Just one more song. That's how Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" came to be. The year was 1983, and Lauper had completed most of what would become her debut album, She's So Unusual. Producer Rick Chertoff, however, wanted more.
"When we finished recording in June, Rick said what we had was great but that he could use one more good song for the album," remembered co-writer Rob Hyman to the Wall Street Journal. "Honestly, I felt a bit of dread. I didn’t have a song kicking around, and we were exhausted after being in the studio for months."
Still, Lauper and Hyman went back into the studio with a purpose. Sidling up to a Steinway grand piano, the two started writing. Thumbing through an issue of TV Guide, Lauper would pick 1979 sci-fi movie title Time After Time as a starting point: "I never meant for it to be the song’s real title," Lauper explained. "It was just supposed to get me thinking. While Rob played, I stood next to the piano and danced, kind of free form. Moving around like that to the music helped me figure out how the song should feel. I wanted to catch a vibe off what Rob was doing."
As the pair progressed, the song started to emerge into something very different than what was intended.
"As Cyndi sang, she and I realized the song was darker and more intense than a bouncy, happy song. When we slowed it down, the song became heartbreaking," Hyman recalled. "There was suddenly so much emotion in the song. I was going through some relationship issues and Cyndi had similar experiences, so we both felt it. Even though we slowed down the song, the chorus retained a clipped calypso-type melody, which worked perfectly."
Lauper poured real emotions into the song, filling it with moments from her life, which at the time found her romantically involved with her manager, Dave Wolff. Getting deeper into the recording, the singer and her co-writer labored over every detail, right down to the song's fade-out.
"My repeating 'time after time' as a fading whisper at the end just happened," Lauper said. "I had fallen into a trance and came out of it like that, singing softly. I wanted it to sound hushed, like my voice was trailing off into the distance."
Finishing the track, Lauper and Hyman's work was blessed by a music legend, who happened to be working nearby: "As we were wrapping up, I sensed someone behind me. When I turned around, there was Roberta Flack," Hyman revealed. "She was probably recording at the Record Plant. She said, 'Wow, that’s cool! That sounds great, guys.' And then she was gone."
Released on January 27, 1984, the track would follow her debut single, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," up the Billboard charts. But where her first song would peak at #2, "Time After Time" would go on to become Cyndi Lauper's first #1, topping the Hot 100 on the week of June 9, 1984. The tune would stay at #1 for two weeks, finally dethroned by Duran Duran's "Reflex" on June 23.
The song arrived with a heartfelt music video, which found the singer displaying the music's very real emotions—and considerable acting chops.
"The tear that rolls down my cheek at the end on the train was real. I didn’t think I could do it, since I wasn’t a trained actress," Lauper said of the clip. "But when I picked up the duffle bag to get on the train, I choked up. Years earlier, when leaving home, I had a similar bag, so that got to me."
"Time After Time" had such an impact that one of music's greatest artists was inspired by it: Miles Davis, who covered the song on his 1985 album, You're Under Arrest. Lauper loved it.
"Some time later, I ran into Cicely Tyson, who had been married to Miles in the 1980s," she revealed. "She told me how much she loved She’s So Unusual and how she insisted Miles listen to 'Time After Time.' She played it for him, and he loved it, too. Miles’s version was a big inspiration. I had co-written a song and this great jazz artist loved it. It was a nod, you know, that I could write beautiful songs. His recording said to me, 'Go ahead and just do it.'"