During the first half of the 80s, he was busy bumping hips with Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley. But he spent the second half of the decade basking in the solo spotlight and earning a seat among the best and most admired (lusted after) 80s singers.
George Michael had swagger, he had style. He had a crooning voice full of passion. And he had a totally tight ass.
80s music gave us plenty of voices, but none were as smooth, sexy, or vulnerable as George Michael’s. Whether he was be-bopping a Wham! ditty or warbling a heart-wrenching solo love song, his vocal prowess stopped you in your tracks. He made you dance, smile, cry, and laugh at love. To put it simply: he made you feel.
80s Singers: Style or Substance?
In the 80s, singers often danced around their own voices. In fact, you didn’t have to have great vocal abilities (a sad fact that’s even truer today) to be a hit singer in the 80s. Marketing experts mastered the art of convincing listeners that the way singers looked was even more important than the way they sounded, and video… well it went and killed the old radio star.
But George Michael had the whole package. He could hit the high notes and he looked pretty tasty while he was doing it. He showed the world of 80s music that listeners still appreciated real talent, as long as it was packaged in a pair of tight jeans topped up with a sexy leather jacket.
In a decade that preferred style over substance, George Michael gave people both. He had it all.
George Michael’s 80s Music
George Michael first came to the public’s attention as one half of the British pop duo, Wham!. These two 80s singers formed their little band in 1981 and promptly put out the album Fantastic, which included several hit 80s songs, including “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do).”
In 1984, with their release of the album Make it Big, Wham! became a worldwide 80s music sensation and the boys suddenly found themselves plastered on the walls of suburban teenage girls’ bedrooms here and across the pond. Hit songs from Make it Big included “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom,” “Everything She Wants,” and “Careless Whisper,” a single that marked George Michael’s first solo effort.
After becoming the first Western pop music act to tour China in 1985, Wham! released their final album, Music From the Edge of Heaven, which featured a second solo single by George Michael, “A Different Corner.” The die was cast and Michael’s solo career took off. Wham! officially split in 1986, saying goodbye to their fans by releasing a compilation album titled The Final.
Tired of playing to screaming female teens who were more interested in collecting pin-ups and having sexual fantasies about him, George Michael shifted his focus to a more sophisticated sound and officially kicked off his solo career in 1987 by recording a duet with music icon Aretha Franklin. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” became a number one hit on both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Together, Michael and Franklin won a Grammy in 1988 for Best R&B Performance (Duo or Group with Vocal), beating out several other 80s singers.
It was the fall of 1987 when George Michael released his first solo full-length album, Faith. He wrote and produced all of the tracks except for one (which he co-wrote) and played numerous instruments on the recording. But before the album came out, the first single hit the airwaves.
You Want My What?
“I Want Your Sex” came out in the summer of 1987, and I remember it clearly. Everybody loved the song because it was so dirty. The rockers loved it, the hip hop crowd loved it. Hey, everybody wants the same thing, and George Michael just decided to go and sing about it.
As a reward for his honesty, George Michael got banned. Some radio stations wouldn’t play “I Want Your Sex,” although there was plenty of other 80s music that was just as racy, even if it was more subtle about it. Other stations opted for a toned-down version that replaced “sex” with “love” (as if they’re the same thing!). MTV only played the video late at night, proving that they weren’t as cutting edge as they had been just a few, short years earlier (hell, they played “Like a Virgin” all day, every day, practically 24 hours a day! MTV never turned their backs on 80s singers Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, did they? Wait… did they?). Casey Kasem suddenly started acting like an old geyser; he refused to say the song’s title and instead introduced it as “the new single by George Michael.”
People can be so totally lame.
George Michael decided to step forth and defend his poetry. He recorded a brief introduction for the video in which he said: “This song is not about casual sex.” Well, listeners didn’t care what kind of sex it was about. They wanted the song just as much as they wanted the sex. And they got it. “I Want Your Sex” hit number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in August, 1987. And it stayed in the top ten for six weeks. That sure showed all the prudes out there what’s what.
You Gotta Have It
The second single, “Faith,” went on to become even more popular than the sex song, if you can believe that. This was probably mostly due to Mr. Michael shaking his booty up close to the camera in a pair of nice, tight Levi’s. Now it wasn’t just the teen chicks who wanted to touch his body (I know, not everybody). The MILFs and the grannies, they all wanted a piece of his action too. The single hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, cementing Michael as one of the most popular 80s singers of the decade.
The album itself spent a grand total of 51 (non-consecutive) weeks on the Billboard 200 Top 10, including 12 weeks at number 1. Three more number one hits followed: “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” and “Monkey.” Eventually, the whole album went diamond by selling over 10 million copies in the US.
Hit the Road
I was lucky enough to see George Michael shake his groove thing during his 1988 Faith tour. Let me tell you something: the man can sing. I like to joke about what a hottie he is, but his music ability is totally something to be reckoned with. He’s right up there with Freddy Mercury. Sure it’s pop music, but it’s sweet and soulful and heck, it’s downright sexy. I still have my ticket stub and my concert booklet, and I remember dancing in the grass with my friends as this man’s amazing voice boomed around us. Good times. Good times, indeed.
Cyndi Lauper put a new twist on pop music in the 80s. With her flaming red hair, quirky corsets, and layered skirts, plus tons of jewelry and makeup, Cyndi landed on the music scene and made a totally big splash reminding the world that girls only want to do one thing: have fun.
Her look was uniquely remarkable (she set fashion trends for all 80s people) but it was her music that popped and bubbled – on the airwaves, on MTV, and on stage. With a one-of-a-kind voice crooning heartfelt and sometimes controversial lyrics, Cyndi Lauper’s music reached out and captivated the ears of music lovers throughout the world.
Here’s a look at one of the best 80s singers who defined the decade.
Cyndi Lauper Brief Biography
She was born Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper on June 22, 1953 in Queens, New York. Her father, Fred, was of Swiss descent and her mother, Catrine, was an Italian American. They divorced when Cyndi was just five, and her mother took Cyndi and her two siblings to live in Ozone Park.
Cyndi’s mom encouraged her to be creative and independent, which was a good thing, because Cyndi loved the arts. By twelve, she had already started dying her hair, wearing wild clothes, and was playing guitar and writing songs.
As a teenager, Cyndi was accepted to attend a special public high school for kids who had talent in the visual arts, but she eventually dropped out (she later earned her GED). Soon thereafter, she left home and ended up taking art classes at a state college in Vermont, but once she got homesick, she went right back to Ozone Park.
Before The 80s Music
At a young age, Cyndi became a fan of artists such as Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Beatles. By the middle of the 1970s, she had become a vocalist working with a number of cover bands in and around New York. She often sang hits by Jefferson Airplaine, Led Zeppelin, and Bad Company, as well as Janis Joplin.
But Cyndi Lauper wanted to sing her own songs.
She suffered vocal cord damage in 1977 and was told that she would never be able to sing again. After taking a year off singing, she started seeing a vocal coach who helped Cyndi get her voice back through proper vocal exercises and training.
How 80s Singers Are Born
Shortly after regaining her voice, Cyndi formed a band called Blue Angel with saxophone player John Tury and together they began writing songs and performing. They put together a demo, which led to a self-titled album that was produced on Polydor Records. It included one single that charted at number 37 in Austria. But that wasn’t enough. The band broke up and got into a legal tangle with their manager. For Cyndi, the lawsuit resulted in bankruptcy. She started working in high-end retail and thrift stores and singing in local clubs.
Despite the Blue Angel failure, Cyndi had started building a reputation for her wide singing range (four octaves), and perfect pitch. Plus, she clearly had a vocal style all her own.
She was singing in a bar in 1981 when she met David Wolff, who would become her long-term manager and boyfriend. He got her signed to one of Epic Records’ subsidiaries and Cyndi Lauper’s career started to take off. Within just a few years she would become one of the most hailed and recognizable 80s singers of all time.
She’s So Unusual was Cyndi’s first solo album, released in October, 1983. It was an instant worldwide success. She was warmly received by both pop music fans (teenagers) and critics, with her popularity helped by both her singing and her punkish image.
Though she was a songwriter, the record company had provided much of the material for the album. However, Cyndi often changed the songs, altering the lyrics to the way she wanted to sing them. This turned out to have financial benefits since she earned credit as a co-writer and collected songwriting royalties.
But Cyndi wasn’t changing the lyrics for money. She heavily altered the lyrics to what would ultimately become her most popular song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” According to Wikipedia, “Lauper says the original lyrics of the song dealt more with a girl pleasing a man, therefore she changed the lyrics, wanting the song to be more of an anthem as she felt the original song seemed misogynistic.” The song had, in fact, originally been written for a man to sing.
The recording company did give Cyndi a chance to prove her songwriting abilities. The result was “Time After Time,” which she co-write with Rob Hyman. The song went on to become one of the biggest hits from the album, and since has been covered by more than 100 other artists.
Other singles from the album include “All Through the Night,” and Prince’s “When You Were Mine” as well as “She Bop,” which attracted controversy because the lyrics dealt with masturbation. The album was followed up with a tour and a year after its release, She’s So Unusual had launched Cyndi to stardom and artistic recognition among 80s singers. She’s So Unusual remained in the top 40 for over 65 weeks and sold over 16 million copies (worldwide).
- The video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” won the very first award for Best Female Video at the 1984 Video Music Awards.
- Cyndi graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in May, 1984 as well as the covers of Time Magazine and Newsweek, both with the headline, “Women In Rock.”
- She was selected as one of Ms. Magazine’s women of the year.
- In 1985, she won a Grammy Award for the Best New Artist.
- Also in 1984, she was given the New Directions Award by The Women in Crystal Film Awards, an honor that recognizes creativity and originality.
The video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which quickly became an MTV staple, featured wrestler Captain Lou Albano playing Cyndi’s father. Her career was intertwined with the world of wrestling. She attended the 1985 Grammys with WWF celebrity Hulk Hogan; he played her “bodyguard.” Cyndi frequently appeared at WWF events, including the inaugural WrestleMania event. She also managed wrestler Wendi Richter and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” would play as the two of them made their entrance.
Cyndi’s next big hit was her single “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” off of the The Goonies Soundtrack, for which she was the musical director at the request of the film’s director, Steven Spielberg. The single earned her another Grammy nomination (for Best Female Pop Vocal) and the soundtrack itself reached number 73 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. As for the movie, The Goonies was wildly successful and became an 80s movies staple.
The video for “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” featured the cast of Goonies, as well as several of Cyndi’s WWF friends, and The Bangles, a band Cyndi had recruited for the soundtrack. It was the first ever two-part video.
Cyndi Lauper’s sophomore album, True Colors was released in September, 1986 and it rocketed to number four on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. For this production, Cyndi’s involvement was greater in both production and writing. The album included many guests and Cyndi herself co-wrote most of it.
True Colors was not as commercially successful as She’s So Unusual, but it did spawn three hit singles, “True Colors,” (the title track), “Change of Heart,” and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Also, “Money Changes Everything” was mildly successful due to a live video that played on MTV. The album sold almost 12 million copies and in conjunction, there was an HBO concert special titled Cyndi: Live in Paris.
Since Cyndi didn’t write the single “True Colors,” she had no control over it and it ended up being licensed to Kodak for their television commercials. Proceeds from another single, “Boy Blue,” were donated to AIDS research.
In 1988, Cyndi appeared in the film Vibes. She played a psychic searching for a city of gold. To prepare for the role, Cyndi studied finger waving, hair setting, and studied with psychics from Manhattan. It was produced by Ron Howard, and ultimately, was a flop though it did better as a video rental than at the theater. Cyndi recorded the song “Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)” and while the song fared well (hitting number 54 on U.S. charts and number 8 in Australia), it was not included on the movie’s soundtrack.
A Night to Remember
Cyndi’s final album in the 80s was A Night to Remember. It was released in May, 1989 and though critics gave it the thumbs up, it did not reach the same commercial success as her earlier albums and put out just one hit, “I Drove All Night.” It was originally written for and performed by Roy Orbison, however, his version didn’t come out until 1992.
Cyndi Lauper Trivia
A few final facts about Cyndi Lauper, one of the best-known and most-loved 80s singers:
- She was the first artist to have four singles reach the top five from a single album (She’s So Unusual).
- Cyndi had a prominent solo in “We Are the World.”
- Her mother appears in many of Cyndi’s videos, under the stage name “Catrine Dominique.”
- Due to medical problems and overworking, Cyndi was ordered to rest by her doctors in 1986. As a result, she wasn’t able to participate in Live Aid.
- Her first two album covers (She’s So Unusual and True Colors) were done by famous celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.
To date, Cyndi has put out eleven albums and more than forty singles and has sold over 25 million albums. Cyndi continues to tour all over the world and works supporting human rights and other philanthropic efforts. Here at Total 80s Remix, we love Cyndi Lauper. And by we, I totally mean “I.”
Who are some of your favorite 80s singers?