“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”: Excuse, Defiance, and Reassurance

This is a reprint of an article written by Lucy Mao, which appeared on the All Music Guide website, June 15, 2022. I’m publishing it here as I thought it very interesting to take a close textual analysis of the lesser-known version of Lauper’s monster hit from September 1983.

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun”:
Excuse, Defiance, and Reassurance

When most people hear the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” they immediately think of Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 version, released on her debut album She’s So Unusual. What they may not know is that Lauper’s version is actually a cover, as the original was written and recorded by American musician Robert Hazard in 1979. Hazard’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was written from a male perspective, and it is a pity party full of excuses that a guy throws for himself because he can’t get a girl.

The original features roaring instrumentals, with the overpowering percussion, electric guitar, and synths drowning out the vocals at times. The hammering beat and percussion are reminiscent of someone feverishly pounding their fists on the walls, and the scratchy electric guitar imitates a hoarse voice, mimicking what a person sounds like after shrieking. These elements, as well as the fast tempo and frenzied beat, are a sonic representation of a temper tantrum, pointing to the narrator’s overwhelming anger and frustration. But what exactly is he so exasperated about? His inability to get a girl.

The narrator pleads, “I know your love for him / Is deep as day is long / …But when I knock on the door / I’m close now, you could come,” illustrating a woman refusing him. However, rather than improving himself, the narrator puts the blame for such refusals on girls, constantly using excuses to explain his lack of a girlfriend. In response to his parents’ urges to find someone, namely his dad’s “‘My boy, what do you want from your life?'” and his mom’s “‘you’ve got to start living right,'” the narrator defends himself with “Girls just wanna have fun.” He claims that girls are too focused on having fun to make time for him, so he’s still single. His excuse that “Girls just wanna have fun” (and very similar variations) constitute the bulk of the song, suggesting that he is extremely self-defensive; he would rather blame others through a plethora of excuses than take accountability himself. Not only does the narrator blame women, he is also irate at them for choosing fun over him, spitting out the lyrics in a hard, stiff tone and harshly enunciating each word. Hazard is nearly screaming for most of the song, and the pounding beat reinforces his anger; the line “girls just wanna have fun” aligns perfectly with the rhythm, as each word gets punched by a beat.

The pity party continues with Hazard’s whiny vocals. As he groans “That’s all they really want / Some fun” and “It’s all they really want / Good fun,” his voice goes out of tune and his pitch rises. Hazard’s pitch wobbles poutily, with a mesh of drawn out “Ahhhhhhh”s seeming to overlay his voice, giving listeners the impression that he is complaining. The narrator refuses to admit his own shortcomings and believes that he has done no wrong; rather, he thinks it’s the girls who have wronged him. The narrator pities himself so much that he makes himself cry; his tight-throated voice indicates that he is choking back tears and burps, but it sounds artificial and unnatural. He exaggerates his pain and anguish with contrived wails and moans, playing the victim to convince listeners that everyone is against him. The narrator attempts to console himself with “Come on, boy / Oh yeah / You are the fortunate one,” reassuring himself that yes, he can get a girl, because he has all the “tools” necessary to attract a woman. As the narrator sees it, the problem isn’t him.

But the narrator is the only one who believes this, as evidenced by the lack of harmony and backup vocals. There are no other voices in the song except for Hazard’s (and his screams and pouts). The lack of vocal support is perhaps analogous to the absence of social support for the narrator’s “dilemma”; no one agrees that he is faultless and that the women are to blame. Consequently, the narrator is left alone with his excuses, and he throws a pity party at which he is the only guest.

Hazard probably never anticipated that a piece he composed in 20 minutes while showering and deemed a “kind of silly song” would eventually become an international hit. He completely forgot about his 1979 demo until record producer Rick Chertoff came upon it while searching for songs to include on Lauper’s debut album. The lyrics were changed to reflect a girl’s point of view, so Lauper’s cover is more conscious of oppressive social practices against women. While Hazard assumes the role of the oppressor (though he believes otherwise), Lauper is among the oppressed. The line “Oh momma dear, we’re not the fortunate ones” demonstrates how society has stripped women of many rights and privileges, and “Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one” calls forth images of patriarchy and male control. Perhaps most strikingly, the lyrics never explicitly state that girls are actively having fun; it only reveals that “girls just wanna have fun.” Lauper’s version recognizes that repressive practices, gender disparities, and gendered social expectations have made it difficult for women to have a good time, so her 1983 cover is also a party, just a different kind; it seeks to liberate women from society’s oppressive rules and give them some well-deserved fun through a cosmic feminist party brimming with energy and joy.

Since Lauper’s version is sung by a woman, the narrator is no longer an outsider to girls’ fun; she is within it and is now the one striving to have a good time, hence the festive atmosphere the song evokes. Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” begins with a sparkling synth glissando signalling that the party is about to begin; it’s like the lights are flickering on as excitement pierces the air. Then, the juicy electric guitar springs into action as the vibrating, fizzy synths awaken from their slumber, shooting out bursts of energy and suggesting that the jamboree is now underway. The firm percussion coming in at regular intervals and the steady beat create a dance rhythm that amplifies the jovial atmosphere, with the sprightly tempo of 120 beats per minute and higher key adding more liveliness and dynamism to the scene. The glittering synth marimba electrifies the mood, and although Lauper uses a chest voice, her vocals are elastic and expansive; they sound luminous, radiating beams of energy and creating a spirited and feisty mood. In addition, most of the chorus and refrain, including the lines “Girls just wanna have fun” and “They just wanna, they just wanna,” are sung by a multitude of voices. There is no harmonizing, as everyone sings the same melody, establishing unity and calling forth a motivational party chant. Nearly all the voices are female, suggesting that women are banding together to live it up, in contrast with Hazard’s lonesome pity party. The music video shows Lauper chanting and dancing with other women, and the camera pans across as each dons a pair of sunglasses, reinforcing women’s solidarity and indicating that they are ready to partay.

The music and vocals’ jubilant party seeks to provide women a safe place to let loose, and the lyrics further these efforts to liberate women from oppressive social customs. Like in the original version, the narrator replies to her mother’s “‘When you gonna live your life right?'” and her father’s “‘What you gonna do with your life?'” with “girls they wanna have fun,” but unlike the original, it is not used as an excuse. Lauper employs the line as an act of defiance, challenging social expectations for women. In the music video, we see the narrator’s mother and father in a traditional home; her mother is wearing an apron and cracking eggs in the kitchen, bringing to mind the image of a housewife. Thus, Lauper’s “girls they wanna have fun” can be interpreted as resisting conservative values confining women to the home, and the line “I come home, in the mornin’ light” (presumably after a night out) emphasizes the narrator’s refusal to conform. Lauper also integrates more informal, lighthearted language, using “girls,” “momma,” and “daddy” instead of “women,” “mother,” and “father.” Although Hazard also incorporates “girls,” his usage is belittling and disrespectful towards women, while Lauper’s casual language is empowering by rejecting propriety. She declares “to hell with being a prim and proper lady,” and her fanatical, wild dancing in the music video further illustrates this defiance.

A major structural change in Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is the switching of the first two verses. Hazard himself remarked, “She took the first verse and second verse and switched them. Why, I have no idea. Melodically, it’s exactly the same.” But here’s a possible explanation: with this change, the narrator’s interaction with her mother comes before her exchange with her father, bringing to the forefront the idea of “ladies first.” Hazard starts his song with the father (historically the head of the family), a structural choice that affirms male dominance and aligns with the narrator’s hostility towards women. Lauper’s new verse arrangement also makes “I come home, in the mornin’ light” the very first line, putting an act of defiance right at the beginning of the song. This suggests that women are tired of waiting; they are going to fight against social expectations now, without hesitation or reluctance.

Despite it being a cover of Hazard’s 1979 recording, Lauper’s version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is widely accepted as the original. Hazard’s demo never received significant exposure (if any at all), and it was Lauper’s 1983 version that shot up the music charts and garnered international success. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” became Lauper’s breakthrough single, establishing, if somewhat ironically, her legitimacy as an artist. It often serves as the basis for other covers, with more than 30 artists performing or recording their own versions. As with many other popular songs, covers eventually become covers of covers, and the musical comedy-drama series Glee’s 2011 version is a fitting example. While it is considered a cover of Lauper’s 1983 hit, Glee’s rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is more specifically a cover of American musician Greg Laswell’s version of Lauper’s cover.

In the series, Finn (played by Cory Monteith) sings “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” for Santana, who is a closeted lesbian struggling to embrace her sexuality. He wants to assure her that he and the rest of New Directions (the show’s fictional glee club) support her coming out and all care deeply. Due to its heartfelt and emotional context, Glee’s cover is a substantially stripped down version. Acoustic piano is the only instrument used, and the vocals constitute the main presence. Glee’s version is also much shorter than both Hazard and Lauper’s recordings; it contains three verses and two repeats of “That’s all they really want… / Those girls, they wanna have fun.” The refrain does not appear as many times, and there are no extraneous refrain-echoing lines such as “they just want, they just wanna,” making this cover significantly less repetitive or showy. These stripped down elements ensure that the song is short, sweet, and to the point, exposing its tender core and creating a more bare and vulnerable experience. Glee’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” thus serves as a place of peaceful solace, seeking to soothe and comfort those who are struggling.

The much slower tempo of 66 beats per minute allows listeners to meander gently through the song, with lingering lines like “Oh girls, they…” and “That’s all they really want…” maintaining the relaxed pace. The soft acoustic piano and quiet, translucent vocals create a calming tenderness, with the delicate layers of harmony forming a halo around Finn’s voice and evoking a spiritual aura that continues to soothe. In the context of the show, these elements establish a safe place where Santana can find support for her sexuality, and, more broadly, they foster a serene environment where the listener can seek refuge and consolation.

While the refrain “girls they wanna have fun” serves as an excuse in Hazard’s original and an act of defiance in Lauper’s version, Glee repurposes it as a reassurance to Santana that her sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. Not only that, with “fun”‘s positive and sprightly connotation, Finn assures Santana that her sexuality is awesome. Glee’s version supports listeners and validates their anxieties, affirming that the listener is loved and deserves to love themselves. Glee’s cover also, unlike the previous two versions, bridges the gender gap; all the vocalists (Finn and the boys of New Directions) are male, but they are singing for and to a woman. The guys are banding together to uplift women, a stark contrast to Hazard’s anger towards them in the original.

The little-known original “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Robert Hazard revolves around a defensive guy who, unable to get a girl, throws a pity party for himself. The overpowering instrumentals illustrate his temper tantrum at his “dilemma,” with the proliferation of excuses and whiny vocals revealing the narrator’s tendency to blame others (specifically women) for his own shortcomings. Four years later, Cyndi Lauper releases her version, rewritten to align with a woman’s perspective, as a cosmic feminist party seeking to liberate women from restrictive social expectations. The sparkling instrumentation, dance rhythm, and luminous vocals set the scene for energetic festivities, with the refrain reshaped into an act of defiance. The structural changes in Lauper’s cover place women’s defiance at the forefront, lifting them out of the abuse they faced in Hazard’s original. Decades later, Glee featured a stripped down version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” with the soft acoustic piano and gentle vocals creating a peaceful refuge, where those who are struggling can find comfort and solace. In this version, the refrain is repurposed as a reassurance, and the gender gap is bridged, with a community of guys coming together to support and uplift women in solidarity.

Essential Lyrics #5: Wake Me Up

By way of serendipity I ended up reading the Wiki on Avicii the other day, and thought what a sad story his is. He had enormous success and was loved by fans in so many countries but, in the end, it all became too much for him to bear. The lyrics of Wake Me Up speak to his emotional searching and longing – thoughts and fears we all share.

Avicii, born Tim Bergling was a renowned Swedish musician, DJ, remix artist, and record producer. Born in Stockholm in 1989, he became one of the most popular DJs in the world. Avicii topped charts and toured many countries with his music. The single Wake Me Up was incredibly successful – it reached the number 1 position in over 20 countries across the globe, including Avicii’s home country of Sweden. Wake Me Up was written by Avicii, Aloe Blacc (who delivers the track’s powerful vocals) and American guitarist Mike Einziger.

Avicii released his first studio album, True, in 2013. The album earned him recognition by reaching the top 10 on the international charts and ranking number one in several countries. Wake Me Up, the lead single on the album, topped the music charts of over 30 countries. It reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and has received a six-time platinum certification from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).

Sadly, Avicii committed suicide on April 20, 2018, at age 28; so young. His mind and body just couldn’t take any more of the pressure and stress his incredible success had generated.

Wake Me Up

Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
They tell me I’m too young to understand
They say I’m caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes
Well that’s fine by me

So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself, and I
Didn’t know I was lost

So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself, and I
Didn’t know I was lost

I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
Hope I get the chance to travel the world
But I don’t have any plans
Wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
Life’s a game made for everyone
And love is a prize

So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself, and I
Didn’t know I was lost

So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself, and I
I didn’t know I was lost

I didn’t know I was lost
I didn’t know I was lost
I didn’t know I was lost
I didn’t know

Songwriters: Tim Bergling / Michael Aaron Einziger / Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins
Wake Me Up lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Masking Up For Rosanne

Well, better late than never. The enduring Rosanne Cash graced the stage of The Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall in downtown Toronto last Saturday night along with her incredible band (including husband Steve Leventhal), and it proved to be a terrific show. Originally this concert was scheduled for Sunday, April 11, 2021 but, like so many things the last couple of years, was postponed due to COVID-19.

The crowd was overjoyed to see her, and Rosanne herself was truly thrilled to be there, and said so. While I’m not a Rosanne Cash fan per se (Vince instigated the ticket purchasing and I came along for the ride), I do appreciate good music of any genre – and what a great venue for the concert: the beautiful and acoustically-superb Koerner Hall!:

Koerner Hall

I was very curious, especially, to see exactly how something like a concert can be attended during these pandemic times. Masks and second vaccinations were required for entry, and here’s what the crowd looked like:

I didn’t get any shots of the actual concert as photography during the concert was prohibited; as a good Canadian I acquiesced and obeyed the rules. I did, however, grab a quick shot of the stage before the evening got under way:

The stage, pre-concert

Here’s what the concert setlist looked like:

A Feather’s Not a Bird
The Sunken Lands
Etta’s Tune
The Only Thing Worth Fighting For
Tryin’ to Get Home
(Reverend Gary Davis cover)
Crossing to Jerusalem
Particle and Wave
She Remembers Everything
Long Black Veil
(Lefty Frizzell cover)
Ode to Billie Joe (Bobbie Gentry cover)
The World Unseen
When the Master Calls the Roll
Blue Moon With Heartache
The Killing Fields
Money Road
Tennessee Flat Top Box
(Johnny Cash cover)
Encore: Seven Year Ache

All in all, a great concert by a beautiful, talented and charming performer. Thank you so much, Rosanne, for braving COVID and travelling from the U.S. to deliver this perfect concert to us. Apparently this was the only Canadian date on her tour and we were honoured to have her.

Essential Lyrics #4: The Last Song

The Last Song marked the first of Elton John‘s American singles to benefit his AIDS foundation. In an interview with the gay magazine The Advocate, Elton remarked: I was crying all the time as I wrote the music… and it was very hard for me to sing it. The song tells of an estranged father coming to terms with the sexuality of his gay son, who is dying from AIDS. The song is beautiful and haunting, with only piano, vocals and a bit of synth.

The Last Song

Yesterday you came to lift me up
As light as straw and brittle as a bird
Today I weigh less than a shadow on the wall
Just one more whisper of a voice unheard

Tomorrow leave the windows open
As fear grows please hold me in your arms
Won’t you help me if you can to shake this anger?
I need your gentle hands to keep me calm

‘Cause I never thought I’d lose
I only thought I’d win
I never dreamed I’d feel this fire beneath my skin
I can’t believe you love me
I never thought you’d come
I guess I misjudged love between a father and his son

Things we never said come together
The hidden truth no longer haunting me
Tonight we touched on the things that were never spoken
That kind of understanding sets me free

‘Cause I never thought I’d lose
I only thought I’d win
I never dreamed I’d feel this fire beneath my skin
I can’t believe you love me
I never thought you’d come
I guess I misjudged love between a father and his son

Songwriters: Elton John / Bernie Taupin
The Last Song lyrics © Wb Music Corp., Hst Publishing Ltd., Cow Dog Music Inc.

Essential Lyrics #3: Stamp Your Feet

Here’s the third installment in a series of posts on song lyrics that have lifted or inspired me. This one’s from a true musical veteran – Miss Donna Summer:

Stamp Your Feet

S-T-A-M-P Stampin’ on the ground
S-T-A-M-P Stampin’ on the ground
S-T-A-M-P Stampin’ on the ground
S-T-A-M-P Stampin’ on the ground

Woah, yeah

I’ve been round so many times before
Broke my back, been split open so oft
Tried to make it to the finish line
Been knocked down, get up every single time
They’re up in your face, they don’t think you belong
Man, you got it, you got it goin’ on
What breaks the weak just makes you strong
You got game, baby bring it on, bring it on

I said stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud, make the biggest sound
You ain’t goin’,
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud
You ain’t going, you ain’t goin’ down
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud, make the biggest sound
You ain’t goin’,
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud
You ain’t goin’, you ain’t goin’ down

Rain comes in every player’s life
Gotta stay in the game, not on the sidelines
Gotta throw down, you gotta stand and fight
Keep your eye on the prize, don’t get caught up in strife
Go, go for the shot boy, make that play just right
Braggin’ about your swag won’t get you through the night

I said stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud, make the biggest sound
You ain’t goin’,
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud
You ain’t going, you ain’t goin’ down
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud, make the biggest sound
You ain’t goin’,
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud
You ain’t goin’, you ain’t goin’ down

S-T-A-M-P You got game
S-T-A-M-P You got fame
S-T-A-M-P You got name
S-T-A-M-P Do that thang
We ain’t going down, oh no!
Make me proud! Stand up and fight!

I said stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud, make the biggest sound
You ain’t goin’,
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud
You ain’t going, you ain’t goin’ down
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud, make the biggest sound
You ain’t goin’,
Stamp your feet on the ground
Make it really loud
You ain’t goin’, you ain’t goin’ down

Stamp your feet, stamp your feet
Stamp your feet, stamp your feet

S-T-A-M-P! No, no, no, we ain’t goin’ down
S-T-A-M-P! No, no, no, we ain’t goin’ down
Right till the ending, we’ll make it through life
Better stamp your feet on the,
Stamp your feet on the ground

Songwriters: Danielle Brisbois / Greg Kurstin / Donna Summer
Stamp Your Feet lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

It Drops Today…

New London Grammar: Californian Soil

The long wait is finally over…


Early Reviews

Pitchfork
Pitchfork is generally a trusted source of music criticism, but is known for being unnecessarily contrarian to provoke attention. They give the new album a 6.2 out of 10 rating:

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/london-grammar-californian-soil/

AMG (All Music Guide)
A more fair review, they give the album 4.5 out of 5:

https://www.allmusic.com/album/californian-soil-mw0003438436

Essential Lyrics #2: Lovers In A Dangerous Time

These are my favourite lyrics from Bruce Cockburn: Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / You gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight is just brilliant. Lovers… was also later covered by Barenaked Ladies, who did a beautiful job:

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by?
We never get to stop and open our eyes
One minute you’re waiting for the sky to fall
Next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all

Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time

These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This fragrant skin, this hair like lace
Spirits open to thrust of grace,
Never a breath you can’t afford to waste

Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time,
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time

We were lovers in a dangerous time
We were lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers, Lovers, Lovers
Ohhhhhh
Lovers in a dangerous time

Songwriter: Bruce Cockburn
Lovers in a Dangerous Time lyrics © Rotten Kiddies Music Llc, Bro N Sis Music Inc.

Essential Lyrics #1: Being Boring

This is a first in a series of posts on song lyrics that resonate with me, have inspired me in some way, or that I just simply like. To kick things off, here’s one of my favourites from the Pet Shop Boys:

Being Boring

I came across a cache of old photos
and invitations to teenage parties
“Dress in white” one said with quotations
from someone’s wife, a famous writer
in the nineteen-twenties
When you’re young you find inspiration
in anyone who’s ever gone
and opened up a closing door
She said we were never feeling bored

‘Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
and we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought then thought make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
time would come to an end

When I went I left from the station
with a haversack and some trepidation
Someone said if you’re not careful
you’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for
in the nineteen-seventies
But I sat back and looking forward
my shoes were high and I had scored
I’d bolted through a closing door
and I would never find myself feeling bored

‘Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
and we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought then thought make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
you could always rely on a friend

Now I sit with different faces
in rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
some are here and some are missing
in the nineteen-nineties
I never dreamt that I would get to be
the creature that I always meant to be
but I thought in spite of dreams
you’d be sitting somewhere here with me

‘Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
and we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought then thought make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
you could always rely on a friend

And we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
And we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought, then thought: “Make amends”
And we were never being boring
We were never being bored
‘Cause we were never being boring
We were never being bored

Songwriters: Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe
Being Boring lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Favourite Singers

These are singers whose voices move, soothe and inspire me. Some of the artists I’ve listed with their band’s name; this is in addition to their solo efforts. The “choice cuts” for each vocalist represent either my favourite songs by these artists, or a track highlighting their incredible style, range or crafting of the song.

And now, on to the list…

Karen Carpenter

Starting with the best… Karen Carpenter, a voice direct from the angels in heaven. When Karen died tragically in 1983, a light went out in the music world. She will never be replaced.

Choice cuts:
Superstar, Goodbye To Love, Rainy Days & Mondays


Tracey Thorn

With her husband Ben Watt, Tracey Thorn was the other half of the group Everything But The Girl. EBTG had great success in the 80s and into the 90s. There’s few people who haven’t heard their haunting, wistful Missing from 1994. Tracey has released a few albums in the 2000s, and continues to make beautiful music. For my post dedicated to Tracey Thorne, check this out.

Choice cuts:
Half-Light (Day Version), Protection, Cross My Heart, Missing


Hannah Reid (London Grammar)

Ah, Miss Hannah… my current absolute favourite vocalist. This woman’s incredible voice makes my hair stand on end and my toes curl. Fronting the group London Grammar, Hannah Reid has one of the most engaging and beautiful voices of any artist performing today. What a haunting contralto… her voice moves me in ways no other singer can.

Choice cuts:
Strong, Interlude, Metal & Dust, Big Picture, Different Breeds


Sarah Cracknell (Saint Etienne)

Singing with Saint Etienne or solo, Sarah Cracknell has a voice like golden honey dripping down a pot. There’s something magical about this woman’s voice and, coupled with Saint Etienne’s musical styling, it exudes pure London.

Choice cuts:
Hobart Paving, Goldie (solo), Like A Motorway, Teenage Winter


Justine Suissa

Justine Suissa is a British singer, currently the vocalist of trance group OceanLab (which includes the members of Above & Beyond). She’s collaborated with many of Trance’s prominent producers, such as Armin van Buuren, Markus Schulz, Robbie Rivera and Chicane. Justine has a dreamy, ethereal voice.

Choice cuts:
On A Good Day, Lonely Girl, Miracle, Burned With Desire


Iva Davies

What a beautiful voice this man has. Iva was the voice of Icehouse in the 80s, and has gone on to great solo success in the 90s and beyond. To read my post dedicated to Iva Davies, check this out.

Choice cuts:
Heroes, Heaven, No Promises (with Icehouse), Crazy (Midnight Mix)


David Byron (Uriah Heep)

What a set of pipes!

David Byron (real name David Garrick) was a British singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist in Uriah Heep. His was the voice on the 10 Uriah Heep albums released between 1969 and 1976. At the time, few lead singers in Rock could scream and wail like David Byron.

He lived a life of classic rock and roll excess, indulging in lots of drugs and booze. This, inevitably, led to dismissal from Uriah Heep in 1976 for his increasingly erratic behaviour and excessive alcohol consumption. David made several unsuccessful attempts to revive his career following the split, first with a band named Rough Diamond, then with a solo album and a brief career with The Byron Band.

He died from liver damage complicated by epilepsy on February 28, 1985 at the age of 38.

Choice cuts:
The Wizard, Sweet Lorraine, Rainbow Demon, Rain


Simon & Garfunkel

Pure. Vocal. Perfection.

Choice cuts:
For Emily Wherever I May Find Her, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, The Only Living Boy In New York, April Come She Will, All I Know (Art Garfunkel)


Alison Moyet

A Goddess in my world, Alison Moyet has a bluesy, beautiful contralto. From Yazoo in the 70s till now, she’s had many decades of success singing so many styles of music, excelling in them all.

Choice cuts:
Dorothy, Take Of Me, Winter Kills (with Yazoo), Cry Me A River


Corinne Drewery (Swing Out Sister)

I don’t know much about Corinne Drewery, other than I love her voice. Through the 80s and early 90s she was the silky smooth voice of the group Swing Out Sister.

Choice cuts:
Twilight World, Breakout, After Hours


Dusty Springfield

What more could one possibly say about Dusty Springfield that hasn’t already been said?

Choice cuts:
Am I The Same Girl?, Goin’ Back, Nothing Has Been Proved, Wishin’ And Hopin’, What Have I Done To Deserve This? (with Pet Shop Boys)


Dionne Warwick

Where would the 60s (and beyond) have been without Dionne Warwick and the David/Bacharach writing team? Warwick is the master of vocal phrasing (just take a listen to Promises, Promises).

Choice cuts:
Promises, Promises, Heartbreaker, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, Walk On By


Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet)

Tony is still workin’ it all these post-Spandau years later and the pipes remain in amazing condition. What a powerhouse voice and amazing vocal range.

Choice cuts:
Through the Barricades, Gold, True, Round And Round


Mimi Page

Mimi Page is an underrated singer-songwriter, producer and composer from the U.S. In the studio she blends her ethereal vocals with piano-driven, atmospheric soundscapes, resulting in a haunting and luxuriant sound. In addition to her albums, she has self-produced and released several film and gaming soundtracks.

Choice cuts:
Porcelain, Secunda (Skyrim)


Joni Mitchell

Ah yes, the one and only Joni… enough said.

Choice cuts:
Help Me, Chinese Cafe, Circle Game, A Case Of You


And lastly, Honorable Mentions for Powerhouse Vocals go to:
Ian Gillan (with and without Deep Purple)
Patti LaBelle
and, of course, Freddie.

70s Canadian Rock

The other day I was doing a little food shopping at Rabba. The store had its sound system tuned to Toronto’s retro station Boom 97.3, and they were playing Spaceship Superstar by Prism. Prism!!… whoa…. the memories started flooding back. Ahh… Canadian rock in the early 70s… it was great.

If you were a teen in the 1970s growing up in Canada, AM radio’s pop and rock music was most likely your lifeblood; I know it certainly was mine. There were so very many awesome artists whose music I totally identified with, and that music was (and still is) integral to my life’s soundtrack.

Interestingly, the music from the 70s that matters to me most was from Canadian artists. CanCon (Canadian Content) played a huge role in the Canadian radio airwaves of the 70s and, for once, CRTC actually did a good thing. Thanks to CanCon, so much good Canadian music got a huge boost on our airwaves.

The Bands

I had to sit down and think about the artists and songs from this special era: who meant the most to me? who influenced me? whose music did I relate to? what songs and groups still grab my attention when I hear them at some random location (as in said food store mentioned above)?

To address these burning questions, I’ve come up with the following:

Michel Pagliaro
Best cuts: Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy (1971), Some Sing, Some Dance (1972)

Prism
Best cuts: Take Me Away (1978), See Forever Eyes (1978), You Walked Away Again (1980)

Trooper
Best cuts: Round, Round We Go (1978), The Moment That It Takes (1979), Two For The Show (1976)

April Wine
Best cuts: Oowatanite (1975), Drop Your Guns (1972), You Could Have Been A Lady (1972), Weeping Widow (1973)

Chilliwack
Best cuts: Lonesome Mary (1973)

Streetheart
Best cuts: Action (1978), One More Time (1982), Tin Soldier (1981), What Kind of Love is This? (1982)

Five Man Electrical Band
Best cuts: Coming of Age (1971), Hello Melinda, Goodbye (1970), Absolutely Right (1971), Find the One (1971), Country Girl (1971)

The Guess Who
Best cuts: Sour Suite (1971), These Eyes (1969), Laughing (1969), No Time (1969), Sona Sona (1974), Hand Me Down World (1970), American Woman (1970), Rain Dance (1971)

The Stampeders
Best cuts: Minstrel Gypsy (1973), Oh My Lady (1973), Carryin’ On (1971), Carry Me (1971)

Lighthouse
Best cuts: Pretty Lady (1973), Little Kind Words (1971), 1849 (1971)

Edward Bear
Best cuts: Last Song (1971), You Me & Mexico (1970), Close Your Eyes (1973), Masquerade (1972)

BTO
Best cuts: Takin’ Care of Business (1974), Blue Collar (1973)

Steppenwolf
Best cuts: Snowblind Friend (1970), Sparkle Eyes (1971), In Hopes of a Garden (1971), Magic Carpet Ride (1968), Born To Be Wild (1969)

And then there were one-off little gems like Mashmakhan‘s As The Years Go By (1970) and A Foot In Cold Water‘s beautiful (Make Me Do) Anything You Want (1972), later covered in 1984 by Helix, a Canadian hard rock/metal band.

Honourable Mention

There were so many other Canadian bands and artists I wasn’t in to, per se, but were prevalent on the airwaves and in our collective Canadian music conscience. Groups such as:

  • Rush
  • Max Webster
  • Triumph
  • Harlequin
  • Crowbar
  • Ken Tobias
  • Valdy
  • Ian Thomas
  • The Bells
  • The Poppy Family
  • … And a lesser known group called Painter, from Calgary, who had a hit in 1973 with West Coast Woman
The Era In Media

There is a really great CBC documentary which closely examines this wonderful period of Canadian music. It’s called This Beat Goes On: Canadian Pop Music in the 1970s, and it’s narrated by Jian Ghomeshi before his big, and very public, fall from grace.

There is also a 4-CD box set entitled Oh What A Feeling: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music which includes cuts from many artists of this musical era. I bought the CD (remember those?) when it came out back in 1996, but I don’t know if it’s still available.

Thank you, Canada, for some of the best music of my life 🙂

“Last Man Dancing”

I’ve had this article on my hard drive for many years. I can’t recall exactly where or when I found the essay but I do know who the author is – it’s written by a man named Patrick Runkle. I couldn’t find too much about him on the Internet, other than he is a music producer/composer from the U.S. and is a founder of Cohaagen Music. He is also a member of the electropop group Ganymede. Patrick has written this interesting but sad and wistful article about the electronic music scene of the late 70s/early 80s in San Francisco, its effect on gay liberation and culture, and the toll AIDS has taken on many of the performers.


In the dusty back rooms of dance music stores and in cardboard boxes stored in attics all over San Francisco, there are indigenous records in worn sleeves with titles like Menergy, Cruisin’ the Streets and Die Hard Lover. These records — like their creators — had short, brilliant, tragic lives.

The names on these records are unknown to most people, even those who follow San Francisco music. To others, the names are fading memories from a dead era. But to a few people, like music lawyer and former nightclub owner Steven Ames Brown, the disco stars who made records in San Francisco during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were friends who died too young.

Brown sits in his Franklin D. Israel-designed modern mansion on Grand View Avenue overlooking the city. “At 49, I’m an elder statesman of San Francisco dance music. It’s an eerie feeling,” he says.

He pages through Tribal Rites, a book from 1987 by David Diebold containing first-person remembrances of the gay music scene in San Francisco, and finds a picture of himself from 1981 posing with drag queen Sylvester.

“Look, I had brown hair. And I was thin,” he says, even though he’s currently in incredible shape.

Brown pages through the book some more and then closes it.

“God, all these people are dead.”

The cover of Tribal Rites is a collage of faces from the era. The men are buff, young and virile, all with full, perfectly trimmed mustaches and huge smiles. They seem to be frozen forever in the blinding afternoon sun of Castro Street.

“Every night was another party,” Brown said. “It was an incredible time to be a jet-setting homo. The music was fun; life was fun. There was someone for everyone to go home with.”

“People don’t remember why there were thousands of men marching in the gay pride parades. Nobody gave a shit about the political speeches,” Brown said. “The music was the glue that brought the community together. It was because people like Sylvester were on the floats that we marched behind them.”

Sylvester, San Francisco’s first breakout disco star, was a soul singer who enjoyed success in the early ’70s as a member of the Bay Area transvestite group the Cockettes. His outrageous performances won him a large local following and a solo contract on the Fantasy label. A series of hit disco tracks followed, including “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” both from 1978.

Members of the same nightclub and disco culture from which Sylvester emerged started to see the possibilities for the gay community to produce its own music without the interference of major labels.

“It became possible because of advances in recording technology in the disco era to produce tracks for a lot less money than before,” Brown said. “Also, and most important, the music didn’t need enormous distribution to be popular.”

Brown came to the city in 1974 to study law at Hastings after working as a disc jockey for a Michigan radio station and studying film at USC in Los Angeles.

“I happened to acquire some property in South of Market in one of my first cases here as a lawyer,” Brown said. “Because of my experience in the music industry, I decided to open a nightclub. And it did so well that I opened another.”

“Disco music had re-invigorated dancing and nightclubs, and the clubs went from being dirty, back-room swill holes to being fun, bright, gay places. After pressing only a few thousand records and playing them in the right clubs, you could have a major hit.”

Musicians in San Francisco’s gay nightclubs started to make music of their own. Bill Motley was a charismatic but frustrated disc jockey in the Castro who had big dreams.

“Bill was a man whose inside didn’t match his outside,” Brown said. “On the outside, he was a large, burly guy who looked like the kind of person you wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley.”

“But on the inside, he was Diana Ross.”

Motley’s experience was mostly as a lighting consultant for local nightclubs, but his musical intuition was sharp. Although he wanted desperately to be a star, he knew his talent was for production.

His idea was to record a disco version of the Ashford-Simpson soul classics “Remember Me” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” He borrowed money to do it from his friend Victor Swedosh, owner of the Moby Dick bar at 18th & Hartford in the Castro.

Taking inspiration from the Village People, which was essentially a front band for producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, Motley created a fictitious band called The Boys Town Gang to realize his vision.

“Bill found some kids in the city who could sing,” Brown said. “He designed a stage show for them, and started recording with them in the studio.”

The track that resulted was a 6-minute suite, “Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Motley, Swedosh, and another friend from the Castro, Stan Moriss, formed Moby Dick Records in 1980 to release and distribute the Boys Town Gang recordings.

The first track went out on a 12-inch EP called Cruisin’ the Streets, which hit #5 on Billboard’s dance music chart and made enough money for the fun to continue.

“Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a joyous burst of soulful disco that, while not incredibly progressive, shows an incredible ear for production. It was a great answer to all the vapid, soulless corporate disco albums that caused the national ‘disco sucks’ backlash in 1980.

Elsewhere in the Castro at the same time, Patrick Cowley, a synthesizer player and former nightclub lighting technician, was preparing his first solo release.

Cowley had studied music and synthesizers at City College before landing a spot in Sylvester’s band in the late ‘70s.

“We didn’t even know Patrick could play music when we met him,” Sylvester recalled before his death in 1988. “He was designing the lighting for some of our shows, and he played us a tape of his music. I asked him to join us.”

Patrick Cowley & Sylvester

Indeed, Cowley’s unique analog synthesizer flourishes showed up first on Sylvester’s Step II album in 1978, and he contributed two songs to Sylvester’s Stars album a year later.

But Cowley had personal problems with some members of Sylvester’s band, and decided to go solo in 1980. Cowley became friends with the owners of the Automatt studios at 11th & Harrison, and they would let him use the studio during off hours.

“Patrick was a short guy, very passive,” Brown recalls. “All he did was make music, get screwed, and do drugs.”

Cowley and business partner Marty Blecman, a former disc jockey, put together an album of electronic disco music, heavily influenced by the European synth sounds of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder, which was to feature a title track called “Energy.”

“One day, while we were recording,” Blecman wrote before his death in 1991, “We got high and I added an ‘M’ in front of ‘Energy,’ and we came up with all these completely gay lyrics for it. In the end, that’s what we used.”

The song “Menergy” was born. The album Menergy, released on the Fusion label, became an international dance smash in early 1981. It went to number one on Billboard’s dance charts and set a new high-water mark for electronic music.

The title track owes a great debt to Giorgio Moroder’s production of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Like Cowley’s best work, it makes no apologies for its sexual orientation, but maintains an eye-winking charm, without
being explicitly about sex. “The boys in the back room are lovin’ it up / Shootin’ off menergy,” the joyous female chorus sings. What exactly this menergy is that the boys are shooting off is left to the fertile imagination of the listener.

Moreover, Cowley’s electronic arrangements had a fantastic, almost sci-fi quality that tied into the drug-induced club experience of the time.

The success of Menergy allowed Blecman and Cowley to form a company of their own, Megatone Records. In the same way, sales of the Boys Town Gang’s first record ensured more recordings from the Moby Dick label.

The two companies were run from Victorian homes in the Castro, and the performing stars that the labels created enjoyed notoriety both in San Francisco and throughout the worldwide cosmopolitan gay community.

“There was a point where you could fly to any city in the world, and the gay bars and nightclubs were playing the same songs.” said Brown.

People loved “something which was homegrown. It wasn’t marketed to you by faceless corporations. It was the allure of quality music from the community.”

“They were producing a cultural commodity, if I can put those two words together,” Brown said. “They created a business that was both self-sufficient and gay, an underground economy. This was also around the time that we saw an explosion of gay lawyers serving gay clients, gay doctors serving gay patients, and so on.”

In mid-1981, Megatone Records had its first official release, Patrick Cowley’s Megatron Man LP, the title track from which was another huge hit for the company.

Meanwhile, Moby Dick put out a Boys Town Gang LP, Disc Charge, as the follow-up to Cruisin’ the Streets. That album’s disco cover of the Gaudio-Crewe standard “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” was a monstrous worldwide hit.

The parties lit up the city every weekend. Thousands of men converged on dozens of nightclubs to hear the latest tracks and see the stars perform.

But it wasn’t to last.

After Megatron Man was released in 1981, Cowley fell ill with a mysterious illness.

The disease, first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) or the AID Syndrome, would soon put an end to it all. Cowley was among the first victims in San Francisco.

“Patrick was the first person I saw who was really sick,” Brown said. “They wheeled him onto the balcony of the Palladium. It was too upsetting to watch.”

After fighting the disease for a year, Cowley died on Nov. 12, 1982.

“In the year leading up to his death, Patrick was either in the studio or the hospital,” Blecman told the San Francisco Chronicle upon Cowley’s death. “He left his legacy on tape.”

After Cowley’s death, but before panic over AIDS spread throughout the nation, the two Castro-based labels remained profitable.

Megatone released posthumous Cowley-produced material throughout 1983, including vocalist Paul Parker’s #1 hit “Right On Target” from his LP Too Much To Dream, and Cowley’s reunion with Sylvester, another #1 single, “Do Ya Wanna Funk?”

Moby Dick released another Boys Town Gang album, as well as a huge hit single from vocalist Frank Loverde, “Die Hard Lover,” which was a collaboration between Cowley and Motley.

But everyone knew the end was near. “By late ’83, HIV had scared everyone out of the nightclubs, especially the straight suburban kids who spent so much money,” Brown said. “People thought it might be transmitted through the air.”

“After that, they didn’t have any hits.”

Other problems plagued the fledgling companies. In-fighting among the personalities in the scene over performances, disappearing royalties, and record sales stunted their growth.

“None of these people knew how to run a record company. They created an overhead that they couldn’t possibly maintain,” Brown said. “They had to pay for marketing, pressing, packaging, administration, everything. When their sales started to slip, it was all over.”

“These guys didn’t want day jobs, and they were attracted to the allure of show business.”

“Their lives were bleak. These guys didn’t have any stage presence whatsoever, they couldn’t perform,” Brown said.

Michael Garrett, a disc jockey from the era and current owner of the CD Record Rack, a Castro district dance music store, remembers a performance from artist Frank Loverde:

“Loverde had a hit record in ’82 with ‘Die Hard Lover.’ There was a show at one of the clubs downtown where he was supposed to perform. He came out on stage and saw all the men in the audience, and he fainted. They had to carry him off, and I don’t think his career ever recovered.”

The years of the AIDS crisis destroyed the San Francisco disco community. As the artists watched their friends and colleagues die, the music changed.

“The mood was different,” Brown said. “It was about mechanical sex.”

Moby Dick dissolved soon after Bill Motley left the company in 1984. He retained the rights to the Boys Town Gang, but got sick soon after and died in 1986. Brown was in charge of selling the company’s assets.

“The only they had that was worth anything were the Boys Town Gang masters,” he said. “I still have those, and I won’t part with them.”

Megatone sputtered along under Blecman throughout the ’80s, releasing regurgitated hits, unremarkable dance music and pathetic aerobics compilations. When Blecman got sick in 1990, Brown brokered the company’s sale to a Canadian company, Unidisc.

Patrick Cowley, Marty Blecman and Sylvester share square number 2795 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Frank Loverde, who died in 1987, is memorialized on square 1791. Bill Motley, who died in 1986, is on square 4152.

“This music was part of a transcendent force of gay liberation,” Brown says. “The community has lost the memory of how important this music was. I think these artists won’t ever, ever get their due.”

Star Wars & The TSO

You’ve probably read the title of this post and thought: “Whhaaaaa??”. It’s an unlikely combo at first glance: the film Star Wars: A New Hope coupled with the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra). Not so weird actually.

What a brilliant idea. Over the span of the next couple of years the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is performing the John Williams-composed Star Wars soundtracks live while the movies are projected larger than life in the background. These concerts take place in the still-somewhat-elegant Roy Thomson Hall.

Starting with the 1997 re-release versions of the “original three” (as I like to call them), the first concert up is Star Wars: A New Hope; this is the production we went to last night. It was fantastic to hear that amazing John Williams soundtrack *really* brought to life by the TSO.

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You don’t realize how much music, both prominent and incidental, there actually is in a Star Wars film; this concert really brought the music to the forefront. The TSO were absolutely superb and every musical detail was faithful to the original motion picture soundtrack (except the “Cantina” scene in the Mos Eisley bar – the filmed version was played here). Sarah Hicks did a brilliant job conducting the orchestra, who played to an absolutely packed and very enthusiastic house. No less than three encores were called after the performance/film completed.

Here’s a few shots from last night’s performance. These were taken before the performance began and during the 15-minute intermission at the movie’s halfway point:

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The audience during Intermission

Performance Schedule

Star Wars: A New Hope played on the nights of January 23, 24, 25, 26, 2019. The rest of the Star Wars Film Concert Series is scheduled as follows:

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – March 20, 21, 22, 23, 2019
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – October 2, 3, 4, 5, 2019
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – May 6, 7, 8, 9, 2020

I’m sure more are to follow as time goes by, and I can hardly wait.

– Very well done, TSO and Sarah Hicks! –