The best pop album of 1983. What else was there to compete with? Madonna? No.
She’s So Unusual detractors—seriously, are there any?—will probably point out that most of these songs are covers or else written by others. Now, I’m not naïve enough to realize that this probably doesn’t have detractors, but I think that’s more to do with this belonging to the pop genre than anything else. When people finally realize that liking pop music doesn’t make you any less of a man than liking rock music, the world will be a better place.
As for the fact that eight out of ten of these songs are written by others? That’s a moo(t) point: songs are songs, and so long as they’re good (which they are) and credit is given where credit is due (which they are), I’ve no qualms. Not to mention, like the best artists whose most well-known song(s) are covers (think: Jeff Buckley), Cyndi Lauper makes these songs her own. One of the subtler examples is that a line like “I know, that you’re goin with another guy” is completely different in her hands than it was when Prince sang it.
The most obvious example, however, is on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” where she altered the original lyrics by Robert Hazard and famously revealed in a RollingStone interview that “It was originally about how fortunate [Robert] was ’cause he was a guy around these girls that wanted to have ‘fun’ – with him – down there, which we do not speak lest we go blind,” and single-handedly turns a (what probably was) misogynistic song into a feminist anthem, not just of the decade, but ever. But even that’s selling it a little short; most of my gay friends are hugely fond of this song, and apparently when Cyndi Lauper visited Indigo shortly before I started working there, legions of gays came out (pun not intended). So yeah, we’ll call it a feminist anthem but we can drop the pigeonholing adjective and just call it an anthem. Seriously, just replace the word “Girls” with whatever noun you belong to when you’re singing it to yourself at home or belting it out on a night out.
And while “Girls Just Wanna Gave Fun” might be the lead single of the album and forever immortalizing Ms. Lauper and being forever immortalized, personally, “She Bop” is better. That bassy grind is the definition of sexy (I remember when I was somewhere in grade 1-3 and me and my friends were discussing the word with a Disney-eyed innocence that you’d only see in people at that age, we understood the word to mean girls who wore an over-the-shoulder shirt. That qualifies too). The chorus is more encompassing that you wouldn’t need to change the words, “She bop – he bop – a – we bop / I bop – you bop – a – they bop,” and yes, “bop” here is a euphemism for saying yoo-hoo to the hoo-hoo, marching the penguin, ya-ya-ing the sisterhood, Finding Nemo, etc. (the couplet, “They say I better get a chaperone / Because I can’t stop messin’ with the danger zone?” Hilarious). A decade later (exactly), people will be talking at length about Liz Phair’s “Fuck and Run” and her take on feminism, but as far as I’m concerned, this is where it started.
Personally, there’s only one bad track on the record and that’s “He’s So Unusual.” It’s more to do than the fact that it’s a useless skit; there’s the fact that it’s filtered through the right channel that’s a bit of an annoyance, but that’s only 45 seconds long and I think we as humans, with our higher cognition, capacity to forgive minor errors and what not, will survive. The rest of these songs have at least a solid hook (the best of which not mentioned so far is the goddamn glorious one on opener “Money Changes Everything”), but even the less-talked about ones offer something else, even if they don’t have the benefit of feminist-empowering lyrics. Listen, for example, to the emotion of “Time After Time” or the sequencer line of “All Through the Night.” “Witness” is driven forward by a bass line (not sexy, but definitely danceable) and little bursts of guitar and percussion (probably the best percussion on the album), while the male-female call-and-response vocals, horns and “Rock Lobster” imitations in closer “Yeah Yeah” prevent it from being a write-off.
To conclude, I’ll leave you with two points:
1. Especially nowadays, it seems that any female singer with even the slightest of unique voices gets compared to Kate Bush. It’s something that’s both unfair (because being compared to Kate Bush sets everyone up for failure) and ridiculous, because Cyndi Lauper does it everywhere here (don’t worry, I’m well aware that Kate Bush came before her). For more information, listen to the chorus of either “When You Were Here” (how she enunciates “guy” and “lie” especially) or “She Bop” (which makes the melodic “I hope He will understand” so much better). Or you know, the entirety of “I’ll Kiss You.” These aren’t Kate Bushisms. They’re just fun.
2. Because once wasn’t enough: When people finally realize that liking pop music doesn’t make you any less of a man than liking rock music, the world will be a better place.