By Mike Greenblatt
Opening the doors for women to stampede through was a 1984 debut album called “She’s So Unusual” by Cyndi Lauper who had left her New York City neo-rockabilly band Blue Angel just months prior.
Looking back now, with the help of hindsight, especially listening to Legacy’s “She’s So Unusual 30th Anniversary Celebration,” it’s easy to understand why this album changed the course for so many. So many classic tracks on one album! One tends to gloss over the fact that “Time After Time,” for instance, written by Lauper and Rob Hyman, has become such an American standard that it’s been covered by such diametrically opposed artists as Miles Davis and Willie Nelson.
Besides the terrific Prince cover, “When You Were Mine,” “Money Changes Everything” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” have held up remarkably well in the three decades since they were first regarded as mere kitsch. Guess Lauper’s had the last laugh after all, especially when you consider her Tony Award for the Broadway production of her “Kinky Boots.” I remember the popular argument back in the early ‘90s of Madonna versus Cyndi Lauper. Looks like the underdog won.
My favorite Lauper song has always been “She Bop,” the target of the ill-conceived Parents Music Resource Center of the ‘80s, a bunch of bored politician’s wives calling out great songs like this as being detrimental to the welfare of children nationwide. Hah! That, of course, in and of itself, made me want to hear it, and once I did, I was hooked. Here’s where her rockabilly roots shine most bright: that hiccup of a vocal about, of all things, the joy of masturbation, is a glorious statement. The song reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart and hasn’t lost one iota of its majestic sweep since. The Arthur Baker remix is even better, as it extends the song into a totally orgasmic psychedelic dance vehicle best suited for headphones and marijuana. (The second disc of this classy package has numerous remixes of various tracks.) Sometimes you just don’t know how great an album is until 30 years later, I guess.
“Carter Girl” (Rounder) by Carlene Carter is a stone gem. It’s only been 37 years and 10 albums since this rock’n’roll hellion has embraced her natural birthright.
A natural-born rebel, she’s carved out quite the career for herself, but now, it’s time—finally!—to lay her claim. The Carter Family, of course, is the First Family of the beginnings of country music, dating back to 1927 and continuing until 1956, with sporadic reunions thereafter. This daughter of country singer Carl Smith and June Carter Cash, and granddaughter of the legendary Mother Maybelle Carter, Carlene, 58, has always skirted the peripheries of decorum.
It’s time to come home.
Produced by Don Was, “Carter Girl” is a wellspring of Americana brilliance, updating seven of patriarch A.P. Carter’s songs as well as those by her mom, her step-father Johnny Cash and her own “Me And The Wildwood Rose,” a touching song she wrote for her late sister Rosie and first recorded in 1990. Along the way, such friends as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Vince Gill lend their considerable talents. But it’s her show. With her husky, expressive voice and sterling production that accentuates the soul of backporch Appalachian mountain music, yet still manages to rock on certain tracks, “Carter Girl” has to be widely hailed as one of the best country albums of the year.
“In This Life” (Red Tambo) by Elise Testone introduces the latest red hot mama of song, an “American Idol” finalist (season #12) who really took the bull by horns for her debut, producing, writing and growling out in a primal, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, balls-to-the-wall Joplinesque fury. Man, can she wail the blues, rock like a bitch and purr sexily to get what she wants. It’s all very emotional, multi-genre, satisfying, and, most importantly, not over-sung like Idol judges seem to like.