This is the fourth post in a yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of all songs in the series here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Robert Hazard reportedly said he wrote “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in about 20 minutes, in the shower. He recorded it for a demo in 1979, but his version was never released and he didn’t think much more of it.
A few years later, Rick Chertoff was producing Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” and remembered Hazard’s catchy song. Chertoff thought the song could work well for Lauper’s album, and Hazard agreed to let them tweak the lyrics.
To say Chertoff’s instincts were correct is an understatement. Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” is probably tied with “Time After Time” as her most recognizable song. It became a defining song not just for her, but for MTV and the decade as a whole. It has become shorthand for “quintessential ’80s,” whether it’s on yet another retrospective ’80s catalog or a soundtrack for a feel-good movie about pals on an adventure.
Lauper’s version has been lauded as a feminist anthem. I’ve never agreed with that assessment, but the lyrics in her version were more empowering than the original lyrics Hazard recorded. Lauper’s version changed Hazard’s “All my girls have got to walk in the sun” to “I want to be the one to walk in the sun.”
For context, some of the lyrics from Hazard’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”:
That’s all they really want
When the working day is done
Yeah, girls just want to have fun
Some guys take a beautiful girl
They try to hide them away from the rest of the world
All my girls have got to walk in the sun
Because girls just want to have fun
Yeah, girls just want to have fun
The song was the most successful one Hazard ever wrote, even though he only ever recorded it himself as a demo. Robert Hazard and the Heroes had mainly been a local favorite in Philadelphia until Rolling Stone writer Kurt Loder happened across the band at a bar in Philadelphia in 1981. Loder’s write-up gave Hazard some national attention and the band later signed with RCA. The song “Escalator of Life” became a minor hit in 1983, but ultimately, Hazard remained a Philadelphia hero and not a national figure.
“Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody of the song, called “Girls Just Want To Have Lunch,” was on his album “Dare To Be Stupid,” released in 1985. Years later, in a Q&A on his website, Yankovic said he had been pressured to record that song. “That song has never been one of my favorites, mostly because I was basically forced to do it,” he wrote. “For some reason, my record label was dead-set against releasing the ‘Dare To Be Stupid’ album unless I had a Cyndi Lauper parody on it. I grudgingly obliged them – and that was pretty much the last time they told me what to put on an album.”
In 1994, Lauper’s “Twelve Deadly Cyns…and Then Some” featured a reggae-flavored version of the song called “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” that sampled Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.” Called “(Hey Now) Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” that version appeared in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.”
It’s hard to say whether this version was a cover of her 1983 version, because scientific research has found it inconclusive as to whether an artist can cover herself. And by scientific research, I mean polling other music nerds while drinking beer and arguing about cover songs.
Because Lauper’s version has become the standard for the song, hers is the version was the one that many of the cover versions have emulated. STRFKR’s take retains the bouncy fun of Lauper’s version while dialing back the keyboards and using vocals. It tastes smooth, like a subtle cider to the cherry Smirnoff Ice that is Lauper’s version. Both have some sugar, to be sure, but one is a little more tart than the other.
Miley Cyrus’ cover of the song appeared on her 2008 album, “Breakout.” Like many of the songs on the album, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” had poppy country flavor and a twang not heard on her more recent albums. It was faster, louder and more guitar-driven than Lauper’s version. It’s fun now if for no other reason than to use it as a barometer for how Cyrus’ sound has evolved.
In November 2015, Chromatics released a maxi-single with seven variations of a cover of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” The first track, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” is a fine reinterpretation, because the vocals, while understated, are not flat or lifeless.
But in “Girls Just Wanna Have Some,” Chromatics dialed back the vocals and synthesizers even more, such that the centerpiece in this slowed-down version was the drum machine.
Greg Laswell treated the song like a mournful, end of the night ballad. And it worked because that sounds so different from the ubiquitous version we’ve never been able to escape. Many stripped-down covers performed by male singer songwriters can sound too serious, but Laswell plays it with an earnestness that sounds too earnest to be serious, as if he’s winking at us to let us know he’s in on the joke. But his cover was not a parody, as his sweet voice and soft piano make it a pleasant song.
As is true with many covers, it’s hard to say whether Laswell’s cover would be notable without the contrast of Lauper’s version. Indeed, part of what makes his song so enjoyable is how it reimagines something so familiar to us. If his were the only version of the song, would it be enjoyable? Would STRFKR’s version merit any mention? Hard to say. But maybe they would. After all, many have enjoyed Cyndi Lauper’s version for decades without knowing it was a cover.
You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist. Read about the rest of the series here.