See, I grew up just outside of New York City. I rooted for New York sports teams, watched NYC television, and of course listened to New York radio. Like I said in my piece about Manfred Mann, I grew up thinking everything from Philly was crap, but by admitting there was at least one decent thing to come out of Philly, well, I hosed myself. Fortunately, there’s no such thing as a time machine, or my high school self would track me down and kick my own ass.
So, I needed to write a big kiss-ass post about New York City to get my chakras back in line. And I wasn’t about to have somebody tell me “The rose goes in front, big guy,” if you know what I mean.
Since it’s a commonly held belief that this Sunday is some big day for love, I present you with a Blue Angel concert from Valentine’s Day 1981, featuring New York’s sweetheart, Cyndi Lauper, on lead vocals.
If you’ve never heard of Blue Angel, and you think Lauper was just an ’80s pop queen, then you’re in for a treat. Rockabilly was in full swing in New York clubs by the turn of that decade, but unlike fellow New Yorkers the Stray Cats, Blue Angel fused their ’50s rock ‘n’ roll with new-wave rhythms and keyboards.
Signed by Polydor, the band released their self-titled debut in 1980; it was produced by Roy Halee, best known for his work with Simon & Garfunkel and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Looking back, I’m guessing Polydor had no idea how to market Blue Angel, because the album pretty much sank without a trace in America, only doing a little better in Europe. There was one minor hit, “I Had a Love,” which WNEW in New York played the shit out of for about two weeks, but I don’t seem to remember it being played on any other station. Another single, “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” made it to #37 in the Netherlands, but that was about it for the band’s chart action.
By 1982 Blue Angel was no more, having played their final gig at the notorious Studio 54 (though it was less notorious by the time it reopened under new management in September of ’81 after being closed for 19 months; the club finally closed for good five years later). It was a common story: a management shake-up at Polydor caused the band to be dropped from the label’s roster. Lauper, of course, went through a transformation, reappearing two years later and just wanting to have fun.
Like most bands with an eclectic mix of sounds, Blue Angel was far better live than in any studio setting. And Lauper just might be the most energetic lead singer you’ll ever see. You don’t believe me? Check out this clip from German TV in 1980:
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I needed to come up with a Valentine’s Day gift for New York — and this show, recorded at a club called Private’s, is pure NYC. It’s a relatively common bootleg since the concert ended up being broadcast in New York on WNEW and simulcast on stations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. I’m sure hundreds of tapes were made of Blue Angel’s V-Day show. It was part of a promotional contest at WNEW, for which men were encouraged to send in a “romantic” poem about Lauper; the writer of the most romantic poem got to go on a day-after-Valentine’s date with her, via limo, to One If by Land.
The winning poem, by Van John Sporidis of West Hempstead, Long Island (“not a bad place to be from,” according to Lauper), was read aloud onstage, which I’m sure embarrassed the hell out of Mr. Sporidis. The simulcast to the D.C. area, heard on WHFS in Fairfax, Virginia, had a similar contest, but we don’t get to hear winner John Jenks’s poem, nor do we ever find out where the limo took him and Lauper (“Maybe we’ll drop in and see Nancy,” she joked, less than a month after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the nation’s 40th president). If Van John Sporidis or John Jenks are out there, chime in below in the comments section and tell us how your date went!
What puts this show over the top for me is that the encore break features two of WNEW’s legendary DJs. Springsteen fans will recognize the name Richard Neer, who emceed the show along with a clueless Dennis Elsas. Even after all these years, hearing those two men’s voices brings back fond memories of the greatness that was free-form radio in New York.
This is an impressive concert. Blue Angel consisted of John Turi on keyboards and saxophone, Arthur “Rockin’ A” Neilson on guitar, Lee Brovitz on bass, and Johnny “Bullet” Morelli on drums. They had the ability to play funky new-wave music as well as some seriously kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes in the same song. And say whatever you want about Lauper, but the woman can sing. Period.
Her post-Blue Angel career is well documented. As for the other members of the band, Brovitz and Morelli still play in various bands in the northeast; Neilson performs and tours as a solo act and plays in Shemekia Copeland’s band; and Turi lives in Arizona now, where he produces bands and sleeps on big piles of money thanks to his two songwriting credits on Lauper’s top-selling solo albums She’s So Unusual (1983) and True Colors (1986).
Well, I feel much better now — I got the New York back in me. I hope I’ve paid my debt to my high school self and he’ll let me live in peace from here on out!
Take a Chance
Can’t Blame Me
Just the Other Day
Lipstick on Your Collar
I Had a Love
[announcement of WNEW contest winner]
Maybe He’ll Know
I’m Gonna Be Strong
Late [Pt. 1]
Late [Pt. 2]
Everybody’s Got an Angel
And since I love giving you guys bonus stuff, here are a few demos. Supposedly these were recorded at the same time as the songs on Blue Angel’s debut, to allegedly be used on a follow-up called “Witness.” (The title track was rerecorded by Lauper a few years later for She’s So Unusual.)