Some of the most iconic pop and rock songs of the past half century have been covers. These two weeks, I will take a look at these classics and their overshadowed originals.
In 1979, minor new wave artist Robert Hazard wrote a song about how women are never passionate or committed in the bedroom. He released it as a demo.
Around that same time, Cyndi Lauper’s first band, Blue Angel, was forming. Their one album received good reviews, but flopped, and the band split.
Lauper took a retail job and started singing at bars in New York. Businessman David Wolf heard her sing one night and was won over. He convinced her to hire him as her manager. He secured a new recording deal for Lauper.
Her solo debut, She’s So Unusual, released to ecstatic acclaim and epic sales. Here’s what S.T. Erlewine wrote in his review of the album:
She’s So Unusual is a giddy mix of self-confidence, effervescent popcraft, unabashed sentimentality, subversiveness, and clever humor. In short, it’s a multifaceted portrait of a multifaceted talent, an artist that’s far more clever than her thin, deliberately girly voice would indicate.
Four singles from the album hit the top ten, including her first and biggest: A cover of Hazard’s obscure tune.
Let’s take a listen of both the original and the cover:
I actually quite like Hazard’s song. It’s idiosyncratic and self-pitying, but not particularly mean-spirited. He drives the tune with a clear guitar line and frantic drum line. It’s great pop-rock songcraft that would have fit well on a Joe Jackson album. Lauper’s famous “they just-a-wanna” vocal riff originated as a guitar lick in Hazard’s version. In some ways, Hazard’s simpler production feels more ageless than its iconic sister.
Lauper, meanwhile, drowns the tune in synths. Her voice is somehow even more dominant than the production: It’s bright and strong, almost garish.
Despite some brash stylistic choices, Lauper vastly improves the song. She lends the song energy and charm to spare. The relentless noise of the track match its fun-loving lyrics, promoting active and healthy social lives for women.
I like both tracks, but I have so many questions.
- Who had the idea for Lauper to cover Hazard’s song?
- Who thought to tweak it and transform it 180 degrees into an anthem for free-wheeling young women?
- Did anyone think it would actually work?
- How did Hazard feel about his half-baked whining turning into one of the essential tracks of the decade?