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 (3-6-21)

Inspired by the March 6 birthdays of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Tyler the Creator, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Bubba Sparxxx, Betty Boo, Beanie Sigel, Lou Costello, Kiki Dee, Bowling For Soup’s Jaret Reddick and The Blasters’ Phil Alvin.

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Throwback Thursday: 1980

Nineteen eighty wasn’t a game changing year on the US pop chart. It wasn’t 1964. It wasn’t 1991. For the most part it was music business as usual. The death of disco was greatly exaggerated. Just ask any member of Lipps, Inc., should you have any idea what any member of Lipps, Inc. looks like. Seventies hit makers stayed on the charts. Paul McCartney. Diana Ross. Stevie Wonder. Barbra Streisand. The Captain & Tennille did it to us one more time, it meaning having a hit single. A few outsiders snuck into the top 40 with sounds unlike the rest – Devo hit with “Whip It,” Gary Numan with “Cars,” and The Vapors with “Turning Japanese.” In the coming years more such weirdos would make their presence known.

While many of 1980’s hits were great singles, many classics were born outside of the mainstream. Releases such as Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Redemption Song,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” and Funky 4 + 1’s “That’s the Joint” are often referred to as classics these days. In 1980, not a single one of them troubled the US Hot 100. Change was on its way. In 1980, rap wasn’t a fixture on the top 40, though its influence was heard in Queen’s #1 smash “Another One Bites the Dust.” The next few years saw #1 hits from Peter Gabriel, Prince, David Bowie and a rap song, plus a top ten reggae song.

Today’s Throwback Thursday playlist shines a spotlight on 1980.

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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.

Playlist For January 6, 2020

Happy New Year!

I’m going to make an attempt to blog more frequently this year. To that end, I’ll posts playlists of eclectic music several times per week. Give them a listen. Skip the songs you don’t like. Heart the ones you do.

Today’s playlist is inspired by the January 6 birthdays of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, Sister Sledge’s Kathy Sledge, Van McCoy, the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson, Nino Tempo and Earl Scruggs.

Here’s to music discovery!

Glenn

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Winston + Blondie

Throwback Thursday – 1980

Winston + Blondie
In 1979, Giorgio Moroder, famous mostly for his production work on Donna Summer records, composed the score for the film American Gigolo. He asked Stevie Nicks to sing the movie’s theme song, for which Moroder wrote the music, but she had to decline for contractual reasons. He next turned to Deborah Harry of Blondie.

Harry write the lyrics to the song that became “Call Me,” the second #1 single for her band. Of her experience with Moroder, she told Billboard “He’s very nice to work with, very easy, (but) I don’t think he has a lot of patience with people who fool around or don’t take what they do seriously. I think he’s very serious about what he does and he’s intense and he’s a perfectionist and he’s very talented, so I think that people who are less talented or less concentrated bore him quickly…you really have to pay attention.”

Said Moroder of working with Blondie, “There were always fights. I was supposed to do an album with them after that. We went to the studio, and the guitarist was fighting with the keyboard player. I called their manager and quit.”

Moroder did end up working with Deborah Harry again years later on another soundtrack song, producing “Rush Rush” from Scarface, and in 2004 remixed Blondie’s single “Good Boys.”

Tunes du Jour’s Throwback Thursday playlist this week spotlights the best of 1980, kicking off with Blondie’s “Call Me.”


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Beck, Kanye and Beyoncé

“I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists, to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé. Because when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day, and they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place.” – Kanye West on the Grammy Award for Album of the Year going to Beck’s Morning Phase rather than Beyoncé’s self-titled release

“I thought she was going to win. Come on, she’s Beyoncé! You can’t please everybody, man. I still love [West] and think he’s genius. I aspire to do what he does.” – Beck

“I wasn’t saying Beck; I said the Grammys. Beck knows that Beyoncé should have won; you know that. Come on, man. I love Beck! But he didn’t have the Album of the Year.” – Kanye West

Kanye West, official spokesperson for the Bey Nation, gave his opinion and the Internet blew up! It was a repeat of 2009, when West announced that Taylor Swift stole the MTV Best Female Video Award that should have gone to Beyoncé. The American people were up in arms! So much vitriol was sent West-ward and his detractors found plenty of reasons to go after him the ensuing years. As the wise trophy thief said, “the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.”

Kanye’s point was about creating art and reaching new heights in one’s craft. The only intelligent responses to further this discourse, per the many comments I saw on Facebook and Twitter, are “You’re classless” and “You’re garbage.” One person who didn’t call Kanye garbage was Shirley Manson, the lead singer of the band Garbage. She called him “a complete twat.”

At least all of us can sleep better knowing that Kanye loves Beck. They are two of my favorite all-time artists for many of the same reasons. They seldom repeat themselves, making each album they release different than the previous one. Neither follows trends. Both challenge themselves. Both are masters of their craft. Both can be sincere. Both can be funny. Neither has released a bad record.

However…

Beyoncé should have gotten the Album of the Year Grammy. Her self-titled album was a revelation. Following up her uneven 4, she took a giant leap forward and strived to make something more artistic than what we were used to from her. She succeeded. The Beck record, Morning Phase, sounds beautiful, but there were no surprises. It was announced early in 2014 that Beck would be releasing a new album that was in a mellow vein. I got what I expected. It was as fine as I thought it would be, and stronger than his last couple of releases. I like Morning Phase very much, more than the other nominated Albums of the Year performed by Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Pharrell Williams, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard Beck do before. Ironically, in Beyoncé’s quest to be more artistic, her album outsold its predecessor. Like Kanye said, she had the Album of the Year.

Enough of the Grammy voters felt otherwise and awarded Beck. That’s fine. There have been worse slights in the Grammy Album of the Year category than Beyoncé losing to Beck. What about the 1996 awards, when Beck’s Odelay lost to Celine Dion’s Falling into You? Or in 2000, when Beck’s Midnight Vultures lost to Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature? Or in 2005, when U2’s Hot to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb beat Kanye’s Late Registration and in 2004, when Ray Charles & Friends’ Genius Loves Company beat Kanye’s The College Dropout and Green Day’s American Idiot? Steely Dan, U2 and Ray Charles have released many albums deserving of Album of the Year. These weren’t them. U2 should have won 1992’s Album of the Year for Achtung Baby. They lost to Eric Clapton Unplugged. In 2007, Kanye’s Graduation and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black both lost Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, a record that literally nobody has ever heard. In 1980, Christopher Cross’ self-titled debut beat Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In 1966, The Beatles’ Revolver lost to Frank Sinatra’s A Man and His Music. In 2012, Mumford & Sons’ Babel beat albums by Frank Ocean, Jack White and The Black Keys. The nominees for 1984’s Album of the Year Grammy were Prince’s Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer, Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, and Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. Four classic albums plus one by Lionel Richie. The winner? Lionel Richie! WTF on a stick?!?! In 1991 the Album of the Year Grammy didn’t go to R.E.M., nominated for Out of Time. It went to Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable…with Love. Eligible but not nominated that year? A little album called Nevermind by a band named Nirvana. Oh well, whatever. In 1982, Toto IV beat…it doesn’t matter who else was nominated. It’s Toto Fuckin’ IV, people.

It looks like Beyoncé will have to wait longer before she is in the same hallowed company as Toto.

In less contentious news this week, ISIS killed U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller, Boko Haram killed thirteen soldiers and 81 civilians in Chad, and the Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court forbade probate judges in that state to issue marriage license to same-sex couples, despite a judge’s ruling that such unions are legal and the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to issue a stay on that ruling.

Congratulations, Beck!

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