Switched On Pop Bonus Episode: Cyndi Lauper and "All Through The Night" : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders In this special bonus episode, Sam joins Switched On Pop co-host Charlie Harding to talk Cyndi Lauper. Many fall for "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," but Sam's favorite song is the slow burner "All Through The Night," save for one moment: the synthesizer solo. For Sam, this solo never fit in. Charlie investigates the source of Sam's musical malady and uncovers how the '80s got its groove. Hear Sam on another episode of Switched On Pop making the case for why Labrinth's "Sexy MF" should be a modern classic here.

You can follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at samsanders@npr.org.

Presenting 'Switched On Pop': the Cyndi Lauper conspiracy

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders, and I'm going to tell y'all something right now that you might not know about me. I love Cyndi Lauper. I'm a very big Cyndi Lauper fan. I think she's one of the greats. You know, this month marked the 35th anniversary of her album "True Colors." So to mark that anniversary, we're going to share an episode I was so honored to be a part of. It comes from our friends over at the podcast "Switched On Pop." That is a show all about the making and meaning of popular music - one of the best shows out there, I promise you.

Last year, I had what "Switched On Pop" calls a musical malady. Here's the issue. As already stated, I think Cyndi Lauper is the best. I think that the songs that she writes are timeless and classic, but there is one thing about one of her songs that I just cannot understand - the synth solo in, I think, her best song, "All Through The Night," it's horrible.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

SANDERS: The synth solo in "All Through The Night" is corny and awful and jarring. I hate it. It's bugged me for years. So I called up my friend Charlie Harding - he's one of the co-hosts of "Switched On Pop" - and I asked him, Charlie, tell me why. Why is this solo - why does it exist? Why is it so bad? Why is it maybe one of the worst solos in pop history? Together, we investigated how that solo came to be and why most '80s synthesizer sounds are really cheesy to us now in 2021.

This was so fun. Charlie really went on a deep investigation. You're going to love it, I promise. Here's Charlie and Cyndi and me. Enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SWITCHED ON POP" THEME SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Switched on pop.

CHARLIE HARDING: Welcome to "Switched On Pop." I'm songwriter Charlie Harding, and joining me is a very special guest, Sam Sanders from NPR's IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.

SANDERS: Hello.

HARDING: You called me up a few months ago with a musical malady. Remind me, what was going on?

SANDERS: So it feels weird even saying it out loud to your audience 'cause it's one of those questions where I'm like, is this even a valid concern? Should I even be taking this to anybody?

HARDING: (Laughter).

SANDERS: But I think it is because I can't stop thinking about it. This has been in my ears and in my brain probably for years now. So let me just set it up. Folks might not know, but I'm a really big Cyndi Lauper fan. And I'm a really, really big fan of her debut studio album called "She's So Unusual."

HARDING: Yeah.

SANDERS: It was released in 1983, and it was a humongous hit. It won her best new artist at the Grammys. It sold 6 million copies in the U.S., 16 million worldwide. And it had four hit singles. It had four songs from this album hit the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, which was a record back then. "Girls Just Want To Have Fun"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN")

CYNDI LAUPER: (Singing) And girls, they want to have fun. Oh, girls just want to have fun.

SANDERS: ..."Time After Time"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME AFTER TIME")

LAUPER: (Singing) If you're lost you can look, and you will find me, time after time.

SANDERS: ..."She Bop"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE BOP")

LAUPER: (Singing) Oop, she bop, she bop.

SANDERS: ...And "All Through The Night."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

LAUPER: (Singing) All through the night, I'll be awake and not be with you.

SANDERS: Most people gravitate towards "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and "Time After Time." They're the classics. But I think the best song of those four is "All Through The Night."

HARDING: Ooh, the sleeper hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

LAUPER: (Singing) We have no past. We won't reach back. Keep with me, forward all through the night.

SANDERS: Something about "All Through The Night" really works for me - well, several things do - the way that bass line just walks, the way the melody kind of just sits right around the major third begging for you to harmonize with it. It just gets in your bones right away. It's damn near a perfect pop song. Like, I love "All Through The Night" so much. But this crazy thing happens about halfway through the song, this perfect piece of synth pop new wave. About halfway through the song, when it gets time for the solo, the most horrible, horrendous synth solo starts. And every time I hear it, I still shudder. It's the most jarring, disturbing thing to happen in a really, really good song that I perhaps have ever heard in my life.

HARDING: You're not subtle about it.

SANDERS: No. It's really bad.

HARDING: Let's hear a bit of that solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

LAUPER: (Singing) Aah.

HARDING: So how would you describe the sound that you're hearing? Like, what is the, sort of like, timbre? Is it supposed to sound like something?

SANDERS: Halloween haunted house on Quaaludes.

HARDING: (Laughter).

SANDERS: One, the synths are too loud. Two, the setting just is weird. It feels like the synthesizer itself is slightly drunk.

HARDING: (Laughter).

SANDERS: How would you describe it?

HARDING: For me, it has like kind of like a faux accordion quality that is, yeah, maybe a couple dB too loud.

SANDERS: Mmm hmm.

HARDING: And yeah, it's just, like, extremely '80s.

SANDERS: And not even like - 'cause there's good '80s - like, when I think back to, like, for me, the pinnacle of, like, '80s production, which was synth heavy, it's like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who did a bunch of hits for Janet Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I THINK OF YOU")

JANET JACKSON: (Singing) 'Cause when I think of you, baby, nothing else...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE")

JACKSON: (Singing) Woo. It's the pleasure principle, oh-oh, oh-oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NASTY")

JACKSON: (Singing) Nasty, nasty boys, don't mean a thing.

SANDERS: And like, they seemed to have a more restrained (laughter) grasp of the synthesizer. This one here - this one here, I can't put my finger on it. It's just like the synthesizer is punching me in the throat.

HARDING: (Laughter) If you had to use one word to describe this sound, what would it be?

SANDERS: Cheesy. It is so cheesy - Chuck E. Cheese.

HARDING: I hear you. I hear what's going on. So what do I need to solve for you?

SANDERS: I think you need to tell me why all of these great people working with Cyndi Lauper, including Cyndi Lauper, managed to make this really great album and these really great, timeless classic songs and let this horrible synth sound end up in the mix of that. Like, why does this horrible synth pop up in such a great song? These obviously aren't unskilled producers or singers or songwriters. They were functioning on a higher level 'cause the whole album is so good. How did none of them hear how horrible that synthesizer sounded?

HARDING: (Laughter).

SANDERS: That's my question for you.

HARDING: OK. So what you might not know is that for the last couple of months, I've been going on this quest to solve your musical malady.

SANDERS: Because you're a true friend.

HARDING: (Laughter) Thanks. And I divided this question into actually a sub-question 'cause I feel like underlying your inquiry is that this sounds bad. And so I wanted to first investigate, like, how do we even get that idea of, does this sound bad?

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDING: Where does that come from? And then I want to answer your question of, well, why did Cyndi Lauper make this choice? How did it get on the record? And maybe we can figure out why it's not working for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYNTHESIZER MUSIC)

SANDERS: I love it.

HARDING: OK. So the first person I approached to figure out why do we hear '80s synth as so cheesy is a music theorist who has a Ph.D. from studying synthesizers, which leads me to believe I chose the wrong career.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HARDING: And specifically, she's really into why some old sounds sound classic and others sound dated.

SANDERS: Huh.

MEGAN LAVENGOOD: I'm Megan Lavengood. I teach music theory at George Mason University. I'm an assistant professor there.

HARDING: So Megan Lavengood got her Ph.D. studying one of the most iconic synthesizers of all time.

LAVENGOOD: The DX7 is the first commercially kind of viable digital synthesizer that existed. It's known for having a bit of a harsh sound. And it doesn't necessarily have to have a negative connotation, but it often does.

HARDING: You probably know this DX7 sound. She says one of the best examples is Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone."

SANDERS: Oh, hit it for me. I want to hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNY LOGGINS SONG, "DANGER ZONE")

HARDING: How's that bass making you feel?

SANDERS: That is hella '80s - hella, hella '80s.

HARDING: Right (laughter)? I feel like we're getting this really bad imitation of a slap bass.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Exactly. And it's like, why not just play a slap bass?

HARDING: Totally. And it also makes you think, like, was it made to sound bad?

SANDERS: Exactly.

LAVENGOOD: When I look through all these old keyboard magazine issues, all the advertisements are so focused on realism. It's so easy to find ads that are like, make an orchestra come out of your synthesizer.

HARDING: Isn't that wild?

SANDERS: And this is so weird hearing you say that and, like, hearing her say that because it's like, you know, in the decade before, in the '70s, when disco was popping off, they would have, like, a whole symphony backing a disco artist. They were really into - it felt like, for me at least - a lot of real instrumentation in the '70s. And all of a sudden, let's synth it up.

HARDING: Yeah. And it sounded pretty cheesy. Here's that orchestra sound from the DX7 that Professor Lavengood was describing. I played it on a little Beethoven.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HARDING PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "SYMPHONY NO. 5")

SANDERS: Oy.

HARDING: (Laughter) What? You don't think it's like the fullest, most beautiful, lush-sounding orchestra you've ever heard?

SANDERS: Should I start...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HARDING PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "SYMPHONY NO. 5")

SANDERS: Oh, wow, wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HARDING PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "SYMPHONY NO. 5")

SANDERS: I want to start playing Tetris.

HARDING: The wild thing is, Sam, that people loved this sound.

LAVENGOOD: When you read the artist's statements, they don't seem to think that it's realistic. But they do like the sound.

HARDING: So this is the thing. It's like no one really believed that this thing sounded like a real guitar or piano or orchestra, but it had something creative to it. People actually end up loving this synthesizer so much that it was a huge, huge hit. Yamaha, who developed it, made projections that they'd sell, like, 20,000 units in the first year, and they sold over 150,000, which was the best-selling synthesizer of all time at that moment.

SANDERS: Wow.

HARDING: And professor Lavengood actually posits that it's the overwhelming popularity of that synthesizer and its sounds from the 1980s that make it sound so cheesy today. Like, these sounds were just totally overdone.

LAVENGOOD: With the digital synthesizers and the advent, you know, both computing and digital memory and stuff like - more synthesizers were able to sell presets - preset sounds to consumers. More people were able to sort of feel like they could play a synthesizer. But then also the other side of that coin is that it sort of homogenized the sound of 1980s music in a lot of ways.

HARDING: All right. So it turns out this synthesizer was so incredibly difficult to program that everybody just defaulted to the presets that it came with...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HARDING: ...The pre-installed sounds on the DX7. And you - I promise you, you know them, whether you owned this instrument or not, these sounds are iconic. Probably the most famous - you must know this electric piano sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYNTHESIZER PIANO EFFECT)

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

HARDING: We're getting in the mood. Is there any one person...

SANDERS: Michael McDonald?

HARDING: (Laughter) Definitely. You know who comes to mind for me is, of course, Whitney Houston.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDING: And you can hear the E Piano 1 preset on Whitney's "Greatest Love Of All."

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHITNEY HOUSTON SONG, "THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL")

HARDING: Chime-y, digital, bright, harsh goodness. And you know - and Whitney wasn't alone. Right? Like, tons of people used these sounds. Like, even Queen used that bad orchestra sound on their song "Who Wants To Live Forever?"

(SOUNDBITE OF QUEEN SONG, "WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER?")

SANDERS: Ugh.

HARDING: It's not all bad.

SANDERS: Eh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER?")

QUEEN: (Singing) There's no time for us.

HARDING: You're not with me. You're hardly with me. But I swear there's the calliope from Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

(SOUNDBITE OF TINA TURNER SONG, "WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?")

HARDING: ...Another DX7 preset and an iconic sound of the '80s.

SANDERS: OK, that one I like.

HARDING: You like this one, all right. Cyndi wasn't above it.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDING: She used the DX7 on "Change Of Heart," that same bass sound that we heard on Kenny Loggins.

SANDERS: Ah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "CHANGE OF HEART")

SANDERS: Oh, you know what?

HARDING: What's that?

SANDERS: That gives me the same kind of vibes that you get in that first bass line and walk of Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principle."

(SOUNDBITE OF JANET JACKSON SONG, "THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE")

HARDING: Sam, you are right on. And that is exactly my point, is that this synthesizer was so ubiquitous and its presets were so ubiquitous that they actually just kind of became the sound of the 1980s.

SANDERS: Wow.

HARDING: And professor Lavengood's research actually confirms the ubiquity of these sounds. She found out that in the 1980s, that only 10 to 20% of the people that owned these synthesizers actually made their own sounds, that everyone else just used presets. And so maybe the success of these sounds were actually their own aesthetic demise.

LAVENGOOD: A popular perception is that, like, the artistry sort of declined in the '80s. It's like a very classic debate - right? - about, like, physical embodied skill vs. technology.

HARDING: Technology took over, and it became just too much. And I think for that reason, these sounds were so commonplace that they kind of, like, jumped the shark. And they eventually just became so cliche that they sound cheesy.

SANDERS: It feels like that era of, like, my time in college when, like, every song on hip-hop radio had to have, Lil Jon - had to have him. You couldn't make a son without Lil Jon. Lil Jon is the synthesizer of the early - of the - what is it? - mid-2000s.

HARDING: Totally. And in the same period, like, you had to throw autotune on your track.

SANDERS: Exactly.

HARDING: Like, it had to be. And so - and in the same way, people derided that sound. So we understand now why we have that cheesy association with certain '80s synth sounds. But as you put it, like, there's lots of great music from the 1980s, lots of great Cyndi songs that used other synthesizers. And it leads me to want to answer your next question, which is, why this accordion-ish (ph) preset? Was it a preset? Like, where did it come from?

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDING: You know, I did my, like, deep Google search.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYNTHESIZER)

HARDING: I went through databases of famous synth presets from the 1980s, and I couldn't find an accordion sound. But I did find a sound called the harmonium on the Prophet-5, which was one of the most popular synthesizers at the time. But it cost, like, $10,000 today to buy a used one, and I figured it would be much easier to figure out whether or not this was the sound if I just called the guy who made it to see if my hypothesis was correct, that maybe Cyndi just grabbed an accordion sound called harmonium on the Prophet-5.

DAVE SMITH: My name is Dave Smith. I've been designing synthesizers for almost 50 years now.

HARDING: There are two big names in American synthesizers - Bob Moog makes Moog synthesizers, and Dave Smith, who made Sequential synthesizers.

SANDERS: I've heard of Moog. We've - I've never heard of Smith, not fair to Mr. Smith.

HARDING: You know, when he was just in his 20s, Smith created the Prophet-5 back in the late '70s. And it was the first synthesizer that would let you play chords and properly program the instrument to have presets. And it fundamentally changed the sound of music such that, like, one of the first 10 models, he sold to David Bowie.

SANDERS: Oh.

SMITH: It was a breakthrough instrument that actually allowed all of the great and horrible music of the '80s. Some of it was cheesy, and some of it was really good.

HARDING: You've heard the Prophet-5 on Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight."

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE AIR TONIGHT")

PHIL COLLINS: (Singing) I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh, Lord.

HARDING: You can hear it on Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTE DAVIS EYES")

KIM CARNES: (Singing) She's got Bette Davis eyes.

HARDING: ...And on Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GOT LUCKY")

TOM PETTY: (Singing) You got lucky, babe, when I found you.

HARDING: And the funny thing is, though, a lot of people just used the presets.

SMITH: You know, there's a handful of signature sounds on the Prophet-5. There's one sound that was used on a number of records. It's used on The Cars' "Let's Go." You know, that doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CARS SONG, "LET'S GO")

SMITH: And that same sound was used in "Burning Down The House" by Talking Heads.

(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING HEADS SONG, "BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE")

SMITH: It was used in "Atomic Dog" from Parliament-Funkadelic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ATOMIC DOG")

PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC: (Singing) Do the dogcatcher, dogcatcher.

SANDERS: That's crazy.

HARDING: Yeah, right? It's one of these instruments that really did change the sound of music. And, you know, obviously, I was curious. Is this the instrument that is on the Cyndi track "All Through The Night?" And so I ask Dave, does he recognize his sound on this song?

Do you know the Cyndi Lauper track that I mentioned?

SMITH: I - I'm - you'd have to hum a few bars, but it's just not...

HARDING: Yeah. Let me play "All Through The Night" for you really quickly.

SMITH: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

SMITH: I don't think it sounds like one of mine. And actually, a lot of times, you don't necessarily know if somebody in particular is using your synth. You know, I can't say for sure. Sometimes, I can but often not. That didn't really have a sound that I would think it was ours.

HARDING: Sam, I failed (laughter).

SANDERS: OK. We got - so then what do we do now?

HARDING: I figured I'd at least ask this guy what he thought of these '80s synth sounds and whether he agreed with our earlier hypothesis about their cheesy quality.

SANDERS: Uh huh.

SMITH: I don't think people were thinking of it necessarily as good or bad. They were - in a lot of cases, it was just their type of music. Some people were trying to do new music. It's easy to look back now, you know, you could laugh at a lot of '80s music. You could certainly laugh at a lot of '80s hair and a lot of '80s clothing. It was a period, you know? It worked at the time, mostly.

SANDERS: Mostly - I love that qualifying mostly.

HARDING: I mean, honestly, though, I was just so bummed because I told you I have a bit of a synth problem. I was so happy to get to chat with Dave Smith, who really is a total icon. And I thought he would have the answer for me, and he didn't. But don't fret, Sam. After an even longer quest, I found the one person who seems to have a definitive answer. To be honest, Sam, after talking to Dave Smith, I was in a bit of a tizzy. I feel like I'd failed you. You know, I'd found out why synth sounds are cheesy to us now, but that wasn't your question. Your question is, how did Cyndi choose this sound? And as I mentioned, I did find the person who could answer the question. But to get there, I had to go down a few rabbit holes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARDING: I did everything I could to reach out to Cyndi. I traded messages with her publicist - no luck.

SANDERS: Alas.

HARDING: Cyndi's a great person, but it sounds like she was super busy, couldn't chat. But I did find this archival recording of Cyndi Lauper on "The Howard Stern Show" that led me to my next clue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAUPER: It was written this way, and I'd never sung it this way.

HOWARD STERN: You're referring to the song "All Through The Night."

LAUPER: "All Through The Night," yeah. Jules Shear wrote it and he wrote it like this.

(Singing) We have no past. We won't reach back. Keep with me, forward all through the night.

HARDING: Check it out.

SANDERS: Interesting.

HARDING: What do you hear?

SANDERS: Is that an accordion? Is that an accordion?

HARDING: (Laughter) That's an accordion. So my hunch of, hey, this sounds kind of accordion-ish was spot on. Like, Cyndi says this is how she originally imagined. How do you feel about this version?

SANDERS: Well, the first thing I notice is that when she's singing that melody, she's hanging kind of on the harmony, in my opinion. Like, she's hanging on the five and the six, which is interesting. It's interesting to also hear the song, like, with an acoustic guitar a little bit. Like, the song, I think, works in any format 'cause it's just a really well-written song. But I also - again, with this one, that solo comes in, and I'm still scratching my head. Like, the accordion comes out of nowhere, too. It's still less jarring than that synth.

HARDING: And those sounds we're hearing in the background - there's actually dulcimer in there as well, so we have these traditional instruments that are sort of, like - have this, like, kind of like Irish jig kind of vibe going on.

SANDERS: Also, Cyndi wasn't dumb. She made, like, this new-wave movement very poppy and radio-friendly with that album.

HARDING: Right.

SANDERS: She knew what she was doing. Like, for the most part, the sounds of that album, the sounds of the song are perfect for that moment. The only part where I get upset is the synth solo.

HARDING: And here's the thing. Like, Sam, you're not alone. So obviously, when you first asked me this question, I went and did my internet sleuthing and, like, tried to find the answer there. What I missed on my first pass were these, like, really deep older internet forums because lots of other people have actually asked this question. Like, what is this synthesizer solo? What is this sound? Why did it happen? And so after I heard this Cyndi clip, the accordion, I went and I found this posting on - you know, obviously, people were asking this on, like, Reddit, on forums called Harmony Central. But there's this really popular music forum that is really unfortunately called Gear Sluts.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HARDING: And it is, like, the most popular music forum. There was a post that I found from July 7, 2011. So I went and asked your exact question. And a user posts this, like, complete synth breakdown of a bunch of tracks off of "She's So Unusual." And they go through how "All Through The Night" even uses the same Prophet-5 in the background, using the same patch as Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight." It's subtle, but it's in there. There's, like - they give all this detail. And the next poster's like, whoa, are you, Cyndi? And then they're like, no, no, no, no, no. This other person jumps in, is like, no, this is all wrong.

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

HARDING: You have - this person has no idea what they're - so it's like it's going back and forth. But that last guy who jumps in is actually the person who produced the album. And...

SANDERS: Wow.

HARDING: I'm like, I've got to get in touch with - this is back in 2011. But I'm like, I bet I could find him. So I went to his website. I called him up. And I think I found the answer to your question.

SANDERS: Really?

WILLIAM WITTMAN: I'm William Wittman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARDING: William Wittman is a band member, plays the bass. And he's also the musical director for Cyndi Lauper. He's been doing that for decades. If anyone knows the real story, it's William. So I told him your story (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HARDING: OK. So Sam is a buddy of mine, and we were talking a few days ago. So what he says to me is, like, I am the biggest Cyndi Lauper fan of all time.

WITTMAN: OK.

HARDING: And he's like, but I have this one problem. I'm like, what's that? And he's like, the synthesizer solo in "All Through The Night." He's like, how in the world did this happen?

WITTMAN: I'll digress a little in answering in that we were already into purposely weird solo realms. And in a similar manner, when it came to the solo on "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," Rob Hyman, the keyboard - one of the keyboard players, put up this wacky popcorn machine sound and made that crazy solo for "Girls" almost as a joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN")

WITTMAN: Like, oh, I dare you to like this - and everybody in the room went, yeah, that's the one (laughter). Yes, we want crazy. We want the solo that sounds nothing like what everybody else is doing.

SANDERS: (Gasping) I remember that one. Oh, that was - that also was a bad solo, too.

HARDING: Yeah (laughter).

WITTMAN: When it was all over and we played it back for Rob Hyman, he said, well, I think this is great, but I don't know who the [expletive] is going to listen to it. And I know - we all knew exactly what he meant. It sounded nothing like what was on the radio at the time, the point being that we were already open to and Cyndi was open to it being left field-y.

HARDING: This album is, as William Wittman put it - like, this is something that is out of left field. "She's So Unusual." They're going for outlandish sounds, and that brings us to "All Through The Night."

SANDERS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

WITTMAN: That solo is Peter Wood. Peter was sort of the second keyboard player on Cyndi's record.

HARDING: Do you know what instrument he played it on?

WITTMAN: Yes, on the Memorymoog.

HARDING: Foiled (laughter).

SANDERS: Oh.

HARDING: I called the wrong synth manufacturer. The Memorymoog was actually the other famous synth from the time, made by Bob Moog and Moog Music. He actually made the synth as a competitor to the Prophet-5.

SANDERS: Huh.

HARDING: William confirmed the Prophet-5 was elsewhere on the record. But obviously, I fulfilled my side quest as a synth geek. But I still have not answered your question about what happened in the studio. How did this all play out?

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

WITTMAN: Whatever we were doing that day, I think we had tried some guitar solo ideas that were really not doing it. And Peter, I think, again, semi as a joke, put up this sort of bagpipe-like sound and played pretty much one take off the top of his head - boom, here's the solo - laughing and sort of doing an Irish jig while he played this bagpipe solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT")

WITTMAN: I think thinking we would all say that's too silly or - you know, just to lighten the mood, I'll play this bagpipe thing, and we'll have a laugh, and we'll do something else. And everybody went, oh, yeah, that's great. We're keeping that.

SANDERS: Wow.

HARDING: (Laughter) It was...

SANDERS: Like, I mean, it all makes sense now. Of course that synthesizer solo began as a joke. That's the only way it would have happened.

HARDING: Yeah. Well, it's like it began as an accordion, and then they turned the whole song into, like, a synth pop thing. And so Peter Wood, who played the synthesizer on it, plays this sound, which is, like, kind of in that same world. But it's this hilarious juxtaposition. And they kept it, ever cementing it in pop history. I asked William how he heard that solo now.

If you had to, like, put on the character of that synthesizer solo...

WITTMAN: Yeah?

HARDING: ...What is it trying to say to us?

WITTMAN: I think it's doing a little happy dance in the middle of that song. I mean, that's the way it comes off. Even when we play it live, it goes very major there. And Cyndi tends to do a little - not quite an Irish jig or a step dance, but something like that. You know, she dances around in that bit. It's not a melancholy bit. In an otherwise somewhat melancholy song, it is just a little happy moment.

SANDERS: That's amazing. You know what's so interesting? The lyrics are a little cryptic, and you can't tell from the lyrics if this is a sad song or a happy song. Like, we have no past. We won't reach back. Keep with me forward all through the night. And once we start, the meter clicks, and it goes running all through the night. Until it ends, there is no end. Like, is she running in joy or, like, run into, like, Romeo and Juliet herself and her lover? I don't know.

HARDING: Totally. You know, it makes me think that this synth solo in that way is somewhat Shakespearean. Like, even in Shakespearean tragedies, you have these moments of comic relief. And as the producer William Wittman put it, like, this is a moment of just fun and joy. It's a place where she raises her arms up and dances a little jig.

SANDERS: (Laughter) And this confirms one of the reasons why I think I love this song so much because I am obsessed with songs that don't actually tell the listener if they're happy or sad. You got to figure it out or something in between.

HARDING: Yeah, no, totally. And this is a moment that people actually really enjoy. In fact, Sam, you might be in the minority here because...

SANDERS: Oh, come on.

HARDING: ...Fans dig this track. When they play it live, they recreate it exactly as it was.

SANDERS: They do the solo?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WITTMAN: We almost always have tried to clone that solo accurately. It's like, that's one of those solos where if you don't play it, like, on the record, people look at you like, well, why didn't you play the whole song the way it's supposed to be? You know, it's become a signature part that you don't want to drift too far away from because people miss it.

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

HARDING: So ultimately, my investigation leads me to believe that you're actually just totally out of touch, you're an imposter Cyndi Lauper fan and that I have a problem with the synthesizer wormholes. What do you think?

SANDERS: (Laughter) I would say I would agree that I'm out of touch because I'm out of touch on a lot of stuff. And, gosh, maybe I should just reconsider that synth solo and synthesizers in general. Man, if this is the part that come to the live shows for, I am out of touch.

HARDING: The thing is we're in this huge 1980s comeback. Like, maybe it had a bad rap in its time, but these sounds are very present today. We hear 80 synths in The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights"...

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WEEKND'S "BLINDING LIGHTS"

HARDING: ...Dua Lipa's "Physical"....

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PHYSICAL")

DUA LIPA: (Singing) Come on. Come on. Let's get physical. Lights out...

HARDING: ...Little Mix's "Break Up Song"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK UP SONG")

LITTLE MIX: (Singing) So tonight, I'll sing another, another break up song.

HARDING: Miley Cyrus even just did a cover of "Heart Of Glass."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART OF GLASS")

MILEY CYRUS: (Singing) Once I had a love, and it was a gas. It soon turned out I had a heart of glass.

SANDERS: Yeah. Oh, you're right. It's a moment.

HARDING: We're in some '80s nostalgia. And so, I mean, obviously, you're not totally out of touch. I'm playing with you. But it makes me wonder, though, like, having gone through this, do you feel like you hear this synthesizer solo in a different way now?

SANDERS: I'm definitely going to because, well, because like now I know that, like, some really smart people that made this had a reason. I think before you explained this to me, I thought that there was no reason. And now I'm like, oh, there is a reason, so I have to respect it more. I will say, you know, if I was in charge of the world, I would replace it with a nice - honestly, no, but OK, what solo would I want? I would do - I think you have to do that solo now that I think about it. It's a synth song.

HARDING: Otherwise, what are you going to call the album, like, "She's Less Unusual"?

SANDERS: (Laughter) You're right. You're right. All right. I take it all back. Cyndi, I was wrong. Forgive me. You can do no wrong.

HARDING: Sam, it has been so much fun investigating this question for you. It has changed the way that I hear sounds that I had previously thought of as cheesy. And as you were leading to, it has definitely made me miss going to some live performance because I feel like, had you seen Cyndi live and you would see in this song and you had danced the jig to that solo, you would have been converted long ago. And instead, it took this moment, your friend investigating your question for many months, but it's been an absolute joy to do so.

SANDERS: Thank you, sir. This was amazing. I'm like, now I'm going to just send you all of my musical mysteries. Next, can you figure out what happened to LeToya and LaTavia from Destiny's Child? Where did they go? What are they up to? That's your next mystery.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Thanks again to my friends over at "Switched On Pop" for letting me come on to talk about Cyndi and my musical malady. You can find "Switched On Pop" wherever you get your podcasts. You know, I've been on that show more than once. There is also a recent episode of that show in which I talk about a modern pop song that I think is a classic that belongs in the great pantheon of pop. We'll post a link in the show notes for that one.

Join us again on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE this Friday. You know, for those episodes, we love to hear from you sharing the best things that have happened to you all week. If you want to do that, just record yourself and email that file to me - samsanders@npr.org. That email address is samsanders@npr.org. All right, listeners, till Friday. Thanks for listening. Go listen to Cyndi Lauper. Trust me, it's good stuff. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.

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