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This was written by the songwriting team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who also wrote Madonna's "Like A Virgin
," Heart's "Alone
," and Lauper's "I Drove All Night
." The song is about looking below the surface to see what a person is really like.
In our interview with Billy Steinberg
, the lyricist explained: "On 'True Colors' I had this verse and it was written about my mother: 'You've got a long list with so many choices, a ventriloquist with so many voices, and your friends in high places say where the pieces fit, you've got too many faces in your makeup kit, but I see your true colors shining through,' then it went on with the same chorus that the song has. I often employ a sort of stream-of-consciousness lyric writing style and I remember writing that verse. The verse came first. So the 'true colors shining through' came out of the line that preceded it, 'You've got too many faces in your makeup kit.' We wrote that verse and chorus, Tom and I, and Tom said to me, 'Gee, that chorus has tremendous universal appeal, it could be sung by anyone to anyone. It could be a parent to a child, a friend to a friend, could be for or about anyone. On the other hand, the lyric to the verse you've written, although it's very poetic and very interesting, it seems to be specifically about someone with friends in high places.' He thought it had less universality and I agreed with him. In spite of the fact that I had written that verse about my mom and that it led to the chorus lyric and I was proud of it, I agreed to rewrite the verse lyric and then of course the song would need a second verse lyric. I really got writer's block when it came to rewriting it. I remember I had something about sad eyes or something, I think Tom even said, 'Well how about 'you with the sad eyes'?' He kept encouraging me, 'Let's finish that song, it's a great song.' I said, 'Let's write something else, I can't do it, I'm stuck.' The song kind of languished because I just didn't know how to rewrite these verses. We had done a very rough demo of the song with the original verse and the chorus and I don't know how this happened, but somehow George Martin, The Beatles' producer, heard our very rough demo and Tom heard back that he loved it. Then Tom really got on my case to finish those lyrics. Tom and I sat together and I finished the lyrics with his help."
This was the only original song on the album that Lauper didn't help write.
Steinberg: "Tom sang the demo, it was based on a piano and it had Gospel flavored background vocals. I remember feeling that somehow there was something incomplete about the first verse. I always felt there was something wrong with it but I was just happy to have it done. On the other hand, the second verse, the part about, 'Don't be unhappy, can't remember when I last saw you laughing...' That second verse, I remember I was very happy with that, those first four lines of the second verse. And I was pleased when the Cyndi Lauper record came out because during the solo section she speaks the lines, 'Can't remember when I last saw you laughing.' She sort of says that again and it pleased me that she grabbed a line that I liked and spoke it rather than picking out something I didn't like."
Steinberg: "One of the things that one contends with as a songwriter is that when an artist records your song, unless you're producing it yourself or somehow involved in the production, you have very little input into how the song's being arranged and structured. Sometimes an artist will copy your demo exactly as you present it. That would be the case with 'Like a Virgin' or 'Alone' by Heart - the records copied the demos. In 'True Colors,' more than any other song, Cyndi Lauper came up with a very, very creative departure from our demo. The demo was sort of rooted in the Gospel ballad tradition of a song like 'Bridge Over Troubled Water
', 'Let It Be
' or 'Lean On Me
,' that sort of thing with the piano. Cyndi completely dismantled that sort of traditional arrangement and came up with something that was breathtaking and stark. Tom and I were both elated when we heard her record of it because it was so much more adventurous than our demo, and to her credit, she produced it and did a beautiful job. That song, more than any other song I've written, has had tremendous life. I guess more than any other song that Tom and I wrote, that one seems to have the most universal appeal."
In the UK, this was released as "True Colours." It gave the title a little more British flavour.
This was used in a Kodak campaign to advertise their film processing.
Phil Collins recorded this for his 1998 Greatest Hits compilation. His version was released as a single and became very popular on Adult Contemporary radio stations.
This was covered by Australian country music star Kasey Chambers and used as the 2003 Rugby World Cup theme song. (thanks, Katie - Goulburn, Australia)
Fredro Starr and Jill Scott reworked this into a song called "Shining Through," which was used as the theme song to the film Save The Last Dance. On "Shining Through," Jill Scott sings the first bit of the chorus - "I see your true colors shining through, I see your true colors and that's why I love you," and Fredro Starr adds a rap to the song. (thanks, Adam - Dewsbury, England)
In 2007, Lauper launched the "True Colors Tour" in an effort to support gay rights and fight hate crimes. The 2007 tour featured Erasure, The Dresden Dolls and Debbie Harry of Blondie. In 2008, artists included Joan Jett, Regina Spektor, and Tegan and Sara.
Harry is Derek Smalls in Spinal Tap, Mark Shubb in The Folksmen, and Mr. Burns on The Simpsons
Since emerging from MySpace with her hit "Bubbly," Colbie has become a top songwriter, even crafting a hit with Taylor Swift.
Al Jourgensen of Ministry
In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.
The renown Texas songwriter has been at it for 40 years, with tales to tell about The Flatlanders and The Clash - that's Joe's Tex-Mex on "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"