Queer Music Of The 1950s and 1960s

Happy 2021 Pride! Though LGBTQ+ Pride should be celebrated every month, June is the month officially designated to celebrating one’s identity, orientation and possible otherness.

To celebrate Pride this year I’m going to create thirty-song playlists broken out by decade, kicking off today with two decades combined – the 1950s and the 1960s. I’ll post these lists sporadically throughout the month.

Here is what you’ll hear on today’s playlist and what makes it queer:

“Cry” – Johnnie Ray

Poor old Johnnie Ray, as he was referred in Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” was a closeted gay man, arrested for soliciting male undercover officers on more than one occasion. “Cry” was a humongous hit, spending more than two months at #1.

“Hound Dog” – Big Mama Thornton

Chances are you’re familiar with Elvis Presley’s hugely successful version of this song from 1956. Three years earlier, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, who preferred to dress in what would be considered men’s clothing, sold a half million copies of her version, from which she made $500.

“Too Much” – Bernard Hardison

Another song covered by Elvis, Bernard Hardison released his version two years prior to The King. The song was played on the web radio series Queer Music Heritage, though I cannot find any other indication anywhere about Hardison’s sexual orientation.

“Don’t You Want a Man Like Me” – Billy Wright

As a youth, Billy Wright sang the gospel in church and worked as a female impersonator. The openly gay Wright was an influence on young Little Richard, suggesting he wear his hair in the pompadour style. Speaking of…

“Tutti Frutti” – Little Richard

No matter that the hit version altered the original lyrics “Tutti frutti, good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy,” the song and the performer are oh so queer.

“Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” – Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns

As his nickname might indicate, Huey Smith was a piano player. The singer in his band was an openly gay man named Bobby Marchan.

“Chances Are” – Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis never covered up his sexual orientation, though he didn’t come out as gay until 1982, when a reporter printed his off the record acknowledgment.

“Jailhouse Rock” – Elvis Presley

“Number 47 said to number 3, ‘You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see. I sure would be delighted with your company. Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me.” Nothing queer about that, right?

“Secretly” – Jimmie Rodgers

“Wish we didn’t have to meet, secretly / Wish we didn’t have to kiss, secretly / Wish we didn’t have to be afraid to show the world that we’re in love / ‘Til we have the right to meet openly / ‘Til we have the right to kiss openly / We’ll just have to be content to be in love secretly.” Make of those lyrics what you will.

“Rockin’ the Joint” – Esquerita

Though Little Richard released records prior to Esquerita, it was Black flamboyant Esquerita who taught Little Richard his style of piano playing and perhaps introduced the high-pitched “whoo”s in his singing.

“Frances and Her Friends” – Frances Faye

Frances Faye was openly embracing of bisexuality in her stage shows, as the lyrics of this tune will attest. In the late 1950s she met a woman named Teri Shepherd who became her life partner.

“My Baby Likes Western Guys” – Brenda Lee

Oh, does he now?

“He Don’t Care About Me” – The Miracles

Yes, those Miracles. Written by Smokey Robinson with lead vocals by his wife Claudette, you wonder why he don’t care about her. When she sings “Don’t he know that I could make him gay?,” you just have to respond “Girrrrrrrl!”

“Up on the Roof” – The Drifters

Rudy Lewis, who sang lead on this Drifters hit as well as “On Broadway” and others, was a closeted gay man who sadly died of a drug overdose when he was just 27 years old.

“Any Other Way” – Jackie Shane

Though she didn’t call herself trans, Jackie Shane presented and sang in a way typically associated with women. She considered herself to be a gay man, and my use of pronouns here is not intended to disrespect that.

“You Don’t Own Me” – Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore came out as a lesbian in 2005, revealing that she knew she was attracted to women since age 20 and never sought to hide out, though didn’t announce it before then.

“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” – The Beatles

Many believe that The Beatles’ John Lennon wrote this song about the group’s gay manager, Brian Epstein. It wasn’t until 1967, two years after this song’s release, that England decriminalized sex between two men over the age of 21, and Epstein would no longer have to hide his love away. Sadly, he died in August of that year.

“See My Friends” – The Kinks

The Kinks’ Ray Davies wrote this song about a young man who is unsure of his sexual orientation, a feeling Davies said he experienced.

“To Try for the Sun” – Donovan

The song’s teenage narrator and his “gypsy boy” friend have an obvious affection for each other. “And who’s going to be the one to say it was no good what we done?”

“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” – Dusty Springfield

“I know that I’m as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t. There was someone on television the other night who admitted that he swings either way. I suppose he could afford to say it, but I, being a pop singer, shouldn’t even admit that I might think that way. But if the occasion arose I don’t see why I shouldn’t.” – Dusty Springfield, 1970, in an interview with The Evening Standard

“Do You Come Here Often?” – The Tornados

Produced by legendary gay producer Joe Meek, “Do You Come Here Often?” has to be heard to be believed. The song was the b-side of a forgotten 45, released on a major record label.

“I’m a Boy” – The Who

The story of a boy whose parents wanted a girl, so his mother raises him as a girl.

“Willkommen” – Joel Grey

From the Tony Award winning musical Cabaret, written by openly gay lyricist Fred Ebb and openly gay composer John Kander, based on a book by openly gay writer Christopher Isherwood, comes this number, performed by Joel Grey, who publicly came out in 2015 at age 82.

“Sweet Soul Music” – Arthur Conley

Arthur Conley was living as a closeted gay man in the United States when “Sweet Soul Music” became a smash. He later moved to the Netherlands, changed his name to Lee Roberts, met a man who became his life partner, and then lived as an openly gay man.

“Arnold Layne” – Pink Floyd

“Arnold Layne” became Pink Floyd’s first hit single, despite Radio London eventually banning it from airplay as its subject matter of a transvestite stealing women’s clothing off clothes lines was considered by them to be too distasteful for “normal” society.

“Let the Heartaches Begin” – Long John Baldry

Reginald Dwight changed his name to Elton John after Elton Dean, a fellow musician in the backing band of Long John Baldry, the gay vocalist from where the John comes.

“Save the Country” – Laura Nyro

The late Laura Nyro was bisexual, enjoying romantic relationships with men and women, the longest one being with painter Maria Desiderio.

“Triad” – The Byrds

Written by The Byrds’ David Crosby, this 1967 recording of a song about a throuple went unreleased until 1987.

“Candy Says” – The Velvet Underground

Inspired by Candy Darling, a transgender actress in Andy Warhol films, “Candy Says” tells of a trans woman who has “come to hate her body.”

“That’s the Way God Planned It” – Billy Preston

A brilliant musician whose friends and collaborators knew he was gay, Billy Preston didn’t publicly come out until shortly before his passing in 2006.

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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (5-3-20)

2020 seemed like just another year, until this week. Something mind-boggling happened. No, the president of the U.S. didn’t display empathy. Get this: The Village People are presently in the Top 40 on the Adult Contemporary chart with a ballad taken from their 2019 Christmas album. The key terms in that sentence: Village People, presently, Top 40, Adult Contemporary, ballad, Christmas. It’s 2020! The song is called “If You Believe” and it jumped from #53 to #25 this week with a 310% increase in radio airplay over last week. “If You Believe?” More like “Hard to Believe!” Am I right, people?

Today’s playlist is inspired by the May 3 birthdays of James Brown, Frankie Valli, Father John Misty, Soft Cell’s David Ball, Pete Seeger, Christopher Cross, Mary Hopkin and Napoleon XIV.

Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (5-2-20)

Here in California, our governor has ordered all beaches to remain closed to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner disagrees, arguing that going to a beach is good for one’s health. Said Wagner “Medical professionals tell us the importance of fresh air and sunlight in fighting infectious diseases.” Mr. Wagner believes that air and sunlight cannot be found anywhere in Orange County except on crowded beaches. He seems smart.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters said Joe Biden “has no appeal to anybody.” Interesting. Biden has no appeal to anybody, and yet he received more votes than all of the other candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. Someone needs some education. Perhaps Waters should run for office. I suggest Orange County Supervisor.

Today’s playlist is inspired by the May 2 birthdays of Lily Allen, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, Lesley Gore, Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays, The Vaccines’ Justin Hayward-Young, Shannon, Kevin Morby, Little Sister’s Vet Stewart, Engelbert Humperdinck, Link Wray, David McAlmont, Blow Monkeys’ Dr. Robert, and Broadway lyricist Lorenz Hart.

Girl Power! Forty Of The Best Girl Group Songs

The girl group sound was a genre of pop music that flourished on the charts between 1958 and 1966. Most records that fall into this category were made by all-female trios or quartets. However, some girl group hits were performed by solo women, and some by groups that featured a cisgender male. Per girl-groups.com, more than 750 girl groups cracked the US or UK charts between 1960 and 1966.

Tunes du Jour commemorates International Women’s Day with a playlist of forty of the best examples of the girl group sound.


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Throwback Thursday – 1963

The girl group sound was hugely popular on the US pop charts in the early 1960s. The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Chiffons, The Angels, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, The Exciters, The Orlons, The Cookies, The Murmaids, The Dixie Cups, The Supremes, The Toys, The Shangri-Las, The Jaynetts and others filled the radio with tales of teenage romance, heartbreak and occasionally social commentary. Solo acts such as Lesley Gore and Darlene Love also exemplified the girl group sound.

Described in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as “the quintessence of the ‘girl group’ aesthetic of the early 1960s,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” reached #2 in 1963. The record was produced by Phil Spector, who produced at least 15 top forty girl group songs between 1962 and 1964.

Lead vocals on “Be My Baby” were performed by Ronnie Spector. In fact, the other Ronettes aren’t even on the record. Backup singers included the girlfriend of Phil Spector’s promotion man. That man was Sonny Bono; his girlfriend was Cher. Sonny & Cher would have their first hit as a duo two years later.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights the hits of 1963. Here are twenty of that year’s best, kicking off with the record New Music Express named the second best song of the 1960s (their #1 was The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”), the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”


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