It’s a classic. Or not.

The radio announcer said, and I’m not making this up, “And here’s a classic by Cyndi Lauper.”

She then proceeded to play “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Now I will admit without shame that I owned that album back in nineteen-eighty-whatever and I watched the video a dozen times. As a “child of the 1980s,” I appreciate her music. But…classic?

My initial reaction was to talk back to the radio: “You’ve mistaken ‘old’ for ‘classic’ again.”

But then I wondered what makes something a classic as opposed to just old, and I decided it’s an element of seriousness or “speaking to the human condition” which gives something a classic feel. It needs to reflect ourselves at us and leave us a little changed. A work can have a lot of fun but still be a classic and also be serious, such as Pride And Prejudice. But I don’t think “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” reaches quite that level of perception.

And that’s why “Let It Be” is a classic Beatles tune, or “Yesterday,” whereas “She Loves You” is just fun.

I decided (because I was driving and there’s not much to do while driving in Angelborough; it’s not a death match like driving the Belt Parkway in the 1990s) that if any Cyndi Lauper song was a classic, it was “True Colors,” which has elements of the serious and which many people listen to (or play for others) because it leaves them feeling empowered and understood.

What do you think? Classic? Or just a cool song we’ve listened to for 25 years?


  1. Lorraine E. Castro

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I especially liked your comparison to the Beatle’s songs because that makes the argument so clear. Language is becoming less exact than it used to be. Broader interpretation combined that with personal opinion gets us misuse of categories that were formerly more strictly defined.

    I hear people refer to old furniture as “antiques” when they’re talking about something made in the ’20’s or ’40’s. If it’s not 100 years old, it’s just old! I think we just have to get used to these changes as they don’t appear to be going away.

    1. philangelus

      A friend and I were antiquing and after two shops, she turned to me and said, “This stuff is all ‘early garage-sale era’.” And she was totally right. (Stuff made in the 1960s and 1970s.)

      I suspect it’s part of the de-valuization of language. If I say something is not a classic then I’m passing a value judgment on it (ie, this is fun and I love it, but it doesn’t speak to the human condition) and the current trend in American culture is not to make value judgments, in case there may be someone out there who does feel the song speaks to the human condition and might feel hurt by my negativity.

  2. Jason Block

    I agree with you totally…classic does not equal old. Meaning stuff from the 1980’s is now “oldies” music to us. And BTW…the best Cyndi Lauper song is Time After Time. I had the pleasure of meeting her while I was working at WPLJ FM in NY at a charity event. A great person.

    1. philangelus

      That’s really neat. It seemed to me like she had a good sense of humor and a kind spirit, and it’s nice to know she’s like that in person too.

  3. Patient Husband

    “Some things are classic, some things are just old.” — The Rainmakers, “Shiny shiny.” I was actually thinking along similar lines about movies earlier today. What’s the difference between a classic and something that I saw and enjoyed?

  4. Ken Rolph

    Maybe we should treat things like they do with cars, and divide them into vintage and veteran just based on age. But then, if a thing is really old and you remember it, doesn’t that make it a classic?
    Here’s a Beatles classic. I had just turned 14 and we were on summer holidays. I was on Wombarra Beach with my cousin Christine. She had her new “trannie”, which was a small blue device which played music. She had it up to her ear and it was emitting a sound “I wanna hold your haaaaaaand”. I said, what’s that? She looked at me scornfully and said, it’s the Beatles.
    Sometimes it’s not the work itself, but the context in which it arrives. In the fifties, before I was old enough to go to school, we used to have the radio on at home a lot. There were good singers like Perry Como and Dean Martin. Very smooth. One day a sound came out of the radio which started “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock. Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock” My mother said good heavens what’s that, and turned the radio off. After she went out of the room I turned the radio back on. I suddenly knew that the world had changed and was going to be more interesting than I had anticipated.

  5. Cricket

    I use “classic” to mean older, popular at the time, and has aged well. It reminds us of what was popular at the time.

    Sometimes it’s not the words, but the music or the beat or the social context that made it a classic.

    The lyrics aren’t great, but it probably spoke to kids who felt the paths laid out for them were too difficult, and too narrow. It’s something I need to guard against when guiding my kids.

  6. David

    Why does classic have to be serious? Isn’t Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” classic comedy? Your definition of classic needs revision. “Girls just wanna have fun” is bubble gum pop for certain but who’s to say it does not define/or is not emblematic of a particular style and is therefore a “classic” example.

    1. Jane

      Have you got a better definition? I’m open to it.

      But I did say that fun could be classic. Catch-22 is the “classic” fun classic. I laughed until I cried. But it also makes contact with the human soul in a way that raises it above pure comedy and brings it into another level.