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.”