This year marks the 50th anniversary of the “riot” at the Stonewall Inn gay bar in Greenwich Village, NYC on June 28, 1969, which led to June being designated LGBTQ Pride month. Honestly, we wish there was no need to have it and the world was just a more accepting place for all people. Things have certainly improved, in some countries anyway, but there’s still a long way to go before sexual identity becomes a non-issue. Music is one area of our society that seems to have been relatively more accepting of diversity, although we don’t doubt the struggle is still real for LGBTQ artists over their straight counterparts. So to honor this community, and also give a nod to the recently released Elton John biopic Rocketman, here are some of our favorite songs by LGBTQ artists (with an assist from our colleague, Our Treacherous Friend, who has recently come back to the blogging world).
- “Scar”, Missy Higgins (2004) – A big star in Australia who hasn’t hit in America but is a great artist that needs more exposure, “Scar” is an excellent introduction to her work.
- “Least Complicated”, The Indigo Girls (1994) – One of my favorite groups of all time, who never hid who they are, not sure if this song is about growing up gay but it sure sounds like it.
- “I’m Still Standing”, Elton John (1983) – My go-to song when I feel beaten down and want to come back from it. The Bernie Taupin lyric “The threats you made were meant to cut me down but if our love was just a circus you’d be a clown by now” is biting and brilliant.
- “Space Oddity”, David Bowie (1969) – In my top 25 songs of all-time, so great that the strange German artist Peter Schilling made a sequel to it in the 80s. Every “going into space” movie should have this and “Rocketman” in it as a requirement.
- “Turpentine”, Brandi Carlile (2007) – The song that turned me on to Carlile’s first two albums. Hard to classify her, rock, folk, country, pop, she is pretty awesome and glad she is finally getting noticed and winning Grammys. It’s earned.
- “Respect”, Erasure (1988) – I can’t think of this song without thinking of the great Scrubs episode that this was prominently featured in. A great band with a great songbook.
- “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, Soft Cell (1982) – My favorite song about a man breaking it off with his prostitute girlfriend. I discovered this last year in the closing of a Master of None episode and it was fitting. Can’t listen to this song enough.
- “I Need to Wake Up”, Melissa Etheridge (2005) – From Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie, it’s a great call to arms for anything, really, there is a lot of people that need to wake up. I can’t believe this was 14 years ago and climate change thinking has not changed that much.
- “I Feel Love”, The Bronski Beat (1984) – A remake of the Donna Summer classic “I Feel Love” by the openly gay trio with help from Soft Cell’s Marc Almond is a solid rendition and my preferred version, even though I love Donna Summer.
- “Keep a Knockin”, Little Richard (1958) – Going back in the time machine for this one, Little Richard pioneered a lot of things and this Rock and Roll classic is one of my favorites, just pure raw rock.
Bonus: “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get”, Morrissey (1994) – I’m not sure which group Morrissey falls into and that’s ok, but he is an icon. Love this tune, I pair it with Pearl Jam’s “Rearview Mirror” when I make songs about cars playlists.
MG: You have a diverse group of songs here. I checked out that Brandi Carlile track – she is definitely a talented singer. I never realized you liked Space Oddity that much. Sometime we should just do a top 25 all-time songs list. I remembered “Smalltown Boy” from The Bronski Beat in the 80’s, but “I Feel Love” is a cool track by them as well.
TF: Richard Penniman is an excellent inclusion. I wanted to add Billy Tipton, but thought there might be a limit to obscurity. Erasure, Elton John, Bowie, Indigo Girls – you got all the heavy hitters. I don’t know Missy Higgins or Brandi Carlile – I’ll have to go look them up.
- “Tie Your Mother Down”, Queen (1976) – Since last year’s film, it seems like every Queen song is making into a commercial (I literally just heard “I Want It All” for GrubHub as I was writing this). It would be hard to see this song in an ad, though.
- “Relax”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984) – The song was originally banned by some UK radio stations, which only helped fuel its popularity. It spawned thousands of “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirts.
- “Wrap Her Up”, Elton John and George Michael (1985) – Sort of a lost mid-80’s track that isn’t great, but interesting for the duet. The name dropping of glamorous women in the song is eclectic, including Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Samantha Fox and Nancy Reagan(?).
- “Brand New Lover”, Dead or Alive (1986) – In the mid-80’s no one batted an eye at the make-up and cross-dressing of lead singer Pete Burns. Well, maybe there was eye batting, but in the pre-social media world, we didn’t have to hear about it.
- “Outside”, George Michael (1998) – Michael used the cheeky video as a rebuff to his Beverly Hills arrest that officially outed him to the public.
- “If I Had You”, Adam Lambert (2009) – There’s no shortage of glam in this song and it’s accompanying gonzo video. Lambert was the most artistic (and last interesting) contestant to come out of American Idol.
- “Cool For The Summer”, Demi Levato (2015) – A fun summer song, if you will, about being ok with bi-curiosity and seeking some sexy fun.
- “Too Good At Goodbyes”, Sam Smith (2017) – I’m not a fan of all of Smith’s radio hits, but you can’t mistake the purity of his voice or his talent as a singer.
- “Bad At Love”, Halsey (2017) – This song tracks the singer’s failed relationships with both male and female lovers.
- “1999”, Charlie XCX & Troye Sivan (2018) – Not a remake of the Prince classic, but instead a nostalgic look at the year I got married and Y2K was a global threat. One of those two things is still going strong.
Bonus: “Born This Way”, Lady Gaga (2011) – I don’t think Gaga has come out as a certain sexuality, as she shouldn’t have to, but this song is an undeniable LGBTQ anthem. Her concerts are a true demonstration of diversity.
DJ: “Wrap Her Up” is a great tune, totally forgot about it. Not a huge fan of the newer stuff, although I do have the Lovato track. I just don’t know some of the others. I respect Halsey’s talent but just haven’t been converted yet. It doesn’t get much better than Freddie Mercury and Queen, I could have easilly put tons of their work on my list, “Tie Your Mother Down” is a good lesser known track, “Save Me” from later Queen makes me think of his struggle with AIDS.
TF: Nice chronological listing. Needless to say, I don’t recognize anything from Adam Lambert forward. Should make for some good research. I would have gone with “I Want To Break Free” by Queen, but there’s really no bad choices there. Frankie, Pete Burns, and George Michael are all perennial favorites.
Your Treacherous Friend
- “Dance This Mess Around” B-52s (1979) – I wanted to pick something from the Ricky Wilson era while avoiding “Rock Lobster”
- “Losing My Religion” R.E.M. (1991) – Retrospectively, Michael Stipe’s lyrics here sound like a coming out song
- “Baby Come Home” Scissor Sisters (2012) – One of the few songs that deal with the emotional turmoil of an open relationship
- “Big Bushy Mustache” Jake Shears (2018) – Jake’s solo debut after Scissor Sisters split, this slice of out and proud camp is tons of fun
- “Copacabana” Barry Manillow (1978) – One from my mother’s era. Nobody wrote ’em like Barry.
- “Make Me Feel” Janelle Monae (2018) – The Prince protégée comes into her own on this funk-fueled fuckfest
- “The Crying Game” Boy George (1992) – George O’Dowd’s solo career didn’t really take off after Culture Club disbanded but this heartbreaker is an all-time classic
- “Love You When I’m Drunk” Mika (2012) – gay or cis, we all make stupid declarations when under the influence (orchestral version at the link)
- “Give Me One Reason” Tracy Chapman (1995) – anyone who has ever tried to find a way to save a failed relationship can relate
- “It Couldn’t Happen Here” Pet Shop Boys (1988) – Chris & Neil’s anthem about the toll taken by AIDS among their friends and community
Bonus: “True Colors” Cyndi Lauper (1986) – though not gay herself, she’s been adopted by the community and has been very vocal in her support of LGBTQ equality
MG: Copacabana was one of the first songs I loved as a kid – I was drawn to songs that told a story (another one like that at that time was Kenny’s “Coward of the County”). I recently listened to the B-52’s catalog, and got a better appreciation for their earlier stuff like “Dance This Mess Around”. I forgot about “The Crying Game” and it’s moment in the early 90’s “Make Me Feel” is a lot of fun and a great pick.
DJ: I’m a huge Manilow fan. I love Tracy Chapman’s “Talking Bout a Revolution”. Like most of these artists one way or another, obviously R.E.M. and the other Georgia act The B-52’s. The Janelle Monae song was pretty cool and she was awesome at the Grammys.