by Steve Desroches
It’s Carnival and time to fire up the flux capacitor and hop in the DeLorean time machine back to the era of Pac Man, Dynasty, and hair bands as the Hyannis-based WQRC 99.9 hosts So ‘80s: the Ultimate ‘80s Dance Party at Town Hall the night before the big parade with special live performances by Martha Wash and Lisa Lisa. It will be a night of dancing to the biggest and most iconic hits of the decade as Provincetown Carnival celebrates this year’s theme “Back to the ‘80s” and everyone is encouraged to come to this dance party decked out to party like it’s 1985!
Having Martha Wash and Lisa Lisa, two icons of 1980s dance music, is an exclamatory punctuation mark to a week full of parties, special events, and of course the parade that make up one of the biggest events in New England. Lisa Lisa hit the music scene as the lead of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam in 1985 with the hit single “I Wonder If I Take You Home” followed up by “All Cried Out,” “Can You Feel the Beat,” and “Head to Toe.” Born and raised Lisa Velez in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to a single mother of 10 children, Velez also created a whole new look that many teenage girls emulated around the country, something that makes her laugh as she recalls how that look came to be.
“I used to cut my own hair because I came from a low-income family and couldn’t afford to go to a salon or anything,” says Velez. “The shaved side and the hair over one eye was a mistake! I was trying to cover up how bad it looked! I don’t know how it became a popular hairstyle, as it was a mistake!”
Velez remembers performing in Provincetown in the 1980s and is geared up to return for this retro dance party. The 1980s was a time when being in the music industry was about the music and little else, says Velez. At the time she was one of the first Latina pop stars, taking the freestyle music of her native New York to the rest of the country. The streets of New York then were full of creativity, and in her tough neighborhood, dancing, singing and making music were important, positive outlets for young people to stay safe and to pursue something uplifting. From young kids break-dancing on patches of linoleum on the sidewalk to groups competing in rap contests on street corners, New York in the 1980s was exploding with raw talent.
“It was a movement,” says Velez. “Back then that’s what we focused on: the music.”
It’s always been about the music for the vocal powerhouse Martha Wash, too. She began her career as a back-up singer for the fabulous Sylvester with the late Izora Rhodes. Shortly thereafter the two formed Two Tons o’ Fun and then, of course, as The Weather Girls, who had a monster hit in 1982 with “It’s Raining Men.” Throughout her career she’s been the voice of such dance anthems as “Pride (A Deeper Love),” “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” “Strike It Up,” and “Everybody Everybody.” But the song “It’s Raining Men” continues to surprise Wash with its enduring popularity. Written in 1979 by Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer, the song was turned down by everyone from Diana Ross to Donna Summer to Cher and Barbra Streisand. And Wash remembers that she and Rhodes turned it down initially, too, until Jabara literally begged them to record it, knowing it would be a hit, she says.
“We recorded it in 90 minutes and then left the studio saying, ‘Bye!’” laughs Wash. “We’d see Paul walking around the clubs with the album trying to get DJs to play it. And then it just became this huge hit. He was right.”
The song is a fixture of not only pop culture and for women, but also for the gay community. In fact the song recently became a protest song. When the United Kingdom was hit with heavy rains and damaging floods in early 2014, councilor David Silvester of the right-wing UK Independence Party blamed the natural disaster on the recent passage of marriage equality legislation. A Facebook campaign began in response to his comments to get “It’s Raining Men” on to the UK charts. And within one week it was, all the way up to 21, 30 years after it charted for the first time in that country. Once again “It’s Raining Men” played on heavy rotation on British radio stations. And it all had Wash’s full support.
Both Wash and Velez promise that the evening will be a party to remember, singing their big hits along with a few surprises. The party, which will have a beer and wine bar, will also host a costume contest with a $500 prize. The party runs from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. providing plenty of time to dance the night away to your favorite hits from the 1980s and then continue on out on the town to party on Carnival Parade Eve. It promises to be a night to remember.
“Just come out and be ready to have a good time and have fun,” says Wash. “And I promise I will sing ‘It’s Raining Men.’”
So ‘80s: The Ultimate ‘80s Dance Party featuring live performances by Martha Wash and Lisa Lisa will be on Wednesday, August 17 at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. For tickets ($40 general/ $75 for VIP with a meet and greet) and information, go to Provincetown Carnival headquarters at 256 Commercial St., call 508.487.2313, or visit ptown.org. Tickets will be available at the door, as well.