When Robert Hazard dashed off "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in 20 minutes in the shower, he never expected what he called this "kind of silly song" to become a worldwide smash for him, or anybody else for that matter.
He recorded a demo of the composition in 1979 and forgot all about it, until Rick Chertoff, who was looking for material while producing Cyndi Lauper's solo début She's So Unusual in 1983, recalled its simple message and catchy chorus. Chertoff took Lauper to meet the writer, who agreed to let her tweak the lyrics of the song to fit her no-nonsense female perspective. The accompanying video became a staple of MTV and helped turn the unthreatening feminist anthem into a transatlantic hit in 1984. For a while, Lauper and her thrift-store look even rivalled the early streetwise Madonna.
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" has been covered by everyone from the grunge group Pearl Jam to the teen sensation Miley Cyrus, via the actress Cybill Shepherd. In 1994, Lauper herself updated the song, turning it into "Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)". Writing such a ubiquitous hit proved to be both a blessing and curse for Hazard. He could count on a steady stream of royalties – said to have topped the $1m mark in the Nineties – but requests for him to play the song at solo shows usually fell on deaf ears.
Born Robert Rimato in Philadelphia in 1948, he grew up in a musical family: his father was an operatic tenor with the Philadelphia Opera Company and also owned a jeweller's shop, while his older sister turned him on to Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins. "The music just knocked me out," he said.
He spent the early Seventies gigging in coffee houses and folk clubs. Later, he played in a reggae band, then led a new wave group, Robert Hazard and the Heroes. In 1981, the Rolling Stone journalist Kurt Loder, in Philadelphia to review the opening night of a Rolling Stones tour, came across Hazard and his band in a bar on South Street. He enthused about his find in an article entitled "Philly Hero".
The local radio station had been playing a brooding track called "Escalator of Life" on cassette and, the following year, Hazard and his group recorded a five-track EP which included this song, along with the electro-pop "Chain Reaction" and a radical reworking of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In the Wind". The EP, financed with a loan from Hazard's uncle, sold over 50,000 copies in the Philadelphia area and attracted the interest of RCA Records.
They signed Hazard and reissued the EP, turning "Escalator of Life" into a minor hit in 1983 but, despite appearances on American Bandstand and tours with U2 and The Motels, never seemed to know how to translate his local popularity on a national scale, or to capitalise on the fact that he had written a smash for Lauper. Wing of Fire, Hazard's début album, sold 100,000 copies in 1984 but he was dropped after the follow-up, Darling, two years later. Recently, he had reverted to his early stripped-down folky, bluesy, rootsy style with the albums The Seventh Lake (2003), Blue Mountain (2004) and Troubadour (2007).
Robert Rimato (Robert Hazard), singer, songwriter and guitarist: born Philadelphia 21 August 1948; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Boston, Massachusetts 5 August 2008.
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