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LGBT Anthems

The Script

Carl Bean - I Was Born This Way (1977)

Yes, I'm happy, I'm free and I'm gay, and I was born this way. I'm JD Doyle and welcome to Queer Music Heritage for June. That was Carl Bean singing "I Was Born This Way," back in 1977, and this is kind of a LGBT Pride edition. In the past 13 and a half years of doing QMH I've played every one of the songs you'll hear, but I've never done it like this, as this show will be all about LGBT anthems. I've gathered together 13 songs for this segment, taking us up to 1985, and then Part 2 of the show, found on my website, gets us the rest of the way.

Now, I compiled a fairly long list of songs to consider for this show, and yes, Yes, I do know that what comprises an anthem is a bit different to everyone. This will be a Very subjective show. You know by now that I'm a stickler that my LGBT anthems have to be actually by LGBT artists. And I must be one of the few folks in the universe who feel this way. For example, if you search Wiki for the term "gay anthem" you find a listing of 72 songs. But only 12 are by LGBT artists. Say, What? And many of the titles will make you roll your eyes, trust me. The list is full of the divas, of course, like Madonna, Cher, Diana Ross, the Weather Girls, Sister Sledge, and on and on. Sorry, I'm strict, doesn't work for me. QMH is a history show, so you are going to get Our history.

And then there's the question of what makes an anthem? They list the recent song "Same Love" by Macklemore and Lewis. Fabulous song, and video. I much respect it, but it's not anthemic, can you imagine anyone singing it? The Wiki article does list some good qualifications for what makes an anthem, but I'll get to that in a few minutes, as I can't wait to give you more music.

The next song I have for you is one of the very earliest openly gay songs, and it's called "A Gay Song." It was by a collective of musicians in London in the early 1970's, about sixteen of them, who banded together to produce an album called "Either/Or," and they only pressed a thousand copies, which they gave away. On the plain white covers they stamped "do not buy this record, do not pay for this record," and insisted it be just given away. Obviously it's quite rare and I don't have a copy, but one of the band's founders, Alan Wakeman, has it all for free download on his website. So, from the band called Everyone Involved, from 1972, is "A Gay Song."

Everyone Involved - A Gay Song (1972)
Berkeley Women's Music Collective - Gay And Proud (1977)

And, from 1977 that song was obviously "Gay and Proud," and it was by the Berkeley Women's Music Collective, one of the first openly lesbian bands. And I'll comment that in the late 70's, we were generally the gay community, years away from being the LGBTQIA one. And from this point on I'll be presenting the songs in roughly chronological order.

But I promised you I would discuss the qualities that make a gay anthem. The Wiki article was titled "Gay Anthems." Right off the bat they quoted a book from the UK called "Queer," by Simon Gage, Lisa Richards and Howard Wilmot. The book provided a list of ten themes common in gay anthems. And it should not be a surprise that the first one is that the songs are by "big-voiced divas," popular with gay men. Okay, I'll let that slide. I'm fine with the rest of their list. They said the common themes were overcoming hardship in love, you are not alone, throw your cares away, hard-won self-esteem, celebrating unashamed sexuality, search for acceptance, torch song for the world weary, love conquers all, and no apologies. Actually a pretty good list, and my next song fits several of those. From the landmark 1977 album "Lesbian Concentrate," is Sue Fink and "Leaping Lesbians."

Sue Fink - Leaping Lesbians (1977)
Teresa Trull - Woman-Loving Women (1977)

Both of those songs were from the Olivia Records label, perhaps the most important label in our music history. Hey, didn't I tell you this was a subjective show? "Woman-Loving Women" was from Teresa Trull's 1977 LP "The Ways a Woman Can Be."

And for the next song I go all the way to Australia, and the first openly-lesbian band from that country, the Lavender Blues. One of the group members told me the story of the next song. In the mid to late 70's in the United States there was a divide in the feminist movement, and that also was present in Australia. The straight women were fine with the lesbians helping them obtain women's rights, but then did not want to be outwardly supportive of lesbian rights, and therefore perhaps be labeled as lesbians themselves. This is commented on in the song by the Lavender Blues called "Lesbian Nation."

Lavender Blues - Lesbian Nation (1977)

Okay, next we're up to one of the most iconic anthems. It's by the Tom Robinson Band and over the years Robinson has done many updated versions of it. But here's the original from 1978, "Glad to Be Gay."

Tom Robinson Band - Glad to Be Gay (1978)
Village People - YMCA (1978)

Does my picking that last one surprise you? Well, without actually mentioning the word gay it certainly was a feel good song that clicked off several of the gay anthem criteria, especially throw your cares away and celebrating unashamed sexuality, and we all know what was going on when the Village People sang "YMCA."

We're in 1979 now and I have a couple songs that are more reflective, and that certainly applies to Maxine Feldman's iconic anthem "Amazon." For example, it's been a staple since the 70's at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival for it to be sung every year honoring the heritage of women's music. And a tribute CD was released in 2011, called "Amazon 35," honoring the song. Here's Maxine Feldman and "Amazon."

Maxine Feldman - Amazon (1979)

This next song I used as the opening theme song for at least the first two and a half years of my QMH show, so you know it's special to me. In 1979 an LP was released called "Walls to Roses," which was unique in that it was a various artists project of feminist men, gay and straight. And Charlie Murphy's song "Gay Spirit" opened the album.

Charlie Murphy - Gay Spirit (1979)
Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert - Singing for Our Lives (1983)

That was one of Holly Near's most beloved songs, and that version came from a 1983 concert and was sung with Ronnie Gilbert. Holly wrote the song after the killings of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone in San Francisco and she told me in an interview that she always marvels at the effect the song has on people. It's not uncommon for a concert crowd to stand up and hold hands and sing along, and hold up their lighters, while they were perhaps saying out loud for themselves for the first time "we are a gay and lesbian people and we are singing, singing for our lives." And as the song traveled allies changed the words to "we are gay and straight together," and indeed it is one of our most powerful anthems.

Another powerful song came from Broadway, and the show "La Cage Aux Folles," from 1983. It's one of the most recorded songs on this entire two hour show. From the original cast album is "I Am What I Am."

La Cage Aux Folles - I Am What I Am (1983)

This is JD Doyle closing down Part 1 of my special show on LGBT Anthems, and taking us up to 1984. Part 2 of the show can be heard on my website,, and will take things up the present. This last song was especially important in the early years of MTV. This was the first time music videos were having an impact on the public and a few of the videos were openly addressing gay topics. And gay people, in or out of their closets, were paying attention. It meant they could visually see the messages of the songs, and that was a breakthrough. In fact, one of my friends has told me that the video for this song inspired him to come out of the closet. Here's Jimmy Sommerville, when he was in the band Bronski Beat, and "Smalltown Boy."

Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy (1984)

Labi Siffre - Something Inside So Strong (1987)

This is JD Doyle and welcome back to Part 2 of my show on LGBT Anthems, this time starting in 1987 and bringing us up to date. I just love that inspirational opening song, written and sung by UK artist Labi Siffre in 1987. Folks in this country may be more familiar with the wonderful version by the Flirtations in 1990, and it's a favorite with LGBT choruses, and has been recorded by at least 15 around the world, and sung in concert countless other times.

These next two songs were both prominently featured on my show last month, my Michael Callen Tribute, and to me they are iconic. First, from Callen's 1988 solo album "Purple Heart" is "Love Don't Need a Reason," and then from when he was in the Flirtations, the song "Everything Possible," written by Fred Small. The Flirts loved that song so much that it's on all three of their CDs, but I picked their first version, with Michael on lead, from 1990. It's also a LGBT chorus favorite, appearing on over 30 recordings by various groups.

Michael Callen - Love Don't Need a Reason (1988)
Flirtations - Everything Possible (1990)
Michael Callen - Love Worth Fighting For (1995)

And I played that last one a bit out of order. "Love Worth Fighting For," is another Michael Callen classic. It's from 1995, from the excellent compilation by the same name. So to get back to chronological order on my Anthem playlist are two by women singers who I much respect. Leah Zicari released her queerified version of a very old song in 1990, and it was called "Glory Glory."

Leah Zicari - Glory Glory (1990)
Jamie Anderson - No Closet (1992)

I played that last song on my very first show, back in January of 2000, and many times since, as I think it's wonderful. From Jamie Anderson's 1992 album "Center of Balance" was "No Closet."

Other than Michael Callen, this next artist is the only one with more than one song on my list, and I racked my brain to come up with the best transgender anthems, and well, she had my top two, so I'll play them together. From 1995 is "Transgender Rock & Roll" and from 2007 is "We're the Transgeneration." Here's Jayne County.

Jayne County - Transgender Rock & Roll (1995)
Jayne County - We're the Transgeneration (2007)

As only Jayne County could do it, and I'm switching genres drastically, to chorus music, and for my criteria here I wanted something original, and came up with one by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus. From their 1998 CD "Look to the Rainbow" is "We Are Proud."

New York City Gay Men's Chorus - We Are Proud (1998)
Judy Small - Let the Rainbow Shine (1999)

And that was the second Australian act to make this show. She's Judy Small who is one of that country's folk legends. In 1999 she released a very queer CD called "Let the Rainbow Shine," and you heard the title track.

Here's another song that deals with transgender issues, on quite a serious side. It tells of the murder of Nebraska transman Brandon Teena. That death went on to inspire a documentary and the award-winning film "Boys Don't Cry." One of my artist friends, Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes, made the story into an anthem. From his 2009 CD "House of Joy" is the song "Freedom."

Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes - Freedom (2009)
Sugarbeach - Living Out Proud (2009)

I went from the song "Freedom" to the very energetic track "Living Out Proud." The Vancouver, Canada, duo Sugarbeach included it on their 2009 CD "Not Deserted" and wrote it for the Vancouver Pride Society, as they wanted a theme song. Well, Sugarbeach delivered.

This is JD Doyle and I'm finishing up my Anthems show with one that is probably not a surprise. Now, remember I began Part 1 with Carl Bean's song "I Was Born This Way." So, it seemed like appropriate symmetry to finish with Lady Gaga's huge hit song. And according to an interview with Barbara Walters, Gaga qualifies for the B in LGBT. And you gotta love the verse "No matter gay, straight or bi, Lesbian, transgendered life I'm on the right track, baby I was born to survive." When have you ever heard lyrics like that, or even those words, in a #1 song? Here's Lady Gaga and "Born This Way."

Lady Gaga - Born This Way (2011)