Chart Week: April 21, 1984
Song: “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper
Chart Position: #36, 2nd week on the chart. Peaked at #1 for two weeks in June.

I recently read an article suggesting, based on an analysis of information from Spotify, that for the majority of us, the music we listen to between ages 11–16 form the basis for the music we listen to as adults.[1] I suppose this helps explain why I so love the music of 1984; that was the year I turned 13. Then again, that was a truly magical year for music so I don’t know if it matters whether I was 12/13 or some other age. It likely would have stuck with me regardless.

And I don’t know that it necessarily set the musical standard that I’ve stuck with my entire life. I certainly still listen to a lot of music both from and influenced by that period. And I come to a full stop when I hear a countdown from 1984. But I’ve also been listening to, primarily, alternative and indie rock for well over 20 years now. And I’ve always taken pride in keeping up with the latest trends in those genres rather than just listening to old tunes over and over. Witness my year-end music lists I spend hours putting together each December.

Still it was comforting to know that there may be some deep, biological explanation for why the music from 1984 still has such a strong effect on me.

Last week I listened to a good chunk of this countdown. Unlike the 1984 countdown I heard in February, we are now starting to get into the heart of the music that defined that epic year. It featured four songs from the Footloose soundtrack. Lionel Richie, Madonna, and Van Halen were all on the chart. And there were two Cyndi Lauper songs.

“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is one of the iconic songs of that era. Helped immensely by its goofy video and Lauper’s unique look, it is one of those songs that seems undeniably connected to a specific moment in time yet will be played and loved forever. Lauper was this wacky, likable, non-threatening feminist who was intent on carving out a new place for women in music and society. Based on this song, she didn’t seem all that different from Weird Al Yankovic, an artist who would provide more comic relief than artistic quality.

Then she dropped “Time After Time” as her follow-up single and began staking a claim as one of the biggest, most important artists of the year. I think she also blew everyone’s minds a little. “Wait, is that really Cyndi Lauper singing this serious, somber song?”

Folks woke up quickly. With good reason, as it is an incredible song. As I recall, I tried to resist it. It was written for people at least 10 years older than me. When I was just trying to hold girls hands and maybe get a kiss, I couldn’t understand the emotional weight behind a track like this. Yet it still resonated with me, even if I couldn’t quite grasp what Lauper was singing about.

That emotional content is something I learned to appreciate as I aged. Plus, getting older means you can admit to liking slower, deeper songs that are made more for quiet moments alone than for dancing around with friends.

I swear I hear this track at least once a week on SiriusXM. Which makes me happy. I think people unfairly recall Lauper’s look, her unforgettable New York accent, and the video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and dismiss the rest of her career. They’ve turned her into a de facto one-hit-wonder even though she was far from that. She had four Top 5 hits in 1984 alone, then added another #1, a #3, and a #6 before the end of the 80s. It’s good that some other people out there remember “Time After Time” which is, by far, her best song.

Don’t believe me? The writers behind Parks & Recreation were down.

Reading up on the song’s background, I found something I knew and something I did not.

I knew that Lauper wrote the song with Rob Hyman, just before his band, The Hooters, became famous.

What I did not know was that her label was pushing for “Time After Time” to be the lead single for her album She’s So Unusual. Lauper objected, saying leading with a ballad would close people’s minds about her music and derail her career. She and her manager fought for “Girls” to be the first single. Who knows if things would have been any different had her first two singles been swapped in order. But she deserves credit for fighting for control of her career. Her choice worked out pretty well.

Somewhat ironically the same day I heard this on our local AT 40 replay, the Sirius replay was from 1987. My brother in music, John N, sent me a message saying he had just heard Lauper’s remake of Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On” in that countdown. He wondered why she thought the world needed that song in 1987. My response was: hubris. After her 1984, when if not for Prince and Bruce she would have had the biggest chart year of any artist, Lauper and the people around her probably thought she could do anything. Apparently a lot of the public agreed; her remake peaked at a respectable #12. She would only have one more Top 40 hit after that, though.

  1. For men it is 13–16; women are a little earlier at 11–14.  ↩