Cyndi Lauper turns 60: A Career Overview

Pop icon Cyndi Lauper turned 60 years old on Saturday, and hopefully she celebrated in style, coming off her triumph at the Tony’s with her “Kinky Boots” Broadway musical, and currently enjoying a successful tour celebrating 30 years of her breakthrough album “She’s So Unusual.”  Astonishingly, Cyndi hasn’t had a Top 40 pop hit in America since “I Drove All Night” way back in 1988 – yet she remains a prominent figure in pop culture, an icon for her support of gay rights, and a beloved entertainer.  In celebration of her 60th birthday, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments from her incredible career.

After a stint as lead vocalist in the short-lived pop/new wave group Blue Angel, Cyndi struck out on her own with “She’s So Unusual.”  Released in 1983 right at the peak of the MTV era, Cyndi’s colorful persona, catchy songs and powerhouse voice proved an irresistible combination.  Her debut single “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was a massive hit (and remains a party favorite and one of the defining singles of the 80s), and she followed that up with the first of two #1 hits – the poignant ballad “Time After Time.” She would ultimately score five Top 40 hits from “She’s So Unusual,” including “She Bop,” buoyed by an infectious guitar riff, Cyndi’s spot-on vocal and one of her most memorable videos.  “She Bop” hit #3 during the summer of 1984 and remains one of the biggest hits ever about masturbation (an accomplishment in itself).

Cyndi scored another big hit with the theme song from the iconic 80s movie “The Goonies” and then continued her hot streak with her second solo album, “True Colors.”  The title song and first single became her second #1 hit and years later would remain an important anthem of diversity and inclusion.   The “True Colors” album would spawn additional Top 10 hits with “Change of Heart” and her cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”, but one of the more memorable tracks was 4th single “Boy Blue.”  Although it failed to make the Top 40, the song was written in honor of a friend who died of AIDS and the proceeds of the single were donated to AIDS-related causes.  It was one of the earliest examples of what would become one of the hallmarks of Cyndi’s career – her support for and activism on behalf of the gay community, and it took place at the heights of the AIDS crisis at a time when not many major artists were taking a stand to support victims of the epidemic.

After scoring a minor hit with the charming “Hole in My Heart” from the film “Vibes,” a comedy in which Cyndi starred but was ultimately something of a flop, Cyndi returned with a more mature sound on her third album “A Night to Remember” in 1989.  It proved to be less commercially successful than her previous efforts, but is an underrated album that has stood up well over the years.   Although first single “I Drove All Night” became a major hit, it would prove to be the last of her career on the pop charts (thus far…)  A shame really, because the album was loaded with great pop songs that should have been bigger – particularly the stunning second single, “My First Night Without You,” which sadly stalled at #62.

Cyndi’s next album didn’t arrive until 4 years later, and it marked a much more adult contemporary approach to her music.  “Hat Full of Stars,” released in November 1993, had some lovely moments and great songs, such as “Sally’s Pigeon’s” and “Who Let in the Rain,” many of which dealt with social issues important to Cyndi.  But the music industry had changed – many 80s artists were struggling to connect with pop audiences in the 90s – and this more mature, less cartoonish version of Cyndi Lauper failed to ignite the interest of the record-buying public.  None of the singles from “Hat Full of Stars” made much of an impact on the charts, but perhaps, in light of Cyndi’s career resurgence, casual fans who might have missed it initially will go back and discover this overlooked gem of an album

1996 saw Cyndi release “Sisters of Avalon,” one of the finest albums of her career.  First single “You Don’t Know” didn’t make the Top 40, but did generate some airplay, and the album did earn some success on the dance charts with third single “Ballad of Cleo and Joe”.   Some of the high points on the album were the ballads – the lovely “Hot Gets a Little Cold” and, especially, “Fearless” and “Unhook the Stars”.

Cyndi released a Christmas album in 1998 called “Merry Christmas… Have a Nice Life,” and then an album called “Shine” that was released in 2001 in Japan only because of record label issues (it was released as a 5-track EP elsewhere in the world).  In 2003 her career hit an uptick with the release of “At Last,” a collection of jazz covers that launched Cyndi back into the Top 40 album charts in the US for the first time since the 80s, and earned her a Grammy nomination. 

In 2005 she followed with an album called “The Body Acoustic,” which featured many of her biggest hits re-recorded with an acoustic vibe, including some intriguing collaborations with artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Ani Difranco and Jeff Beck.  Finally in 2008 she emerged with an all-new studio album, “Bring Ya to the Brink,” this time going with a more dance-friendly approach.  Working with producers and collaborators such as Rich Morel, Basement Jaxx and Max Martin, the album featured several big hits on the dance charts, and earned Cyndi another Grammy Nomination.  “Same Ol’ Story,” a collaboration with Rich Morel, was a particular highlight:

In 2010 Cyndi shifted genres yet again, exploring her love for blues on “Memphis Blues.”  It became a critical and commercial success, and further broadened her fan base and showed once again her amazing versatility as a vocalist. 

Then last year, she returned to the dance charts again with another Rich Morel collaboration,  “Sex is in the Heel,” a track from her celebrated Broadway Musical “Kinky Boots.”  

She’s also released several hits compilations over the years, has toured extensively (perhaps most notably her True Colors Tour in 2007 and 2008 benefiting LGBT organizations), has appeared on TV shows (including a memorable stint on Celebrity Apprentice), and has solidified her standing as one of the most successful, enduring and widely loved entertainers to emerge from the 80s.   Hopefully her re-emergence into the public consciousness with the success of “Kinky Boots” will lead to new attention on some her fantastic body of work.   Happy Birthday Cyndi!

Music writer for Metro Weekly. Contact at cgerard@metroweekly.com.

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