Overshadowed Originals & Classic Covers: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “They Don’t Know”

This is part one of a five-part series of posts this week that looks at original versions of songs made much more famous by other artists. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m trying to take anything away from the more popular cover version, or saying that the original is always better. There are plenty of cases where covers hold their own or even improve upon the original recording. I just thought it would be fun to share with you the source material for these recordings.

However, I’m starting this Overshadowed Originals & Classic Covers series with a double shot…and a bit of a cheat.

“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was a huge, breakout hit for the fantastic Cyndi Lauper, from her debut album, “She’s So Unusual.” The accompanying video made the song even more of a classic…but it’s not the original.

The song was written by the late, great Robert Hazard, who — with his band The Heroes — had a minor new wave hit with “Escalator of Life” in the 1980s. Hazard wrote and recorded a demo version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in 1979, but he never recorded it as a single or for one of his albums. Therefore, Cyndi Lauper’s version was the first to even have a chance of becoming a hit. But I recently found Hazard’s demo on YouTube, so I figured I would include it in this series.

Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” was produced by Rick Chertoff, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus who became friends and a musical collaborator with Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (co-writer of Lauper’s classic “Time After Time”) of The Hooters. Familiar with the Philly music scene in the early 1980s, Chertoff had apparently heard Hazard’s demo of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and felt a slightly altered version of the song would be perfect for Lauper’s debut album. Chertoff took Lauper to meet Hazard, who approved of the proposed lyrical changes and the rest is pop music history.

Robert Hazard – Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1979 demo)

Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1983 music video)

Note: In addition to the appearances of Captain Lou Albano as Cyndi’s father and Cyndi’s actual mother in the video, there is also a cameo from singer-songwriter Steve Forbert (“Romeo’s Tune”) as the boyfriend with the flowers entering the crowded bedroom.

I also wanted to include in this post the song that was the inspiration for this series — “They Don’t Know,” a song that first made the United States aware of Tracey Ullman, who recorded it for her 1983 debut album, “You Broke My Heart in Seventeen Places.” Ullman’s version has a definite 1960s “girl group” sound to it, but the “ba-by” vocal heard after the guitar solo is actually the voice of the song’s writer, the late, great Kirsty MacColl, who originally recorded the song in 1979.

MacColl and Ullman were both signed to Stiff Records at the time. In fact, the title track of Ullman’s “…Seventeen Places” album is also a MacColl-written song.

Interestingly, Ullman’s version was the first time anyone could ever actually buy a recording of the song. MacColl’s version was a big radio hit in 1979, but a distribution strike resulted in the single not being shipped to stores and it never appeared on a commercially available record until Ullman’s album was released.

Here are both versions…

Kirsty MacColl – “They Don’t Know” (1979 original)

Tracey Ullman – “They Don’t Know” (1983 cover)

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