Queer fans have loved pop anthems since “Over the Rainbow” and likely before. Long before Lady Gaga sang “Born This Way” and MacLemore’s “One Love,” these tracks put gays in their happy place.
We’re all-inclusive here at Metrosource, so we think back to the Stonewall era when it’s widely circulated that when the riots broke out there in 1969, it was the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” that was on the jukebox. Not long after that, dame diva Diana Ross revisited a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hit and released a gayer-than-thou over the top version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which she recently revisited at the AMA Awards, neglecting to sing any of the high parts that made it uniquely hers.
Into the ’70s, Rod Stewart put out a sad lament on the gay-bashing death of a friend in New York City called “The Killing of Georgie,” while David Bowie was flirting with both Marc (“Bang A Gong”) Bolan and androgyny throughout his glam period. In 1974, what’s arguably Elton John’ best album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road contained “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” a raucous barnburner cut from the same cloth as another track on the record some may remember: “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting.” Bernie Taupin’s lyrics depict a young lesbian in her sexual prime who’s quite in demand — until she reaches an untimely end. More than a dozen years later, Elton would finally come out of the closet, but not until the end of a brief marriage.
As the disco era was picking up steam, there were all kinds of double-entendre tunes making the charts, none of them quite as cute, melodic or tongue-in-cheek as those of the Village People. While wedding reception guests are often still required to spell out “YMCA,” let us not forget that the Peeps gave us “Macho Man,” “In the Navy” and the entire opening side to their debut album with a pean to the gay meccas of San Francisco and Hollywood in a 15-minute-plus medley. “I Will Survive” still hangs around, but many gays turned their noses up it at the time in the belief that it painted them too much as victims. Of course, there was no turning away from Sylvester, who made it clear that he liked drag, loved men, and could compete with the greatest divas on the scene.
By the ’80s it was time for disco to transition into “dance music,” as racism and homophobia effectively killed anything with a disco label attached. But it didn’t stop dance tracks like the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” to rise to the top of the charts and bring gays and straights alike onto the dance floor. There was even a brief flirtation between new wavers and gay culture with a clever ditty by Josie Cotton (it was turned down by the Go-Go’s) called “Johnny, Are You Queer?” It’s catchy, corny and belongs on your playlist right between “Jessie’s Girl” and . . . well, anything by Culture Club.
Prince flirted a lot with sexuality throughout the era, although nothing resonated quite as well as “Controversy,” in which the Purple One asked the audience to look past his bikini briefs and leg warmers: “Am I black or white,” he sang pointedly, “am I straight or gay?”
And of course, no survey of gay-power tracks could leave out bands like England’s Tom Robinson Band (“Glad to Be Gay”) or Bronksi Beat (“Smalltown Boy” and “Tell Me Why” are sublime and powerful pitches for equality) and the band their lead singer left to form, The Communards, who killed it with a synth-heavy cover of “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Following in their footsteps? Erasure, who borrowed both the electronics and the high tenor of those bands for a string of late ’80s hits, including “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love” and later, “Always.”
By the early ’90s, the MTV video era was all but over, and making references to same-sex attraction was no longer as otherworldly as it once had been. Yes, Katy Perry could still raise an eyebrow when she admitted she kissed a girl and liked it, and Madonna and Britney could titillate an audience by tongue-wrestling on live TV. But the ceiling had been shattered: not by any one song, but by generations of banging on the boundaries demanding our own inclusion.
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Last modified: July 25, 2019