Gay songwriters have gone from hiding their innermost feelings behind double entendres, to coyly revealing a glimpse of their love lives amid tasteful ambiguities, to baring it all with aplomb.
In honor of St. Pete Pride and with a little help from Music Teamers Julie G. and Gabe. E., I've cherry-picked my favorite lyrical instances of artists embracing rainbow-hued individuality. Regardless of their orientation — gay, transgendered, curious, supportive or simply comfortable playing around with it — they've added sparkle to the gay musical landscape. Be forewarned: I've excluded many of the usual suspects — Cole Porter, Village People,
Liberace, Elton John, Ricky Martin, George Michael, Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls, et. al. — in favor of a more diverse selection of artists and songs. Though I'm sure you'll recognize more than a few, I hope you discover someone new.
"B.D. Woman's Blues," Bessie Jackson (1935). "B.D." was era slang for "bulldagger" or "bulldyke," and the bawdy blues songstress (real name Lucille Bogan) pulled no punches: "Comin' a time, B.D. women they ain’t going to need no men … B.D. women, you sure can’t understand / they got a head like a sweet angel and they walk just like a natural man.”
"Tutti Frutti," Little Richard (1955). Of course you knew Little Richard's first hit had sexual subtext, but did you know a songwriter friend had to clean up the lyrics from the original, more, um, anal-centric version? "Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don't fit, don't force it / You can grease it, make it easy." Some sources have an alternate dirty version: "If it's tight, it's alright / If it's greasy, it makes it easy."
"I'maman," Jobriath (1973). Jobriath never managed to gain a high profile, his flamboyant spaceman glam ignored where Bowie's androgynous Ziggy Stardust soared. He was the first openly gay rock artist to sign to a major record label, and issued two solo full-lengths before dying of AIDS in 1983. In this track, Jobriath declares he is a delicate man, though he can be a top, too: "But if I should love you / Then I would love you / The way a man loves a woman."
"I Was Born This Way," Valentino (1975). More than three decades before Gaga, gay lib disco singer Valentino released this empowering, pre-Village People anthem via Motown, which was directed at the gay community and penned by a straight black woman named Bunny Jones: "I've learned to hold my head up high, not in scorn nor disgrace / Doing my thing individually, entwined with the human race / Grooving in time — playing in space / Oh, yes, I'm happy, I'm carefree, and I'm gay."
"Don't Stop Me Now," Queen (1978). In this triumphant ode, Freddie Mercury declares, "I'm traveling at the speed of light / I wanna make a supersonic man out of you / Don't stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball / If you wanna have a good time just give me a call."
"I'm Coming Out," Diana Ross (1980). Ross isn't gay and the song was, on its surface, about her "coming out" after a long run with Motown Records, but Nile Rodgers was originally inspired to write the lyrics after visiting a NYC club where multiple drag queens paraded around as Ross, embracing their early diva personae: "I'm coming out, I want the world to know / Got to let it show."
"Real Men," Joe Jackson (1982). The jazz-informed British singer-songwriter lived in NYC for 20 years and delivers a troubled tune about the city's gay culture on his Cole Porter-inspired record. Best verse: "You don't want to sound dumb, don't want to offend / So don't call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend / Then if you're tall and handsome and strong / You can wear the uniform and I could play along."
"Karma Chameleon," Culture Club (1983). Boy George has admitted that many of his songs were directed at his Culture Club bandmate/sometime sex partner, drummer Jon Moss, and "Karma Chameleon" references their tumultuous relationship: "Every day is like survival / You're my lover, not my rival."
"A Little Respect," Erasure (1988). Openly gay pop star Andy Bell reportedly used to introduce this song (a plea from one lover to another) with an anecdote: "When I was a little girl, I asked my mummy, 'Can I be gay when I grow up?' She replied, 'Yes, if you show a little respect.'"
"Take Your Mama," Scissor Sisters (2004). Jake Shears and Scott Hoffman penned lyrics that illustrate the difficulty of being a young gay male coming out of the closet to his conservative family, mom specifically: "Do it, take your mama out all night / So she'll have no doubt / That we're doing oh the best we can / We’re gonna do it / Take your mama out all night / You can stay up late 'cause baby you're a full grown man.”
"Plastis Wafer," of Montreal (2008). Outrageous of Montreal visionary Kevin Barnes isn't gay, but he does call on his black cross-dressing stage persona, Georgie Fruit, for inspiration, and his lyrics consistently fool around with the idea of sexuality, most notably and graphically on this track: "Lover face, I'll view you as the revolver introduced in my play, act one / Lover face, want to make you ejaculate 'til it's no longer fun."
"For Today I Am A Boy," Antony and The Johnsons (2008). Antony Hegarty identifies as a transgender and his lyrics contain recurring themes of metamorphosis. Here, he croons in his peculiar vibrato, "One day I'll grow up, I'll be a beautiful woman / One day I'll grow up, I'll be a beautiful girl / But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy."
"Diplomat's Son," Vampire Weekend (2010). Singer Ezra Koenig and gay multi-instrumentalist bandmate Rostam Batmanglij co-wrote this bumpin' dancehall-pop ditty, Batmanglij's lyrics reflecting on a youthful past dalliance: "That night I smoked a joint / With my best friend / We found ourselves in bed / When I woke up he was gone / He was the diplomat’s son / It was '81."
"Montauk," Rufus Wainwright (2012). A poignant commentary on domestic partnerships by gay modern piano pop artiste Wainwright, this sweet little ballad sheds light on his family life in Montauk and looks ahead to his infant daughter's future: "One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad playing the piano / And see your other dad wearing glasses / Hope that you will want to stay for a while / Don't worry I know you'll have to go."
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.