Saturday, February 29, 2020

"What's Going On" by Cyndi Lauper

Song#:  3058
Date:  03/14/1987
Debut:  63
Peak:  12
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  Lauper's second album, True Colors, was off to a good start thanks to two Top 10 hits including the #1 title track. Her debut album featured four Top 10 hits, so it was hoped that True Colors would follow suit. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. This third single started off well, but it didn't have the momentum needed to crack the Top 10 and it stalled shy of that mark. It would also be a modest entry at Dance (#17) and AC (#29). It still helped sell a few albums, but in the end it would only go double-platinum, which was a significant dip following her six-million selling debut.

ReduxReview:  Lauper had done cover tunes before this, but none were beloved classics like this one. Lots of artists had covered this song before Lauper, yet I don't think any had released it as a single (and if they did, it appears like none charted). It kinda seemed like one of those songs that no one wanted to really toy with, so it was pretty ballsy for Lauper to take it on. Especially since she wasn't known for her R&B stylings. Why she chose this song to cover is beyond me. I'm guessing she wanted something more serious on the LP and perhaps wanted to make a statement of some kind. Or maybe it was simply one of her favorite songs. Whatever the case, she ended up doing a lovely, if unremarkable, version. However, it is one I tend to skip in her catalog. On the album, this track was bookended by a couple of oddities. It started out with gun fire, which is a tad dramatic (and was eliminated from the single version), and then at the end it segued into another remake, the kooky "Iko Iko." Very strange. But that's Lauper for ya.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally co-written and performed by Marvin Gaye. Gaye's version came out in 1971 and became a #1 R&B/#2 Pop classic. If Berry Gordy (head of Tamla/Motown, Gaye's label) had had his way, this song would have never seen the light of day. The tune came about when Four Tops member Obie Benson witnessed first-hand violence and police brutality at an anti-war protest while on a tour stop in Berkeley, California. He shared his thoughts with his friend, songwriter Al Cleveland. Together they put down in words and music a reaction to the events. When finished, Benson wanted his group The Four Tops to record it, but the balance of the members didn't want to record what they considered a protest song. He then got the song over to Marvin Gaye who ended up tweaking the song's melody and lyrics. He also named it "What's Going On." Gaye had initially thought that the song should go to another Motown group The Originals, whom he had been producing, but was later convinced to record it himself. After the track was completed, Gaye presented it to Berry, who ended up hating it and refused to release it. Apparently, Berry stated that it was the worst thing he had heard in his life. Shocked and disappointed, Gaye felt so strongly about the song that he refused to record anything else until it got released. Berry wasn't giving in. Two other execs at Motown then decided to step in and they got the single quietly pushed out without Berry's knowledge. Of course it turned into a giant hit and that pretty much forced Berry to send Gaye off to quickly record an album on his own. The What's Going On album would be a success reaching #1 R&B and #6 Pop. It would also spawn two other major hits, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (#1 R&B/#4 Pop) and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (#1 R&B/#9 Pop). It quickly became a classic of the era and would go on to be listed on many "best of" lists including coming in at #6 on Rolling Stone's 2003 "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time."


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