Cyndi Lauper Sings the Blues

The pop singer discusses her favorite tunes and her new album, "Memphis Blues."

June 29, 2010 — -- Cyndi Lauper celebrated her 57th birthday last Tuesday by releasing her eleventh album, "Memphis Blues." The release marked a significant musical departure for the pop diva known for upbeat hits like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."

Lauper said her decision to take the new new direction was prompted, in large part, by the pain many in the U.S. have been facing.

"America is singing the blues right now," Lauper said. "I think as a musician and artist you need to stand in the spot that you are in and describe your surroundings and describe the times you live in. It's a snapshot, and I think art needs to be a snapshot of the world you live in."

Lauper recently sat down with "Nightline" at Madame X bar in New York City to discuss her recent work, reflect on her storied musical career and open up about the remarkable ways her music has deeply touched the lives of her fans.

Below are some of Lauper's favorite songs and the stories behind them.

John Lennon: 'Imagine'

Growing up in New York City during the 1960s, Lauper was captivated by the music of The Beatles. Lauper and her siblings would often pretend they were the band, singing with mops and brooms. In true Cyndi style, she would wear her mother's high heels.

One of her all-time favorite songs is John Lennon's "Imagine."

"When 9/11 first happened, the DJs immediately started playing 'Imagine' as a soothing, calming song," Lauper said. "In the song it says, 'Imagine there's no country, imagine no religion.' The idea that people are people, and that we're one world.

"That was not politically correct at the time," she said. "But I thought it was correct, and again, I am just a small person in the pod of things listening and thinking, 'Wow, everyone's gone a little crazy here.' And so I would want to play that song because it's a song of value and a song of power. It's one of those special songs."

Cyndi Lauper: 'True Colors'

Lauper's 1986 hit "True Colors" rose to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and remains one of her most cherished songs.

"When I first found the song, my friend, a very dear friend of mine, Gregory Natal, died of AIDS. His partner, myself, and a few of his family members and friends, we were kind of devastated because at that time nobody knew what the heck it was," she said. "So it was kind of a rough time. And then this song came. And I heard it at a time when I was so upset."

Although the track was originally written for Anne Murray as a gospel song, Lauper was able to make it her own.

"I kept explaining it should be like a whisper so if you're driving in your car it should feel like someone is whispering in your ear very gently, because if you approach something that sentimental in a pure way, in a simple way, the power of simplicity and gentleness is like the power of a gentle hand. It's sometimes more powerful than a smack."

The track has taken on a life of its own in the LGBT community -- helping many young people who have struggled with their identity.

"A lot of people it helped, for different reasons. It was a healing song."

After years of receiving numerous letters from fans who had been aided by the song's inspirational lyrics, Lauper co-founded the "True Colors Fund" which seeks to promote LGBT rights.

"I'm glad that we're going to help some kids, help some people, and do the right thing and fight for equality, and to give a damn."

Patti LaBelle: 'Lady Marmalade'

During Lauper's early days as a singer she was a member of a band called Blue Angel, where she regularly covered songs by Patti LaBelle.

"I would always sing 'Lady Marmalade' in my group. Every time everything was going down, the drummer would yell at me and say, 'OK, get out there, sing that song, c'mon!'"

Unbeknownst to her at the time, Lauper would actually perform alongside Patti LaBelle years later onstage at one of her Thanksgiving specials.

"After the Thanksgiving special she said to me, 'You know Cyn, you can really sing and nobody realizes it.' I said, 'What do you mean? I'm singing!' And she said to me that she wanted me to sing songs, people would be able to tell that I could sing. But over the years we got close, and then I had my baby, and I didn't see her that much, but she was one of those people that even if I didn't see her for a long time if I called her up it was like we just spoke yesterday."

Lauper recalled a funny moment when she brought her then infant son Declyn to see LaBelle perform in New York.

"She brought him out on stage with her, we sat down, she had a little red sofa, and of course he was nursing at the time, and he went for her, and she said, 'Uh uh, you better talk to your mother!'"

Joni Mitchell: 'Blue'

During Lauper's high school years she was deeply influenced by Joni Mitchell's music, specifically by the song "Blue."

"It was a painting, it was beautiful. 'Here's a shell for you inside you'll hear a sigh, a lullaby,' it was extraordinary," Lauper said.

"She was a woman who was writing and performing and singing and playing the guitar and painting her album covers and even sewing up a few clothes. At that time I was going into the fashion industry in high school and it wasn't uncommon to get an idea and sew it up before you went to school and put it on and wear it."

Lady GaGa: 'Bad Romance'

Lauper expressed immense admiration for the newest pop sensation: Lady GaGa.

"She kind of woke me up a little," Lauper said. "After I had my kid, I kind of toned down. And then when I saw her again it was kind of like I woke up and the dust cleared. There are things about her that reminded me of my old self."

"When I heard 'Bad Romance' I thought, 'That's brilliant,'" she said. "To take a word, make a non-word, and weave it right into a word, I thought, 'That's awesome.' 'Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah,' that whole part of the song is a chant that turns into a song. That turns into the word romance. I thought, 'that's brilliant.'"

Lauper and GaGa appeared together in February on "Good Morning America," solidifying their cross-generational bond. Lauper has been a mentor of sorts to the novice diva.

"I think she's really inspiring. I always tell her, 'Don't listen. They're all going to come at you and tell you, 'Do this, do this, do that,' and pull at you this way and that way. But she's going to be fine. She's a great artist, she'll be fine."