The A-Z of LGBTI+ music
As Taylor Swift showers us with “love songs” and the Aussie version of RuPaul’s Drag Race is green-lighted, we present some LGBTI+ songs that changed music.
A = Are Friends Electric?
Gary Numan aka Tubeway Army’s Asperger’s Syndrome meant battles with depression and using technology to define isolation. ‘
Are Friends Electric?’ was about a futuristic gay hooker robot, which he disguised with obscure lyrics “because the BBC would never have played it, they’d never have let me on Top of the Pops.”
B = Blues
In the 1920s, blues bisexuals Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and jazz queers Billie Holiday and Lucille Bogan were more than just hinting about it in their songs.
In Rainey’s ‘Prove It On Me Blues’ (1928) she declared, “Went out last night with a crowd of my friends/ They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men/ It’s true I wear a collar and a tie…”
Smith, married twice to straight men, crowed, “I got 12 women on this show, and I can have one every night if I want it” and you felt her wink as she sang ‘Foolish Man Blues’ (1927) and ‘It’s Dirty But Good’ (1930).
C = Country
Response to their coming out ran the gamut from death threats and declining record sales for Chely Wright to Beccy Cole gleefully imparting that her teenage son was more embarrassed about the fact that she sings country!
Check out Freddy Freeman’s I’m Here, I’m Queer and I’m Country’, Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Follow Your Arrow’ (nominated for six CMA awards), Steve Grand’s ‘All-American Boy’ of a gay crushing on a straight friend, Ned Sublette’s ‘Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)’ covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to Pansy Division, Robin Flower’s ‘More Than Friends’, and Lavender Country’s ‘Back In The Closet Again’ and ‘Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears’, the latter released in 1973 and more recently rediscovered.
D = Disco
Spotify has 500 gay disco anthems at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4va8Pq8BijxkgKnwd0GvRQ with the action never far away from the dancefloor, whether Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Michael’, David Bowie’s ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ or The Veronicas’ [Take Me On The Floor’.
E + Epstein, Brian, Beatles manager
John Lennon wrote the ballad ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ for The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, whose homosexuality worried their business associates that gangsters wanting the Beatles millions would use blackmail.
F = Friends of Dorothy
The Wizard of Oz is seen as a coded gay journey, from black and white small-town to somewhere glamorous, to equating the acceptance of the effeminate lion with gaydom, to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ hailed as the first gay anthem (“the sound of the closet”) and Friends of Dorothy as a recognition code.
LGBTI+ folk argue that Judy Garland’s personal tragedy reflects their own, and connect the date of Garland’s funeral on June 27, 1969 to the Stonewall riots, the flashpoint of the LGBTI+ movement, and Rufus Wainwright recreating Garland’s 1961 legendary comeback at Carnegie Hall.
G = Gloria Gaynor
Gaynor’s 14 million dancefloor banger ‘I Will Survive’ (1978) was about a gal getting over a guy who done her wrong.
It was adopted by women for its theme of self-assurance, and as gay anthem as it reaffirmed the gay movement’s stance on defiance and enduring presence through lines as “I used to cry / But now I hold my head up high”.
H = Hardcore Boys
‘I Love Hardcore Boys/ I Love Boys Hardcore’ from 2001 came from US punk queercore merchants Limp Wrist.
It was an emotional and cultural release for Uruguay-born singer Martin Sorrondeguy, who’d grown up n Chicago’s Latin neighbourhoods, and seen violence dealt out to gays.
After coming out he became a documentary film maker addressing the subject.
I = I Like It Both Ways
When the young Perth band sent demos of ‘I Like It Both Ways’ to record companies, every single one rejected it.
In 1976, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum produced the track and got it released by Polydor Records, and plugged it on Countdown.
Some radio stations refused to play it because of the title.
Sydney’s 2SM, owned by the Catholic Church, marketed itself as the station “which first broke all Top 20 songs”.
When ‘I Like It Both Ways’ reached #21 with a bullet and was obviously going to go Top 20 and invalidate 2SM’s claim, the station started spinning it.
Another song banned in Australia was The Kinks’ Lola’ about an encounter with a transvestite in a London club.
The song finishes off with, “I’m glad I’m a man/ and so is Lola.” We don’t know if Lola’s glad he’s a man or Lola’s a man, but radio turned off anyway.
J = Jimmy & The Boys
The mid-70a Sydney shock-rockers who featured a resident transvestite in keyboard player Joylene Thornbird Hairmouth, simulated S&M, gay sex moves and burned effigies of prime minister Malcolm Fraser as part of their show.
Their signature tune was ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ (1979), found for them by journalist Glenn A. Baker from an obscure Kinks b-side, was adopted by the gay movement as being proud not to conform to straight norms.
Astor Records wouldn’t release their debut album (“too obscene”). Festival Records took over but set up a new imprint, Avenue, just to issue the long-player!
K= Kissing boys, kissing girls
Inspired by The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl,” Australian actor and musician Keiynan Lonsdale’s debut single ‘Kiss The Boy’ rewrote the Disney classic to encourage puckering up the lips with whoever they wanted.
Katy Perry now considers ‘I Kissed A Girl’ out-dated.
It certainly was polarising about whether it was just superficial glamorising. But it sparked off an important conversation at the right time.
L = Le Tigre
Abrasive, humorous, danceworthy and political, the New York trio made a singalong statement of butch-lesbian visibility on ‘Viz’, starting as she enters a lesbian bar, “they call it way too rowdy, and I call it finally free”.
M = Macklemore & Ryan
‘Same Love” was recorded in 2012 during the Washington Referendum 74 campaign which ultimately legalised same-sex marriage in Washington State.
The cover artwork featured a photo of Macklemore’s uncle, John Haggerty, and his husband, Sean.
The song peaked at #11 in the US but went #1 in Australia.
At the Grammy, they (and singer Mary Lambert and horn player Trombone Shorty) turned the performance into a marriage ceremony for 33 same-sex and opposite-sex couples, officiated by Queen Latifah, and joined at the end with Madonna chiming in with her ‘Open Your Heart’.
N = Nate, Ultra
“Being an artist gives you the licence to try anything,” Ultra Nate says, more so when you’ve got a huge gay following.
On the house-infused ‘Free” (1997), she encourages, “You’ve got to live your life—do what you want to do.”
O = Ocean, Frank
Frank Ocean (Christopher Edwin Breaux) opened up about his sexuality in 2012.
In 2017, he rubber-stamped sexual fluidity and masculinity with ‘Chanel’, crooning “My guy pretty like a girl / And he got fight stories to tell/ I see both sides like Chanel,” adding, “Yes the good / Dick could roll the eyes back in the skull.”
The Undefeated website called it “the coldest, gayest, and most securely masculine flex in the history of rap.”
Other odes to fluidity include ‘Make Me Feel, by Janelle Monae (came out as pansexual in Rolling Stone in 2018), ‘Androgynous’ by The Replacements, ‘Body Was Made’ by Ezra Furman (“it’s a protest song”), ‘We Exist’ by Arcade Fire (“They walk in the room/And stare right through you/Talking like/We don’t exist/But we exist”), ‘Cherry Lips’ by Garbage, ‘As Girls Go’ by Suzanne Vega, ‘IT’ by Christine and the Queens, ‘Girls & Boys’ by Blur, ‘Mr. Lady’ by Lunachicks, and ‘Cameron’ by Jillette Johnson with “You’re a hundred times a woman/A hundred times the man that they are.”
P = Prog Rock
Prog rock is more sorcery and sci-fi, but Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne’ (1967) was about a trannie who stole women garments from the washing lines of Syd Barrett and Roger Waters’ homes in Cambridge, England. Their mums took in boarders from the girls’ college up the road.
The song got banned from radio and Arnold ended up in jail.
Other prog-rock songs about cross-dressers were Emerson Lake & Palmer;s Jeremy Bender’ (1971), and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Royal Orleans’ about how one of them picked up a fan after a New Orleans show, and who turned out to be a transsexual who burned down his hotel room.
Non prog-rockers who tipped their hats early to transsexuals were David Bowie (‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Queen Bitch’)), Lou Reed/ Velvet Underground (‘Candy Says’, about Candy Darling who died at 29), Van Morrison (‘Madame George’, a composite of people), Aerosmith (‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’), while The Who’s ‘I’m A Boy’ from 1966 lamented how some kid’s mum kept dressing him up as a girl.
Q = Queercore
An ‘80s offshoot of the punk scene addressing rights and identity, it started in Toronto as “a fun thing” and became a very serious global movement.
The 2018 documentary Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution makes the point that the word punk was first applied to someone who encountered gay sex in jail.
R = Relax
Frankie Goes To Hollywood said that the greatest thing about the #1 success of ‘Relax’ (1983) was no-one on British radio cottoning on to “Relax, don’t do it / When you want to suck to it / Relax, don’t do it / When you want to come.”
S = Scarecrow
Melissa Etheridge’s 1999 single was about the kidnapping, torture, and murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.
The homophobes left thim ied the 21-year-old to a fence.
In the morning a bicyclist saw the slumped body and thought it a scarecrow…until he saw tear tracks on the bloodied face.
Etheridge, who “cried uncontrollably” when she heard the news, in the song lashes out at the “monsters in our midst”, the politicians, media and religious leaders, who create and condone violence against the LGBTI+ community.
T = Tutti Frutti
The version that was a hit was gibberish nonsense.
But the original words by Richard Penniman, who later slammed open the closet, went:, “Tutti Frutti, good booty. If it don’t fit, don’t force it. You can grease it, make it easy.”
U = Urie, Brendan
Panic At The Disco’s Brendon Urie, last year came out as pansexual,
His ‘Girls, Girls, Boys’ started out about his first encounter with bisexuality in a threesome, and ended about accepting who you are.
He said, “Taking this thing that I wrote about and then changing it to be more inspiring for your own purposes, what a beautiful idea.”
V = Vogue
Madonna caught on to the “vogueing” craze at New York’s underground Sound Factory club where men would strike poses with hand gestures as they danced.
Madonna says she actually wrote it while filming Dick Tracy, when co-star Warren Beatty asked her for song that would fit her character of singer Breathless Mahoney, “obsessed with speakeasies and movie stars and things like that. The idea for the lyrics came through that request.”
It was to be a b-side but the record company thought different: .it sold 6 million copies and topped the charts in 30 countries, including Australia.
W = Wig In A Box
The Broadway musical and the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, centred on a transgender rock singer from Berlin took shape in drag club SqueezeBox!
Its songs were later recorded for a charity album, for New York’s Harvey Milk High School, for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and cisgender youth.
X = X-cited, not!
The Weather Girls’ 1982’s ‘It’s Raining Men’ was first offered to gay icons Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Cher and Barbra Streisand – all who turned it down.
Summer had just become a Born Again Christian and thought the song’s sentiments “blasphemous”.
Y = Y.M.C.A.
The characters in the Village People were designed for the curious and/or fantasists, with song titles as ‘Macho Man’, ‘Go West’, ‘Cruisin’’ and ‘In the Navy’.
When ‘YMCA’ came out in 1978, the Young Men’s Christian Association wanted to sue because it insinuated its hostels were pick up joints… until they realised the song’s success (10 million worldwide) had increased their membership.
In 2017,the charity stated, “The YMCA recognizes the popularity and entertainment value of the Village People’s song ‘Y.M.C.A.,’ and the fair use of our name in the song.
“However, we never have authorized the Village People to use the YMCA trademark to sell goods or services, and would object to any use that could cause the public to conclude otherwise.”
Z = Ziggy Stardust
In September 2008, an Out.com poll of the 100 most homosexual records, judged by a panel of “gay experts” – including Boy George, Rufus Wainwright and Cyndi Lauper – declared David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars the “gayest album” of all time.