Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This Day in Pop Music History (Lauper’s “Time After Time” Hits #1)

June 9, 1984—It wasn’t the first single from Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual album, but “Time After Time” began to exert its own kind of magic before long, as it reached #1 on the Billboard pop chart, where it would stay for two weeks.

The brilliant deejay Jonathan Schwartz says you can’t copyright a song title, and as the son of composer Arthur Schwartz, whose “Dancing in the Dark” not only served as one of the longtime entries in the Great American Songbook but as the first single from Bruce Springsteen’s megaseller Born in the U.S.A., he would know better than anyone.

But a particularly interesting counterpart to “Dancing in the Dark” as an enduring title in different genres of music occurs with “Time After Time.” 

Jazz and pop musicians just loved the 1947 Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne song from the film It Happened in Brooklyn; most songwriters would believe they’d died and gone to heaven if Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr., Stephane Grappelli, the Temptations, Carly Simon, and others too numerous to mention had had a go at just one of their songs, as Cahn and Styne did in this case.

But now, get this: Nearly 40 years later, Lauper produced her own hit single using the same phrase, in her own style—and slowly but surely, it began to enter the pop pantheon, too.

Lauper’s “Time After Time” resembles Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” in another sense: they resulted from a producer pressing an artist for a song missing that could carry the album. 

Springsteen had already recorded much of Born in the U.S.A., but friend-producer Jon Landau told the exhausted Boss that their labors weren’t done—the LP still lacked a sure-fire single. (And you wonder where those lines, “I ain’t nothing but tired/Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself?” came from?)

Likewise, after Lauper already had “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “She Bop,” and “All Through the Night” in the can, her producer, Rick Chertoff, insisted that she needed “one more song.” 

Over several days, inspired by the title of the Malcolm McDowell sci-fi flick Time After Time, the singer and co-songwriter Rob Hyman thrashed out a tune that started out bouncy but, before long, became increasingly bittersweet.

The affecting video for "Time After Time," with Lauper doing a more plaintive version of the free-spirit image promoted on her CD—i.e., a runaway leaving her lover—did much to enhance its popularity. 

But countless musicians, almost from its release, took to the song because of its simple but thoughtful lyrics and moving melody.

Most people who’ve loved this song to distraction have, like myself, a favorite performer who, they believe, has rendered it exquisitely. 

From the Miles Davis live version I’ve downloaded, I can see why he played it incessantly in the last seven years of his life. I’m also much taken with a live 2005 version by Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, which really allows you to hear and practically meditate on the words.

But for my money, nothing matches Lauper’s own duet with Sarah McLachlan. If you’ve ever heard McLachlan perform “I Will Remember You,” you’ll understand perfectly how she can tear your heart out. 

Their collaboration on this YouTube clip is, quite simply, a marvelous demonstration of a song that wends its way into your heart and stays there.

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