Cyndi Lauper Hits Dance Charts with Disco Inferno

TURN THE BEAT AROUND: For Cyndi Lauper, recording a cover version of the Trammp’s 1978 dance classic “Disco Inferno” was a lot like giving birth. In fact, with some ironic twists of fate in play, that’s exactly what the groundbreaking ’80’s singer/songwriter did: She used the original track to exercise with while pregnant in 1998 and then played it during the delivery of her son Declyn.

The whimsical tale begins when her husband since 1991, actor David Thornton, was cast in the 1998 motion picture “The Last Days of Disco.” “He kept bringing home all of this studio 54 music,” Lauper explains, “and during the last part of my pregnancy, I found myself dancing to the song, over and over.”

Thornton then said,”Wouldn’t it be great to record that song for the movie I’m in?” That didn’t work out, but Lauper was so inspired that she ended up recording the raucous, freewheeling track anyway and found a home for it on the soundtrack to last year’s “A Night At The Roxbury” on Dreamworks. Curiously, the track was not chosen as a single, but then it was awarded an unexpected and influential endorsement: “Disco Inferno” was nominated last year for a grammy award as best dance single.

“That’s when everybody got excited and said, ‘Let’s put it out,'”Lauper says. Talk about the miracle of birth. Without a major-label deal to deliver the song to radio, Lauper eventually hooked up through producer/remixer Soul Solution with old friend and 80’s remixer Jellybean Benitez, now the head of his own label, Jellybean Recordings.

“I did remixes back in 1983 of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ so I’ve known Cyndi for a good number of years, and we’ve kept in touch”, Benitez says. “When this came up, it was an easy decision. I just thought it would be fun to do, and with this whole retro thing going on in dance music, the timing seemed to work really well.”

The track is now a certifiable hit, climbing this issue to No.32 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and spinning at a handful of dance-leaning top 40 stations, including WKTU New York. A commercial CD-5 with remixes due Aug.3; a CD single and cassette single will follow Aug. 24. “Being that it’s a remake of ‘Disco Inferno’, it naturally fits into that weekend-party frame of mind,” says John McDaniel, PD of noncommercial dance outlet KNHC Seattle. “Our early response has been pretty positive. I think that people are happy she’s back with anything at all. It’s a good move, and people recognize her instantly. It just couldn’t be anybody else singing it.”

“This song has two major things going for it,” adds Victor “The Latino ,” assistant PD/music director for dance station WXXP (Party 105) Long Island, New York. “Number one, it’s a classic dance song that people recognize, and two, Cyndi Lauper did it. This is a great opportunity for us to play something new from her.

“People are calling and saying, ‘My God, she’s back.’ There’s an element of surprise that a superstar of the ’80’s is returning, which makes the success story easier to build,” he says. And the timing couldn’t be better for Party 105, given its July 25 megadance concert, featuring 25 dance oriented artists. Lauper served as a cohost for the event.

For the artist, the track marks another notch in a nearly 20-year career marked by eight top 40 hits, five hit albums, and a grammy for best new artist in 1984. Lauper also won an Emmy in 1995 for an appearance as the character Marianne Lagasso on NBC’s Mad About You.” which led to a reprise of the nadcap role in the show’s final episode, which aired in May 1999. In addition, she was just selected one of VH1’s 100 greatest women of rock’n’roll, landing at No.58. “Really? I didn’t even know that,” Lauper says with amusement. “You see? I’m right there in the middle. Some people will like you and half the people won’t, so all you can do is just keep going.”

Part of that mission icludes a major role in the upcoming independent film, “The Opportunists,” alongside Christopher Walken. In the movie which was shot last fall and is due out later this summer, Lauper will play Walken’s love interest, Sally, who runs the local watering hole he frequents.

But foremost, the music remains front and center: Lauper is on the rode throughtout the summer as the opener act for Cher’s high-profile North American tour, with a 50 minute set. “I must say, having people stand up and scream and sing along to the songs that weren’t hits is kind of nice. There’s a lot of energy and I’m having a hoot,” she says.

“Seeing Cyndi live, you get the sense that she’s an artist that needs to perform,” Benitez says. “Her interaction with the audience is amazing. She has a true core fan base out there, which I didn’t fully understand until we moved the release date for ‘Disco Inferno.’ You better believe I heard from all of them calling here nonstop.”

And yes, Lauper says, she still performs her 1983 debut hit, Girls Just Want To Have Fun. “It’s an anthem, and it meant a lot to people,” she attests. “And now, there’s a new generation of young women and girls who listen to that song, which is pretty remarkable. It’s not like, ‘Oh, that’s a song that used to be famous’. It was a song that freed people, so I do it because of what it meant. I have tried throughout my career to do songs that were worthy and not just disposable art, things that meant something to me, because then they would mean things to other people,” Lauper says. “I try not to sing words that aren’t grounded in some form of reality.”

She hopes to continue that approach with an upcoming album, perhaps in the fall, though Lauper admits that securing a label deal must come first. “I need to have fun at a label; they’ve all become so corporate,” she says. “I’ve taken some meetings, and it all just felt the same. So for now, this is perfect, with the tour to keep me busy.”

Still, she’s been actively writing and has already completed a song with dance producer Junior Vasquez and another with bandmate/producer Jan Pulsford, so it’s likely she will visit dance-land again.

“I love dance music,” she says. “It’s a subculture where there are no boundaries, where music is music and you’re not separated by color or age, gender, or sexuality. I enjoy that as a really great place.”

“I’d love to see her make a comeback all the way, like in the old days,” says McDaniel at KNHC, who fully supports her entree into the dance arena. “We’ve been a dance station since Cyndi had her first album out, so she’s always been a dance artist, for us anyway. Even when she crossed to top 40, we felt like she was our artist. As far as we’re concerned, she’s a superstar act, and we always have to at least take a second listen to whatever she’s doing.”

If Lauper has any say, programmers will be hooked the first time through, thanks to her dedication to grow with her music. “I feel compelled to always dig deeper and do the best I can,” she says. “To me, the joy of music is the birth of it, the creation, discovery, and the danger. Without that, it has no life in it, and music with no life falls dead on the ears.

“I think I live to sing. Music makes me feel more alive then anything else.”


Cyndi Lauper: Still Going Strong

It isn’t just the surplus of sequins, feathers, and rainbow wigs that lured Cyndi Lauper to her current gig — working all summer as Cher’s “special guest” on tour. Lauper views this road show much as she did a similar assignment two summers ago when she was tapped as opener for Tina Turner.

“When you think about how many times these women have been written off,” Lauper says. “Then they come back — and how they just keep putting their work out there and succeeding in an industry where people can’t wait to get rid of you — it’s pretty inspiring.”

In her own version of coming back from the dead, Cyndi Lauper has also had to reinvent herself more than once, while contending with radio stations, retailers, and record label executives who told her she was past her prime.

“I’ve learned not to wait for other people, or allow them to define who I am,” says Lauper, who told a generation of girls that they just wanna have fun. “You have to create your own opportunities.”

Today, 20 years after launching her music career, Lauper, 46, remains an unapologetic collision of blue hair and glittery excess.

“Yes, I walk around New York this way,” she says, fussing with a patch of her sky-blue tresses. “Do people notice? I’m not sure anymore. They’re used to me.”

What people have noticed over the years, is that there has always been much more to this singer-songwriter than her punk-meets-Oz look. She earned much praise for her wide-ranging ’90s albums Hat Full of Stars and Sisters of Avalon, which incorporated equal parts rock, folk, and pop. She’s also done well as an actress, appearing in several movies, including the soon-to-be-released independent film The Opportunists, starring Christopher Walken. And she was an Emmy-winner in 1995, for her recurring guest role on NBC’s Mad About You.

But it was her stint as opener for Turner in ’97 that got heads turning again. As if her powerful 50-minute sets weren’t enough, Lauper performed these energetic shows while in the advanced stages of her first pregnancy, leaving admirers all the more in awe.

“Working was probably the healthiest thing I could have done,” she says. “You’re carrying a baby. You’re not an invalid.” Her son, Declyn, now 18 months old, is traveling with her for most of the summer.

“It’s a lot,” she says of her schedule, which also includes late-night club shows in some cities — after she leaves the arena stage. “I guess I got busy. But I like that.”

The after-hours shows pump her remake of the old Trammps hit Disco Inferno, which was first heard on the A Night at the Roxbury soundtrack. It was later nominated for a Grammy and is now in stores in single format.

Though music remains her chief priority, she hopes to return to television soon. As part of a now-concluded deal with NBC, she created a sitcom for herself, which she is now shopping elsewhere. “My job is very clear to me,” she says. “My responsibility is to create and keep creating. The other stuff, whether people think you’re great or you suck, isn’t part of it. It’s not my job to judge.”


Cyndi Lauper Popping Up Again

After what has already been a remarkably accomplished career spanning two decades of pop music, music videos, and television/film acting, the forty-something Grammy Award winning diva and new mother isn’t quitting or resting on her laurels. Instead, she’s turning up the heat with a club-savvy revamp of the ’70’s classic “Disco Inferno” and guest starring all summer on Cher’s much-hyped “Do You Believe?” stadium tour.

“It was actually my birthing song,” Lauper recalled in a recent phone interview from her Manhattan home, before leaving for three and a half months of non-stop touring. “David [Thornton, her husband] was in the film Last Days of Disco, and he brought home all the Studio 54 music, and I was attracted to that song. Then after Declyn [her baby was born], I knew why they say “Burn, Baby, Burn!”

Though the song appeared last year on the soundtrack for the film A Night At The Roxbury, nabbing Lauper a Grammy nomination for “Best Dance Recording,” it was never properly released as a single until just last month by indie dance label Jellybean Recordings. Re-tweaked by superstar production team Soul Solution (Bobby Guy and Ernie Lake), “Disco Inferno ’99” will also appear on the Jellybean compilation Cool Cuts II, due out in mid-July.

“I did the original version [for A Night at the Roxbury] in two days,” Lauper laughed, “and it was nominated for a Grammy, go figure! Then everybody started saying, ‘You’ve got to release this [as a single].’ But I wanted to redo the vocals, because I didn’t think it sounded that good. So I brought in a new microphone, and I redid the vocals. I was looking for a new character, because I didn’t want to sound like other people who’ve done the song.” The result is an energetic East-Coast vocal house track with all the markings of a commercial hit.

As for the future, aside from developing a new TV sitcom pilot based loosely on her Marianne Lagasso character from NBC’s Mad About You and starring in the upcoming independent film The Opportunists, opposite Christopher Walken, Lauper’s already begun writing material for a new album with her longtime collaborator Jan Pulsford, as well as other notable names like famed club DJ/producer Junior Vasquez. But she doesn’t want to rush into anything, especially with the current merger-frenzied atmosphere in the record industry.

“I want a minute to write, and formulate my thoughts,” she explained. “Eventually I’m going to go back [to recording], I have to, but I thought the tour was a nice little break.” The girl is just having fun.