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Music

How Dexy’s Midnight Runners inspired Cyndi Lauper’s biggest hit

@SamWKemp

Few songs capture the mood of the 1980s quite like ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’. Released in 1983, the first and greatest solo single by Cyndi Lauper captured the changing face of female sexuality at a time when feminism was entering the conversation in a way that hadn’t been seen since the 1960s.

Some 39 years after its release, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ endures as one of the best pieces of pop songwriting ever captured on tape. It formed the blueprint for how future songwriters would tackle social issues while offering young women a bonafide floor-filler that, for once, was on their side. Even before Lauper, there were a fair few ‘feminist anthems’ floating around – though I doubt Aretha Franklin would have used that term to describe ‘Respect’ – but there aren’t many that combine feminist values with such a danceable beat. According to the song’s producer, Eric Brazilian, we have Dexy’s Midnight Runners to thank for that.

The impact of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ should not be understated. On release, the track became an essential part of early ’80s pop culture, setting a trend for bright and intentionally garish clothes. Without ‘Girls’, Madonna would probably have remained a little-known singer in New York’s new wave scene. Lauper was one of the first to take ownership of her image. She was also fairly unique in that she wrote her own songs. Although, somewhat paradoxically, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ is one of the few exceptions. The ‘feminist anthem’ was actually written by a man called Robert Hazard, who recorded his initial demo for the song in 1979.

None of this diminishes Lauper’s genius, however, quite the opposite. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Lauper explained that she altered the lyrics from Hazard’s original to transform ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ from a track that objectified women into a joyous declaration of girl power. “It was originally about how fortunate he 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.”

Lauper’s desire to craft a soundtrack for the modern women extended to the track’s video, which she made sure to populate with a diverse range of women. “I wanted ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ to be an anthem for women around the world – and I mean all women – and a sustaining message that we are powerful human beings,” Lauper said in I Want My MTV. “I made sure that when a woman saw the video, she would see herself represented, whether she was thin or heavy, glamorous or not, and whatever race she was.”

The enduring popularity of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ would imply that it was created in one of those ‘lightning in a bottle moments’. In reality, the studio session was plagued with difficulties, and it took some time to get the track right. Lauper worked alongside musicians Eric Brazilian and Rob Hyman of The Hooters, who worked closely with producer Rich Chertoff to craft Lauper’s debut solo album She’s So Unusual. The trio were good friends and worked well together, but that didn’t stop them from running into difficulties. Lauper, Brazilian, and Hyman made numerous arrangments of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, each one in a different style. However, there was a sense that the track just wasn’t working out and Lauper and her team agreed to take a break. A little while later, they were talking about ‘Come On Eileen‘, a big hit in America at the time. Infatuated by the track’s swung 4/4 beat, Lauper suggested they try re-recording ‘Girls’ in that style. “I turned down the tempo knob on the drum machine, programmed in the same kick drum pattern as ‘Come on Eileen, clicked on my guitar, and played that guitar riff,” Eric Bazilian recalled in Skaboom! “She started singing, and that was it.”

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