Those First Impressions: Cyndi Lauper – Blue Angel

Polydor | US | LP | 1980 | PD-1-6300

Blue Angel: Blue Angel US LP [1980]

  1. Maybe He’ll Know
  2. I Had  A Love
  3. Fade
  4. Anna Blue
  5. Can’t Blame Me
  6. Late
  7. Cut Out
  8. Take A Chance
  9. Just The Other Day
  10. I’m Gonna Be Strong
  11. Lorraine
  12. Everybody’s Got An Angel

Usually the “First Impressions” feature concerns the indie, debut single by a band but this time the artist in question had first flowering with an album on a major label, only to triumph in the charts several years later as a solo act. The artist was Cyndi Lauper and I first encountered her singing lead vocals for the retro-rockin’ Blue Angel in 1980. The band emerged from the NYC nascent neo-rockabilly scene that manifested itself in the wake of Robert Gordon’s dramatic switch from punk rock to rockabilly. Blue Angel were not strictly rockabilly, but that informs part of their sound and they probably were a good year ahead of The Stray Cats, whose Brian Setzer was doing time in The Bloodless Pharoahs concurrently.

I first heard the band via their videos for “I Had  A Love” and “I’m Gonna Be Strong” via the pre-MTV medium of Rockworld. I was immediately struck by their retro rock chops and the impressive voice of Ms. Lauper. I made a note to buy the album… but the truth of the matter is, I never found a copy. Ever. In 30+ years. Flash forward three years and I chanced to see a clip called “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by the now solo Cyndi Lauper that seemed to be a decent enough follow through to the Blue Angel sound, albeit updated with zingy synthesizers instead of screaming organs. I kept an eye peeled to see if I could capture the video on tape for future reference but as luck would have it, Cyndi eventually became a top level star with single after hit single peeled off of her “She’s So Unusual” album. One didn’t have to set the VCR for the 3 a.m. MTV block to see Cyndi Lauper for very long.

At that point, I naively thought that Polydor would be all over that action! I imagined waltzing into a record store some time in 1984 and buying a fresh new pressing of Blue Angel, perhaps with a cover snipe proclaiming that it was Cyndi’s debut recording, or maybe even a whole new cover. As it turned out, I had to wait until the 21st century before Polydor finally, grudgingly cashed in those Cyndi Lauper chips! I discovered a few years back that Universal’s Hip-O Select imprint pressed up 5000 loving copies of this long-lost treasure. A friend of mine had recently revealed himself as being a big Cyndi Lauper fan so when I ordered a copy from Hip-O for his birthday gift-pak®, I made sure to finally get one for myself!

Let me say that it’s very satisfying to finally have this album in evidence in the old Record Cell! As much as I liked “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” I was much cooler to Lauper as a solo artist than I had been towards the Blue Angel material. I never bought any of her solo records… I was always holding out for this one instead. One thing that must be said is that in the two or three reviews I read of the original album, back in the day, the word “pipes” always popped up when discussing Lauper’s vocals. She is undeniably a bravura vocalist in a league with Ronnie Spector. Singers like that don’t come down the pike all that often. The sweet thing is, that this isn’t a case of hot singer + weak band = indifferentsville. Blue Angel are tight players mining that ’58-’62 Post-Elvis/Pre-Beatles vibe for all its worth. It’s like the soundtrack to “Grease,” only with great songs and performances. File this disc next to your Mari Wilson collection.

Sax and organ man John Turi co-wrote most of these songs with Cyndi and he supplies sax riffs both of the stacatto Boots Randolph and greasy King Curtis style with equal aplomb. The vibe here primarily recalls the downtown castanet-laden melodrama favored by Jack Nitzsche on productions like Mink Deville’s “Cabretta” when not going for the throat with full-on Spectorama bombast. The latter tropes get a workout on the album’s cover of Mann + Weil’s “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” which was a hit for Gene Pitney in ’64 but is now owned by Lauper, as far as I’m concerned. You will stand agape as Cyndi belts those three last notes out.

Cyndi stands down for the other cover on the LP, Johnny + The Hurricanes dragstrip rock almost-instrumental, “Cut Out.” The band’s unison vocals are spot on. Strangely enough, this cut appears in the side two, track one catbird seat; a bold programming move. “Cut Out” is redolent of the sort of instro-with-minimal-vocals material proffered by the likes of Dick Dale on some of his early sixties albums after he moved on from pure surf to whatever was blowing in the wind.

“Late” as co-written with bassist Lee Brovitz is the one track here that hits the rockabilly target dead center. The cut sounds like a long lost Wanda Jackson tune as Lauper steps aways from the teen dramatic spotlight to add some hiccup to her vocals. The result is an album that works as a loving pastiche that doesn’t flirt with post modernism in any way at all. In that respect, it isn’t really that different from what, let’s say, The Epoxies were doing on their “Stop The Future” album just a few years ago; that is to say, setting their time machine for a beloved period of music [’79 for The Epoxies – ’62 for Blue Angel] and going for it to the best of their ability with not so much as an ironic wink. At the end of the day, it can’t be said to advance art one iota, but the sheer enjoyment that it successfully brings cannot be discounted or denied. Nor can the presence of Cyndi Lauper, who shocked me only surprisingly by becoming the star she was born to be with her very next outing. Many’s the time I’m used to seeing artists I like endlessly cast pearls before swine. Many thanks to Hip-O Select for finally making this album available on a beautifully made CD as well as download formats at the usual online vendors.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Those First Impressions: Cyndi Lauper – Blue Angel

  1. Echorich says:

    Blue Angel were a great live band. I had the chance to see them twice around the time the album came out at Trax on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. The were certainly visual and the music had even more power live. I haven’t listened to this album in probably 25 years or more, but now I’m gonna pull it out…along with some Robert Gordon, Suicide and Stray Cats. Time to 17 again!


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