Top Cyndi Lauper Songs of the '80s

Cyndi Lauper was one of the most gifted pop singers of the '80s, able to write her own quality material and interpret the work of others to equal degrees of success. However, perhaps not many people actually realized then or acknowledge now how accomplished she is as a musician, mainly because the phenomenon Lauper became was so overwhelming during her brief reign of the mid-'80s. This was mostly due to her familiar, orange-haired new wave image, inspired by if not sonically akin to punk rock. Still, Lauper's best songs, explored chronologically here, stand comfortably with the best pop music of the decade.

This seems like the best place to start in a quest to suss out Lauper's best songs of the '80s, primarily because it originally surfaced on her underappreciated band Blue Angel's lone, eponymous release in 1980 before also showing up in a solo version of the tune on 1986's True Colors. It's also a great starting point to realize and explore, perhaps for the first time, just how great a singer Lauper was and is. Unfortunately, this fact has sometimes been obscured by a too-strong focus on her image and a tendency toward overproduction on most of her records. Still, her vocal performance on either version of this tune is mesmerizing.

Nearly four years after she should have become a household name as lead singer of the short-lived Blue Angel, Lauper burst through with a vengeance as an orange-haired, free-spirited and strong female artist upon the release of this iconic song. Though its most obvious strength was its memorable video clip that spotlighted Lauper's striking but genuine image, the tune itself actually holds up very well as a classic '80s track despite its apparent slightness. Melodically, it's a soaring success, and Lauper's singing is remarkably transcendent throughout, a combination that pushed the single to No. 2 on the pop charts in late 1983.

While Lauper's She's So Unusual made the mistake at times of relying on songwriters other than Lauper herself (when she has always been quite capable of producing her own material), in this case the decision to draw from outside writers was a sparkling one. After all, the brilliant Jules Shear, who penned this beauty, remains one of pop's finest songwriters of the last 30 years of whom many listeners are unjustly unaware. Luckily, the song's arrangement for Lauper keeps dated sonic elements to a minimum and always keeps the focus on the majesty of the tune's composition as well as its singer's fine interpretation of it.

Lauper really nails her new wave aspirations and leanings with this cover of a tune originally recorded by the obscure Atlanta band The Brains in 1980. Lauper's version most certainly maximizes the song's commercial potential as opposed to the original, but it also brings out through its arrangement and Lauper's spirited vocal performance the memorable elements of the track that may have been hidden before. Rob Hyman, who would soon implement his distinctive melodica sound on hits from his band, The Hooters, offers a nice instrumental contribution here that lends the song a warm and lasting effect.
I was considering leaving this one off the list after determining that its uniquely frank treatment alone of the rarely breached subject of female masturbation was not enough to qualify it as indispensable. However, upon further consideration, I wondered if my general bias against dance music could be playing too much of a part in that decision. So I'm going to include this track as not only an imaginatively and provocatively executed pop concept song but also as yet another showcase for Lauper's singular, off-kilter vocal style. In addition, it doesn't hurt that the synthesizer groove is one of the best of the decade.
This song stands tall among the music of the entire rock era as one of its all-time (sorry) great timeless (sorry again) ballads. It also happens to be Lauper's only No. 1 single, a pinnacle reached on both the pop and adult contemporary charts. Co-written by Lauper with Hyman, who has also contributed memorable songs to artists in subsequent decades (Joan Osborne and Dar Williams, for example), the tune is a solid love song of devotion built on tasteful synth and chiming guitar parts. As such, it probably still functions impeccably as a properly emotionally wrenching slow-dance favorite.
Unbelievably cheesy instrumentation and production cannot hide the fact that this is yet another songwriting and singing triumph for Lauper. But it is irritating that the track's incredibly dated sound does so much to keep a great, hooky song from being even better. Listening to this one again, I was amazed to discover that it actually reached No. 3 on the pop charts in 1986. After all, I don't remember having heard this one at the time of its release, which makes me wonder if the fact that it sounds too much like a bad '80s movie's closing credits track has kept others from recognizing its quality as well.

As '80s swan songs go, this one is quite respectable indeed. Lauper's last album of the decade, 1989's A Night to Remember, was not particularly memorable, but this sultry, driving rock tune certainly deserved its No. 6 pop hit status and projected a convincing if possibly belated image of the singer as a mature, fully adult artist. The sexually charged material alone thrusts Lauper into a different dimension, but the real highlight here is her complex, aching vocal performance, one that thankfully gets center stage from producer Phil Ramone, with minimal instrumental clutter.