1984: Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper arrived on the scene with all the gentle politeness of a flash flood. One day she was just suddenly everywhere, blowing up MTV with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," the first single off her first record, She's So UnusualCute as a button with that unruly mop top of streaky orange hair, Cyndi's synth pop, throaty voice and blended motif of punk and old Hollywood glam appealed to just about everybody. Style meant a lot back when video killed the radio stars, and this chick from Queens had buckets of style to spare. 

The "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" video shows the petite chanteuse dancing her way home in the morning. Her parents, portrayed by her real mom and pro wrestler Captain Lou Albano, scolding her for staying out all night and hogging the phone. See, kids, in the 80s "the phone" was a device permanently affixed to your house, and everyone who lived in the house shared the phone unless you were Molly Ringwald. See, kids, Molly Ringwald was...never mind.

Casting Captain Lou launched the unlikely rock & wrestling connection, an 80s cultural touchstone if ever there was one. Wrestling? If not for Cyndi Lauper, someone the likes of me would never know who was Hulk Hogan, Captain Lou or Rowdy Roddy Piper. It all started here with Captain Lou -- dude the size of a VW Beetle -- losing to tiny little Cyndi in a father/daughter "fight" when the phone rings in the middle of the night. She gets him in a half-nelson and tells him,"Oh daddy dear, you know you're still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun." See what I mean -- why do I know that's a half-nelson? Because Cyndi Lauper.

What I didn't know until quite recently is that "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is a cover song, changed a bit by Cyndi and her band. I looked up the original version. It's pretty good, though it's got none of Cyndi's carefree romp. Robert Hazard (RIP) turned out more of a dark, low rock ode to sex. Rather than a bright, bouncy vocal, Hazard slurs his way through, calling out the "fun" wanted by girls from a man's point of view in such a way that's definitely far less innocent than Cyndi's dance parties and phone gossip marathons.

The Internet hive mind seems to consider the Hazard original offensive, misogynistic and lewd. I don't hear any of that. Sure it's a sex fueled rock song, but to paint it as offensive for THAT, you'd have to get a much bigger brush and get busy painting the last hundred years. In fact, maybe it's faster to sort out what rock songs aren't about sex. Good luck with that.

Cyndi certainly pried the door ajar for Madonna, who came along a year or two later sporting a similar unruly head of hair, wrists full of bangles, array of low-slung belts over flouncy skirts, but with the addition of more cleavage, lace, eyeliner, crucifixes and sex. Cyndi was not that R-rated brand of slinky come-hither vixen, but she certainly seemed way more fun to be around. That's still true, actually. I love Madonna, but in person she's gotta be whatcha call "a handful." Remember when she all of a sudden affected a weird accent? Dude, you're from Michigan, c'mon. Be real.

But I could hang with Cyndi. Talk about Dolly Parton and LGBT and civil rights and stuff. 

"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is written into Generation X archives as something of a feminist anthem. I say that's a stretch. Sure it's a great song, but in terms of female power anthems I'd put up Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and a half dozen others first. "Girls" wouldn't even crack the top ten. For one thing, it's "girls." What card carrying feminist self-applies that label past puberty? Plus it's just barely saved from suggesting that women don't want to earn their own way thanks to the line "when the working day is done." Good, because without that line it would be quite the non-feminist sentiment. Nobody wants to get behind a message that implies girls JUST wanna have fun and do nothing else.

If it makes any social statement at all, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" pleasantly suggests a proper work/life balance. It's not a political rallying cry. It's harmless, timeless, big fun pop for the people.


 (This essay was part of a "Throwback Thursday" series requested by a friend. A bunch of us did it. You're supposed to post, and write about, one "top favorite" video from the 1980s every Thursday.)

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