Before she became the international pop star behind hits such as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Time After Time,” Cyndi Lauper was the singer in a band called Blue Angel that brought a distinct rockabilly flavor to the Eighties New Wave. It wasn’t exactly country, per se, but she had clearly absorbed some musical lessons from Jerry Lee Lewis and Wanda Jackson.
Lauper puts those influences front and center on her version of “Heartaches by the Number” (listen to the song below). The song appears on her forthcoming country LP Detour, which will be available May 6th. Over a two-stepping beat and some bright fiddle, Lauper sings the unlucky-in-love lines with a grittiness that has more in common with rockabilly queen Jackson than Ray Price, who had a Number Two hit with the song in 1959. She quickly found that singing like Price wasn’t going to work for her.
“I had to divorce myself from that and find a place where this music sat in my voice, where the sweet spots were, how I could bring it to life and how I could bring a story to it,” says Lauper, who will perform in Nashville as part of the online streaming concert series Skyville Live this evening. “Because it’s all stories, everything is a story and you have to be able to tell a good story.”
She applied that approach across the board while recording Detour, which paired her with producer Tony Brown (George Strait, Reba McEntire) and legendary Sire Records founder Seymour Stein. The collection includes Lauper’s interpretations of early country classics like “I Fall to Pieces,” “The End of the World” and the title track — a 1952 hit for Patti Page — featuring Emmylou Harris. The album was mostly recorded live in Nashville, leaving room for the songs to breathe and intentionally steering away from too much polish.
“My main concern was not making things clinical,” explains Lauper. “I didn’t want clinical music. I didn’t want it clean. I wanted it a little dirty. I wanted the beat to be dirty and sexy. It was supposed to be a mix of R&B and country.”
Willie Nelson stops by to perform on his own “Night Life,” while Lauper is accompanied on other tracks by guests including Vince Gill, Jewel and Alison Krauss. And while the title of Detour hints at a departure for Lauper, the music is in some ways a continuation of her 2010 album Memphis Blues and the sounds she heard growing up in the late Fifties and early Sixties.
“My aunt had country and western on her little black and silver transistor radio that was above the refrigerator in her kitchen, her yellow refrigerator,” recalls Lauper. “I thought it was quite interesting to think you were going forward, but really you’re circling back again.”
Lauper will get to try out a few of the songs as well as some of her beloved hits on Skyville Live, where she will perform with rising country singer Kelsea Ballerini and indie-pop star Ingrid Michaelson. Watch it online at skyvillelive.com starting at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Here’s the Detour track listing:
1. “Funnel of Love”
2. “Detour” (featuring Emmylou Harris)
3. “Misty Blue”
4. “Walkin’ After Midnight”
5. “Heartaches by the Number”
6. “The End of the World”
7. “Night Life” (featuring Willie Nelson)
8. “Begging to You”
9. “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (featuring Vince Gill)
10. “I Fall to Pieces”
11. “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” (featuring Jewel)
12. “Hard Candy Christmas” (featuring Alison Krauss)