Cyndi Lauper – Shine
Certain pop stars are always going to crop up here more than others because a) they’re my favourites and b) they’ve had more flops than others. Cyndi Lauper is clearly one of my favourites, to the point where in 1999 I made a Pop Pilgrimage to the store she worked in pre-stardom, Screaming Mimi’s in New York. I asked the lady behind the counter if this was the right place and she replied, in a Brooklyn drawl that thrilled me to my very core “Cyndi? Oh shew-ahh!” Obviously I then felt compelled to make a purchase, which is why I came home with a feather boa in my suitcase.
Cyndi has also had more than her fair share of UK flops – from just her first two albums She Bop, All Through the Night, Change of Heart and What’s Going On all missed the top 40, despite each being brilliant. They’ll all probably show up here at some point, but today we’re talking about a song – possibly the greatest Cyndi song ever – that never even got the chance to be a hit. It’s a sorry tale of record company disasters, internet piracy and, as seems to happen quite a lot with my favourite artists, Japan riding in to save the day.
From 1981 to 1998 Cyndi’s home was Sony Records, through all its changes in name and ownership. In some ways I’m surprised the relationship lasted as long as it did, because after 1986’s True Colors they didn’t do a particularly good job. In America they basically gave up after A Night to Remember, leaving terrific albums like Hat Full of Stars and Sisters of Avalon to flounder in the lowest reaches of the Billboard 200. Her final (at that point) album for the label was a festive kiss-off entitled Merry Christmas…Have a Nice Life, after which Cyndi signed to the indie Edel Records and set about delivering what Sony would probably have killed for a few years earlier – a pop masterpiece. The album was called Shine, and it was all set to debut in 2001 with the title track as the lead single.
This was a song I first experienced through Napster – there being no other way to get a hold of it at the time. In the days of a dial-up connection this meant quite a long wait – an entirely new form of anticipation quite distinct from waiting to get home with a shiny new CD in your bag. When the download finally completed I had one of my first experiences of clicking a mouse to hear a new song, but not my first of bursting into tears within thirty seconds. All it took was that exquisite chamber pop string introduction, which then gives way to this full bodied, extraordinarily warm wave of guitars, keyboards, drums and synth washes and then finally Cyndi herself with one word: shine – sung like a rallying call to everyone on the planet. I was in pieces. Amazingly, it just gets better from there, becoming a defiant, punchy anthem that sits alongside Let the River Run as one of pop’s greatest hymns to potential: “Gonna call out to these embers / Waiting to ignite / Gonna pull you up by your love / By your love and tell you / Shine…I’ll stand by you”. It’s no surprise that it’s become something of an anthem at Pride events around the world, usually belted out by Cyndi herself.
I was convinced that Shine was going to be one of the greatest chart comebacks of all time, but almost immediately things went horribly, horribly wrong. Firstly, Edel Records went bust just as the album was scheduled for release (it was supposed to come out on September 11th 2001), and then many of the tracks leaked on the internet. With no physical release to stem the flow, Shine was shelved, with just three tracks appearing as part of an EP in 2002. Eventually the Japanese arm of Sony put out the full album in 2004, and when I finally got hold of a copy I couldn’t understand how it had been sacrificed. I think it’s the best Cyndi Lauper album of them all – from the ‘hi from 1983’ new wave splendour of It’s Hard to Be Me to the drum and bass flirtation of the Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration Eventually and the warm Memphis soul of Rather Be With You, it’s basically tremendous from start to finish. Someone *cough* Cherry Red *cough* should maybe look at putting out a deluxe edition so it can finally get the recognition it deserves.
One of my favourite things about pop is that sometimes it can heal you in ways you can’t quite figure out. Shine has always made me better, no matter what’s been wrong – and when Cyndi sings “don’t be afraid…it’ll all be ok”, I absolutely believe her. And so far, she’s always been right.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I firmly believe that in the right circumstances Cyndi could still take this into the charts.