Today’s playlist celebrates the November 28 birthdays of Randy Newman, En Vogue/Lucy Pearl’s Dawn Robinson, The Fleetwoods’ Gary Troxel, The 5 Royales’ Johnny Tanner, The Foundations’ Clem Curtis, William DeVaughn, Chamillionaire, Bruce Channel, R.B. Greaves, and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr.; and the November 29 birthdays of The Mamas and the Papas’ Denny Doherty, John Mayall, The Young Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere, The Game, Zapp’s Roger Troutman, Ronnie Montrose, New Kids on the Block’s Jonathan Knight, and Meco.
Today’s Pride playlist focuses on music from the 1970s. After making it I noticed it was light on the ladies. More women will turn up as this series goes on. Here’s what you’ll hear on today’s playlist:
“Lola” – The Kinks
“I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man and so is Lola.” You can interpret this line as meaning that I’m glad I’m a man and Lola is also glad that I’m a man, though if you consider the earlier line “I’m not dumb, but I can’t understand why she walked like a woman but talked like a man” you’ll realize that Lola is also a man. A man who made the top ten in 1970 and makes her presence known to this day.
“Rocket Man (I Think It’s Gonna be A Long, Long Time)” – Elton John
Of course this playlist needs some Elton John. I recall reading an essay about “Rocket Man” some years ago where the author posits this song’s lyrics are about a gay man. A man who is leaving his wife and children to live his life though loneliness that will surround him, at least initially. A man who is “not the man they think I am back home.” And then there’s the phallic imagery of a rocket. That’s part of this writer’s essay. Lyricist Bernie Taupin has never acknowledged this theory, as far as I know.
“John I’m Only Dancing” – David Bowie
In the traditional song “Frankie and Johnny,” a young woman named Frankie sees her boyfriend dancing with another woman and shoots him. As Johnny falls to the floor, he tells Frankie he loves her and was telling this other woman about her. “John I’m Only Dancing” flips the script. John sees his boyfriend dancing with a woman, and the boyfriend explains that it’s just dancing he’s doing with the woman. Pretty rad for 1973.
“Walk on the Wild Side” – Lou Reed
Speaking of David Bowie, he co-produced Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” a song that opens with a verse about Holly Woodlawn, who hitchhiked across the United States and by the time she arrived at her destination, “he was a she.” Somehow, this tale of “outsiders” became Reed’s only pop hit. I love the song, though I don’t know how Candy Darling was able to utter the title phrase with her mouth full.
“I’maman” – Jobriath
Jobriath was the first openly gay man signed to a major record label (Elektra).
“Jimmy’s Got a Little Bit of Bitch in Him” – Funkadelic
That’s one way to put it.
“I Got The” – Labi Siffre
Eminem’s first hit was “My Name Is,” the single version of which included lyrics one may consider to be homophobic. The music bed was built around a sample from Labi Siffre’s “I Got The.” Pity Eminem didn’t know beforehand that Siffre is an openly gay man who refused to approve the sample use until Eminem changed the lyrics for the album version. Said Siffre “Dissing the victims of bigotry – women as bitches, homosexuals as faggots – is lazy writing. Diss the bigots, not their victims.”
“Get Dancin’” – Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes
Joseph Montanez Jr. became openly gay Sir Monti Rock III, who adopted the camp persona of Disco Tex, and with openly gay Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe came up with “Get Dancin’,” to the best of my knowledge the only top ten hit with the lyric “My chiffon is wet.”
“Killer Queen” – Queen
Killer Queen. Queen. Freddie Mercury.
“At Seventeen” – Janis Ian
Janis Ian came out as a lesbian in 1993.
“A.C.D.C.” – Sweet
She’s got girls. She’s got men.
“Ain’t Nobody Straight in L.A.” – The Miracles
Not true. I’ve met three straight people since I moved to L.A. in 2003.
“Sweet Transvestite” – Tim Curry
Sometimes I’m amazed by certain movie characters that catch on in the mainstream in a big way. Tim Curry’s Frank N. Furter is one of them, though it took a few years from the 1975 release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for it to happen.
“53rd & 3rd” – Ramones
The corner in a then gayish neighborhood where a Viet Nam War vet is trying to turn a trick.
“All the Time” – Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow publicly came out as gay in 2017.
“I Go To Rio” – Peter Allen
Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli’s first husband, was in a relationship with a male model from 1974 to 1984, when the model passed away from an AIDS-related illness. Allen passed away from an AIDS-related illness eight years later.
“The Killing of Georgie” – Rod Stewart
In which a gay man dies from a gay bashing on 53rd & 3rd. Not your typical top 40 fare in 1977, and yet.
“Jet Boy, Jet Girl” – Elton Motello
Sung from the persona of a 15 year-old boy who likes to kiss, get head from, and wishes to penetrate another boy, this song surprisingly didn’t make the top 40. Or top 100.
“Fuck Off” – Wayne County & The Electric Chairs
Considered to be rock music’s first openly transgender singer, Jayne County wrote and sang this song that to me is THE anthem of LGBTQI+ people.
“I Was Born This Way” – Carl Bean
Openly gay Carl Bean had a hit on the disco chart in 1978 with this song about being openly gay.
“Glad To be Gay” – Tom Robinson Band
“I Love the Nightlife (Disco ‘Round)” – Alicia Bridges
Alicia Bridges came out as a lesbian in 1998.
“Muscleboys” – Mumps
Hey – there’s a new compilation of recordings from gay punk band Mumps that just came out. Someone whose blog you’re now reading worked on it. J
“Cherry Poppin’” – Mitch Ryder
With The Detroit Wheels, Mitch Ryder had a handful of hit singles in the 1960s, the most famous of which was his medley of “Devil With a Blue Dress On” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” This song about his love of anal sex with other guys is not as well-known.
“Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” – Buzzcocks
Written and sung by Buzzcocks’ bisexual singer and songwriter Pete Shelley.
“Instant Replay” – Dan Hartman
The late Dan Hartman was a gay man who kept his sexual orientation and HIV status secret form the public during his lifetime.
“You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – Sylvester
On the other end of the spectrum is Sylvester, who was openly gay, outspoken, and refused to conform to the typical straight or gay presentation of one’s self.
“There But for the Grace of God Go I” – Machine
Carlos and Carmen Vidal move far away from the Bronx so they can raise their newborn daughter away from the Blacks, the Jews and the gays. How do you think the daughter turned out?
“Go West” – Village People
Village People’s openly straight lead singer Victor Willis said the lyrics he contributed to this song were not intended to be gay in any way, but as a gay man, it’s hard to not hear the song about two people in love beginning a new life in a place that’s peaceful and near the beach where they can be carefree and happy to not be about going west to California, particular gay mecca San Francisco. I’ll also add that Village People’s “Macho Man,” “In the Navy,” Y.M.C.A.,” “San Francisco,” and “Fire Island” sound kinda gay to me as well.
“Manimal” – The Germs
The Germs’ lead singer Darby Crash went to great lengths to hide the fact that he was gay, so as not to alienate the group’s fans. He took his own life in 1980, aged 22.
The Spotify embed link is still not working, so here is the link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4sRn5vjsgNdNm80iiSUf0M?si=ae606e31c882414a
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.
In 1966, Stevie Wonder and Motown producer Hank Cosby wrote a piece of music and recorded it. Wonder couldn’t come up with any lyrics to go with the music, so he gave a tape of the song to fellow Motown singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson to see if he could come up with something. The music reminded Smokey of the circus, so he free associated and came up with the image of a clown. That reminded him of a story he heard as a child – the story of the opera Pagliacci, about clowns who must cover up their sadness, as their jobs required them to entertain and elate the public. Based on this idea he wrote the words to the song that became “The Tears of a Clown.” He and his group The Miracles recorded the song. Smokey didn’t think much of it, though it was included as the last song on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen. Two singles were released from that album – “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” which reached #20, and “More Love,” which reached #23.
In 1969, tired of touring, Smokey told his group The Miracles that he would be retiring from the group so he could stay at home with his family and focus on his job as a Vice President at Motown. That same year, a reissue of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears” made the top ten in the UK. Though the group had many chart hits in the US, “Tracks…” was only their second song to crack the top 40 of the UK singles chart, following “I Second That Emotion” a year earlier. Motown Britain wished to capitalize on the late but growing fame. Learning there was no new material forthcoming from the group, the label asked the head of a UK Motown fan club if she had any suggestions for a Miracles song that would make a good single. She suggested the last cut on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen.
In 1970, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown” went to #1 in the UK. Seeing its success, Motown US released the song as a single stateside, albeit with a slightly updated mix. “The Tears of a Clown” became Smokey Robinson & The Miracles only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (though The Miracles would hit #1 one more time following Smokey’s departure from the group.)
(Some bonus trivia: Stevie Wonder was initially brought to the attention of Motown Records by Miracles member Ronnie White.)
Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the 81st birthday of Smokey Robinson with a playlist of songs he sang and/or wrote, plus a tribute song, kicking off with “The Tears of a Clown.”
This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist focuses on 1976. It’s easy to remember some of the cheesier songs to make the pop chart (I’ve included examples of those), though there were a lot of great hits as well. Disco was still growing in popularity and having an influence on r&b and pop music. Punk rock was now on major labels, though it wouldn’t influence the pop chart for a while. Pick out the gems of 1976’s output and you’ll have a nice selection of tunes, as evidenced below.
Inspired by the season and the December 20 birthdays of Billy Bragg, Minutemen’s Mike Watt, Kim Weston, Alan Parsons, Heatwave’s Keith Wilder, Kiss’ Peter Criss, Anita Ward and The Easybeats’ Stevie Wright.