“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is the song that put Cyndi Lauper on the scene and to this day is the song she is most identified with, even though she has had many other hit songs since, recorded dance albums, standards albums and blues albums and recently became the first woman to win a Tony for writing both music and lyrics for the hit Broadway show “Kinky Boots”.
Yet “Girls…”, her first hit song, is the anthem that may always define her the most, a fact she herself tacitly acknowledged by recording not one but two distinctive cover versions. Naturally other artists have recorded their own cover versions, and they can be heard in all styles and moods. Interesting though is not only how many cover versions are sung by men, but that these versions are almost all more popular on Itunes than any cover versions recorded by women. Maybe it is just more fun to hear men sing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” without change of pronoun or first person narrative.
So today, a few days before Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks to Cyndi Lauper’s many “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, and the many guys having a variety of fun in her wake.
We’ll start with the original:
And follow that up with Cyndi Lauper’s cover version featuring Puffy AmiYumi and lots of brass and Latin party flavor, retitled “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”:
Lauper also recorded a second cover version, now titled “Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)”, slowed down and groovy, with a strong Caribbean flavor. In more recent concert appearances, this or something like this is the version of the song she would perform when the time came during the encores to give “Girls” its expected due.
Recordings of Cyndi Lauper several early demo versions of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” are circulating as well. This “Early Guitar Demo” is the most distinctive, and punky, and might be giving us an idea how the song was originally conceived. It includes several lyrics that didn’t make it into the pop version that would become a world wide hit.
Let’s move on to the cover versions by other artists, and of the many cover versions of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, this somber piano ballad take on the song by Gary Laswell is definitely the most popular. It is listed as a “demo” and appears to have been considered but not included in his “covers” EP. Nonetheless it has become one of his most successful recordings. He sings it in first person narrative, just like Cyndi, which would make him the girl that wants to have fun.
The only lyric change Laswell incorporates is adding “those”, as in “those girls want to have fun” in the end of the song. But he still sings “Not me, I want to be the one in the sun. Girls, they just want to have fun”. Yet there is nothing “campy” or “cheeky” in the delivery. It is straightforward and completely unconcerned with gendering. It is simply a beautifully rendered song. It may make no logical sense that a man is singing and that a song about having fun sounds so somber and sad. And yet it is so compelling that we are invited to just forget about “logic” or “norms” and be moved by the song and performance.
And so we are. As we are by Cory Monteith’s pretty faithful cover of Laswell’s original cover on the TV show Glee, tastefully spiced with some subtle electric guitar and back up vocals. The sad fact of Monteith’s untimely death adds extra poignancy to this recording.
Laswell’s cover may by far be the most successful, but if we are talking male covers of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” our minds are probably going to conjure boys who like boys going dancing in the club, possibly even in various stages of drag. STRFKR’s cover happily, or gayly, fulfills that paradigm. (Gee, I wonder where one would put the missing letters in STRFKR?)
OK, we got that out the way. It was obligatory, but ultimately not really that interesting. Let’s go for something more Punk, shall we, in honor of Cyndi’s early demo. This is by The Maine from something called Punk goes Pop. Admittedly, as Punk goes, this is pretty mild, at least until we get to the guitar breaks. Then is does get a little more radical. (Ed just mumbled “Not my favorite version…”).
On another far side of the musical spectrum would be this all male blue grass version by Love Canon. Laced with southern accents, banjo picking and sweet Country harmonies, this slow paced cover also veers more towards the sad than the joyful, but does so in sweetly poignant fashion.
Let’s take this back to Cyndi Lauper. People might be excused in thinking she hasn’t been recording since the ‘80s, but that is just because her later albums have not received the attention of her early work. Arguably some of her best work can be heard in the dance music concept album “Bring Ya to the Brink” and the authentic “Memphis Blues”. But her big success of late has been writing the Tony winning score to the hit musical “Kinky Boots”. It’s one of the most artistically and commercially successful attempts of blending pop music sensibilities with musical theater dramatics in an original score.
Plenty of songs one could highlight from “Kinky Boots”, but since this is a piece about “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, how about we focus on the song sung brilliantly by Annaleigh Ashford: “The History of Wrong Guys”. Sung by a character who likely had “Girls Just Want to have Fun” as her anthem for many years, but has come to learn that it ain’t so much fun with the wrong guys. Of which there have been lots and lots.