Merrit Brunies & His Friar's Inn Orchestra - Masculine Women, Feminine Men (1926)
Welcome to Queer Music History 101. I'm JD Doyle and this is a special edition of my radio show and website Queer Music Heritage. I'm designing this show as sort of a study guide, and I hope it appeals to those LGBT Studies courses now found at many universities around the country. So this will be a two-hour crash course, and you have no idea how difficult it was to keep it to that, as I've been doing my QMH show for over ten years, and have about 250 hours of programs archived on my site. I'll be using short song clips, but online I'll have links to full versions of the songs, and also to more in-depth information. That of course is at QueerMusicHeritage.com. The two parts of this series will go up through 1985, but I figured a good place to start was 1926 and a song sort of complaining about it all.
The song is "Masculine Women Feminine Men" and is by Merritt Brunies & His Friar's Inn Orchestra. That version is from the UK and is one of 15 recordings I know of that song. And that song of course was not done by gay or lesbian artists, and back then the B and T of LGBT were not even talked about. I'll be keeping almost exclusively to artists who actually were gay, lesbian, bi or transgender, and I guess I should pause a moment and acknowledge that I talk about queer music like everyone knows what that means. I've got a study guide for this show on my site, where I much expand on the subject, but for right now, I'll say it's music that speaks openly about the LGBT experience. And to me the obvious place to start is 1926 and the Blues, and the obvious song is by the Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey. It's the "Prove It On Me Blues" and is a Blues classic and often recorded. Listen for my favorite line in the song, "I went out last night with a gang of my friends, they must have been women, cause I don't like no men."
Rainey - Prove It On Me Blues (1926)
I went from Ma Rainey into one of the best known songs by Bessie Jackson, who also recorded under the name Lucille Bogan. In 1935 she released "B.D. Women Blues" and the B.D. stood for Bull Dykes or more colloquially Bull Daggers. Time constraints prevent me from playing a number of other artists, like Bessie Smith and Gladys Bentley. And students may want to ask themselves, why was it for the most part only the women who were so musically outspoken? There is one male blues artist I want to mention, Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, who often sang his songs as a female impersonator, which probably made it easier for him in 1929 to sing "My Daddy Rocks Me With One Steady Roll."
"Half-Pint" Jaxon - My Daddy Rocks Me With One Steady Roll
It is probably incredible to believe that in 1928 the very heterosexual Bing Crosby recorded the song "Ain't No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears." And that's the only example I have time to give of "cross-vocals." These are songs intended to be sung by a woman but are instead sung by a man, keeping those pronouns intact. They sound pretty gay now, but are only gay in hindsight. Here's the explanation. In the late 20s and early 30s music publishers had a stranglehold on the rights to their catalogs. Singers could not change a word, period, so it was not uncommon for a man to seemingly sing a song to a man, or a woman to a woman. The public knew of the restrictions on singers and did not really pay attention to any gay connotations. That just wasn't in their consciousness. But today we do, which make these a lot of fun.
Oh, take a mental note for this show. I'm going to play many pairs of songs, where I'll break out of one and go to the other. This may not always be a smooth transition, as gee, I chose these pairings for their history and not music compatibility.
Douglas Byng & Lance Lister - Cabaret Boys (1928)
From the UK that was Douglas Byng and Lance Lister with their 1928 song "Cabaret Boys," which is the perfect introduction to the next topic. In the late 20s and early 30s there was a phenomenon known now as The Pansy Craze. This was when openly gay performers experienced a surge in popularity in the nightclubs of the country's major cities. I'm going to give you short clips of two of the most popular of these performers. Jean Malin sings "I'd Rather Be Spanish Than Manish," from 1931, and Bruz Fletcher gets catty with "She's My Most Intimate Friend," from 1937. And the history question for this time period would be to explain what cultural forces happened to open this brief window of popularity, and then what closed that window. Again, I wish I had time to flesh out the personalities of these artists a bit, but my website can do that for you. Jean Malin and Bruz Fletcher.
Malin - I'd Rather Be Spanish Than Manish (1931)
And I threw in a bit of Noel Coward in that set. And while I do not consider him as a Pansy Craze artist, he wrote the song "Green Carnation" for his 1933 musical "Bittersweet." In it fashionable gay men in England in the 1890s could be identified by their green carnations. And this is a good place to slip in the sort of recitation singing style of Ray Bourbon. He was our culture's most prolific female impersonator, with recordings spanning from the 30s through the 60s. He died in prison in Texas in 1971, but that's a whole other very colorful story. Let me give you a history reference point. In 1952 Christine Jorgensen had her famous sex-change operation, so this was still in the news. So, around 1956 Ray Boubon changed the spelling of his first name from R-a-y to R-a-e and released an album called "Let Me Tell You About My Operation," in which he played to the hilt his sex change, which was all hype, never happened. I did tell you he was colorful. Here's a bit of the title track.
Bourbon - Let Me Tell You About My Operation (1956)
That was Jose Sarria, and I think he's one of our history's heroes. Along with a long performing career in drag in San Francisco, mainly at a club called The Black Cat, he was also political and community-minded. He ran, although unsuccessfully, for the Board of Supervisors, in 1961, which was twelve years before Harvey Milk first ran, in 1973. And he also founded the Imperial Court system, and was its first Empress. That system is still going strong today, with chapters all over North America, and their fundraising efforts over the years for gay & lesbian charities have been enormous.
And, did anyone notice a sort of gap in this story? Where were the openly gay & lesbian artists during the 1940s and 1950s? Did they just stay in the closet during World War II and the Joseph McCarthy years? I have examples of straight women singers like Nan Blakstone and Ruth Wallis doing relatively friendly gay novelty songs, and then there's this not so friendly parody commercial, from I believe the 50s.
Chesterfield Cigarettes commercial (1950s)
And this is a good time to mention one of our mysteries. In the early 1960s a record label called Camp Records released two albums and a dozen 45s, pretty much exemplifying camp humor, with all of its mincing stereotypes. They were very coy on the album jackets as to who the singers really were, either, they said, as an attempt at protecting them or perhaps, I think, hyping the product. Who knows? And who knows who were really behind the label. All the singers' names were obviously made up, like B. Bubba, Sandy Beech, Max Minty & the Gay Blades, and this one, by Byrd E Bath. It's called "Homer the Happy Little Homo."
E Bath - Homer the Happy Little Homo (1963)
I followed "Homer the Happy Little Homo" with one not so happy, or in this case, not so-gay friendly. In 1966 Teddy & Darrel released an LP called "These Are the Hits, You Silly Savages." And the super-stereotypical limp-voiced "Strangers In The Night" was the 45 from that album. The story I heard on this one is that the album was an effort to track homosexuals. Here's the plan, you release an album, and track the sales of it to see where those creatures live. The record label was owned by Mike Curb, the then future mega successful record producer and future very conservative lieutenant governor of California. The plan didn't work because record sales were just too spread out. I'd love for someone to dig into this rumor and let me know if it's the real story.
In the late 1940s Lisa Ben was known in her Los Angeles community as a newsletter publisher and entertainer at parties. For the newsletter part, this was historic. In 1947 on her own she wrote and published the newsletter Vice Versa, which was the very first lesbian publication, or gay publication, for that matter. In fact the name she used, Lisa Ben, was an anagram for have you guessed already? Yes, lesbian. In 1960 the organization Daughters of Bilitis sponsored the release of a 45 rpm record by her. She was known for her parodies, and this one was of "Frankie & Johnny."
Lisa Ben - Frankie & Johnny (1960)
That one was likely never intended to do much commercially, but this one was and homophobia stopped it cold. In 1964 a nightclub singer in L.A. named Troy Walker released his first album, "Troy Walker Live," which obviously captured elements of his shows. Even though he was a very flamboyant performer, one song worked well live, but not on vinyl, as distributors sent the album back, big time. They felt their customers were just not ready for a song with a man singing to a man, as in Troy's version of a song made popular by Judy Garland, "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe."
Troy Walker - Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe (1964)
Homophobia didn't seem to bother an American artist named Jackie Shane much, but then he was performing mainly in the lounge circuit in Toronto. Crowds came for his silky smooth voice as much as his flamboyant effeminate stage persona. And he got a hit record along the way, at least in Canada where reached number 2 on the charts in 1963. His songs lyrics say "tell her that I'm happy, tell her that I'm gay, tell her that I wouldn't have it, Any Other Way."
Jackie Shane - Any Other Way (1963)
A jazz great is definitely Billy Strayhorn, who was a songwriting and arranging genius, and who was a big reason for the success of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. That orchestra first performed Billy's classic song "Lush Life" at Carnegie Hall in 1948, and countless people have recorded the song since, but I want you to hear it by Billy Strayhorn himself, in a 1964 recording.
Strayhorn - Lush Life (1964)
Yes, jazz artist Frances Faye was gay gay gay, as you could hear in the song "Night and Day," from her 1959 album "Caught in the Act." She was in fact fairly open about her sexuality, especially given the times in which she was most popular, from the 40s through the 60s.
I want to slip in this next artist, not because she was ever accused of being a good singer, but to my mind it was pretty radical for a female impersonator to release an album in 1968 that was not comprised of comedy routines or cabaret standards. The artist was MInette, which was her real last name, and the songs on her album were all written by her and were very topical. Again, this was 1968 and all over the news was the hippie movement, psychedelic drugs and the Vietnam war, and she dealt with all those subjects. So I picked the only queer song you'll ever hear about Lyndon Johnson. It's called "LBJ, Don't Take My Man Away."
Minette - LBJ, Don't Take My Man Away (1968)
And you may ask, surely there must have been gay cabaret in these years, and you'd be right, and I've three albums in mind, none of which were very commercially done, but all were blatantly man on man lyrics. So I've put them in a mini-medley. First is Zebedy Colt from his 1970 album "I'll Sing For You," and then there are two tracks from albums where the singers were not identified. One was called "Love Is A Drag," from 1962, and you need to see the cover of that one. It has two guys in the shadows, and says on the front "For Adult Listeners Only," as if the very act of singing even those tame lyrics to another man made it only for adults. It gets better. On the back the LP jacket goes on about how brave the singer was, but then does not name him. And the other nameless singer was on the album "Mad About the Boy," from the mid-60s. That was done by that Camp Records label I played for you earlier. The songs are "The Man I Love," "My Man," and "Mad About the Boy."
Colt - The Man I Love (1970)
We're up to 1972 now, and almost up to the Women's Music Movement, but not quite. That really didn't start until 1974. In 1972 we saw the release of two 45 rpm records and I consider one the first openly lesbian 45 and the other the first gay liberation 45. The openly lesbian one was by Maxine Feldman, and she actually wrote it in early 1969, before Stonewall, though it did not get released until 1972. It was called "Angry Atthis," and in an interview she told me Atthis was one of Sappho's lovers and also she was doing a word play, and was also saying she was "angry at this."
Feldman - Angry Atthis (1972)
After Maxine Feldman was Madeline Davis, and her song, written in 1971 was called "Stonewall Nation." It was written after she participated in her first gay march in Albany NY. And she got to sing it at her second gay pride march, and for years she sang it at many pride venues. She wasn't just singing during those years. She was one of the early members of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, and was president of that chapter in 1972. One of her biggest accomplishments was in 1972 when she was elected as the first openly lesbian delegate to a major national political convention. It was of course the Democratic convention that nominated McGovern, and Jim Foster from San Francisco that same year was first gay male delegate. She has other educational and literary accomplishments but I'll let you find those on my website.
Ready for some gay country music? Well, I'm not sure the public, or even gay listeners, were in 1973. That year saw the release of the first openly gay country album, called "Lavender Country." And the band Lavender Country was led by Patrick Haggerty. One of the songs had an interesting genesis. Patrick told me at the time he was very active in anti-Viet Nam groups but it was odd that those radical groups didn't like another radical group, queers, so he wrote "Back in the Closet Again."
Country - Back in the Closet Again (1973)
I jumped way ahead for that one, but it was to make a point. "Lavender Country" was the first full-length openly gay country album, in 1973, and it took until 1993, twenty years later, for the second, "Out in the Country," by Doug Stevens & the Outband. A good essay would be on why there was this gap in artists doing openly gay country music. And I do believe for the most part the gap continues. Also, why has the field of country music been seemingly more prone to produce homophobic novelty songs, and how has that changed over the years?
My next category is musicals, and 1973 saw the first openly gay one. I believe you would consider a musical named "The Faggot" as openly gay. Characters in the show included Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and Catherine the Great, so I assume the plot was a bit catch-as-catch can, but it started out queer from the first song, "Women With Women, Men With Men."
Faggot - Women With Women, Men With Men (1973)
Attracting a lot more attention the next year, 1974, was the hit show "Let My People Come." Now, it was not at all a quote unquote "gay musical." It was a sexual musical, including all the bases, and it included a gay song and a lesbian one. From the cast you heard Marty Duffy and Joe Jones sing "I'm Gay." Okay, bonus question, how have the depictions of gay and lesbian people changed in musicals since 1973?
The year 1973 also brought one of the first openly gay rock albums. The act was called Chris Robison and his Many Hand Band, and while it contained several very gay songs, the most gay was "Lookin' For A Boy Tonight."
Chris Robison - Lookin' For A Boy Tonight (1973)
And up next is some history. In 1974 Steven Grossman had the distinction of being the first artist to have a lyrically gay album released by a major label. The label was Mercury and the album was "Caravan Tonight," and the most known song from it is called "Out." I'm sharing with you the whole song, as you really need to hear how it builds to its end. Steven Grossman, and "Out."
Steven Grossman - Out (1974)
This is JD Doyle, and I'm closing Part 1 of Queer Music History 101. You'll have to listen to Part 2 to hear about the Women's Music Movement, Disco, Glam Rock, Chorus music, Folk music and much more. Ending this part is a pair of historic dance records. Now, you don't normally think of Motown Records and gay recordings in the same breath, but there's reason to. And the result is, if you will, a gay liberation disco song. There's no confusing the song's lyrics. They include the lines "I'm happy, I'm carefree and I'm gay, yes, I'm gay, taint no fault, tis a fact I was born this way."
Here's the story, Bunny Jones, a straight business woman and music world wannabee, owned several beauty salons, knew scads of gay people, and was inspired to write the song "I Was Born This Way." She got a singer named Charles Harris to record it, changed his name to Valentino, and got Motown to release it. This was 1975. Not much happened, mainly because Motown did little to promote it. They changed their minds a couple years later, and got Carl Bean to do a more updated version. Bean later founded the Unity Fellowship Church and became Bishop Carl Bean, and his version's been remixed and released several more times over the years. Hit or no, it's a historically out of the closet dance song, so here's a mash-up of both versions, by Valentino and Carl Bean.
- I Was Born This Way (1975)
Sue Fink - Leaping Lesbians (1977)
Welcome to Part 2 of Queer Music History 101 and I'm JD Doyle. As I said at the introduction to Part 1, I'm designing this show as sort of a study guide, and I hope it appeals to those LGBT Studies courses now found at many universities around the country. This is a two-hour crash course. I'll be using short song clips, but the online version will link to where full-length songs can be heard, and also much more in-depth information. That of course is at QueerMusicHeritage.com, and there's a link on the front page to this show.
Part 2 picks up the story in the early 70s and I opened with Sue Fink, and her song "Leaping Lesbians" was from 1977. It was not the first song that I would classify as part of the Women's Music Movement, but perhaps the best one to use as an ear-catching opener. This segment will include more songs of this genre than any other I'll feature, because, plain and simple, I consider the Women's Music Movement as the most important musically for our community.
But I need to go back to the beginning, with Alix Dobkin. In 1973 she formed her own record label, called Women's Wax Works, and released the first album entirely produced, engineered, financed, and performed by lesbians. It was called "Lavender Jane Loves Women." From it is the song "A Woman's Love."
Dobkin - A Woman's Love (1973)
After you heard Alix Dobkin I jumped right into the catalog of Olivia Records, the, I think, most important record label in our music history. It came along not only when there was a real need, but it did it with exquisite talent. That song was called "Woman-Loving Woman" and was from Teresa Trull's 1977 album "The Ways a Woman Can Be." But the label really started in 1974, with its two main early talents, Cris Williamson and Meg Christian. Meg's album "I Know You Know" came first and while she was more known for sensitive ballads, her song "Ode to a Gym Teacher" struck a real chord with her audiences and became a classic.
Christian - Ode to a Gym Teacher (1974)
After Meg Christian came Cris Williamson, and her album "The Changer and the Changed" made history, not only for the unprecedented huge sales for a release on an independent label, but for how it reached the listeners, with songs like "Waterfall" and the one you heard, "Sweet Woman." And that set finished with an artist who is still a major contributor to our music, Holly Near. The song "Imagine My Surprise" came from her 1978 album by that title, on her own label, Redwood Records, and the second voice you heard on it was by Meg Christian.
Olivia Records lasted until about 1993, when Olivia morphed into a cruise line, but I think another important contribution of theirs was to release in 1977 the first various artists album of lesbian music. It was called "Lesbian Concentrate" and was kind of a reaction to the Anita Bryant bigotry brigade of those times. On the album Olivia included their own artists and also some from albums the label distributed, like one by the Berkeley Women's Music Collective, and their song "Gay and Proud."
Women's Music Collective - Gay and Proud (1976)
I played those last two to remind ourselves that women's music in the mid-70s was not solely the product of American artists. "Lesbian Nation" was by the Lavender Blues, from 1978, and they were from Australia. That song was talking about the riff in the women's movement between straight women and lesbians, which did not only happen in the U.S. And in 1975 The Flying Lesbians released their album by that same name in Germany. Three of the ten tracks were in English, including sort of a recruiting song, "I'm a Lesbian, How About You?"
Of course there are many, and I mean many more artists I could sample before we leave this segment on Women's Music, but there is one I can't leave out, and I already played her on Part 1 of the show. Maxine Feldman's historic 45 rpm record came out in 1972, and it took her until 1979 before she was able to release a full album. That album was called "Closet Sale" and on it was an anthem that is still sung every year at the Michigan Women's Music Festival. The song is "Amazon."
Maxine Feldman - Amazon (1979)
And, here's your essay question assignment for this part. In the early 70s there was a strong Woman's Music Movement, but there was not, and still hasn't been a Men's Music Movement. Why not, and what made the movement for the women so strong, and why was this so important?
The early 70s was also host to a glam rock period and its leader was David Bowie. He was caught up in theatrics and hype at the time and worked it marvelously, with his Ziggy Stardust character. So, maybe it was Ziggy who was gay, or at least bisexual, instead of Bowie. Whatever the case, he was making millions. To give him credit though, I've heard many gay artists say Bowie, when he was in his I-might-be-gay period, was a big influence on their music. From his "Hunky Dory" album from 1971, here's a bit of "Queen Bitch," to be followed by a real gay glam rocker.
Bowie - Queen Bitch (1971)
In 1974 an artist just going by the name Jobriath burst onto the glam scene, amid huge publicity, including billboards of his half-naked form on buses in New York City. He tried hard, but the hype lost steam with his second album, and he died of AIDS in 1983, so we're left with a minor legend of what might have been. From his album just titled "Jobriath" was the song "I'maman."
And also in the late 70s there was sort of a pop punk gay scene, and I'm going to represent that with The Mumps, with their main members being Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman. Here's their song from 1978, "Muscleboys."
- Muscleboys (1978)
Out of Canada was the band Rough Trade, led by the very out Carole Pope, singing here "High School Confidential." That song hit the Top 20 in Canada in 1981 and was one of the first lesbian-themed songs to make the charts in the world.
And up next is one of the most iconic of gay anthems. By the Tom Robinson Band from 1978 is "Glad To Be Gay."
Robinson Band - Glad to Be Gay (1978)
From "Glad To Be Gay" I went to "Gay Spirit," a song I love by Charlie Murphy. For the first year or so I did QMH I used to open my show with a bit of it. It's from the landmark various artists album "Walls to Roses," and I say landmark because it was the first compilation to feature straight and men together, and the album just exuded feminism.
I mentioned cabaret in the first segment, but that was mostly singers doing the old standards, only keeping the pronouns to match their own. Oh his 1977 album Larry Paulette offered some more up to date material, including one adopted by some gay folks for its special meaning, a cover of the 60s song "Our Day Will Come." But I want you to hear his take on the Charles Aznavour standard "What Makes a Man a Man," and then musically I'm going in another direction, but asking a similar question.
Paulette - What Makes a Man a Man (1977)
Following Larry Paulette was the iconic rocker Jayne County, who before her sex change recorded in the 70s as Wayne County. From 1978 was her challenge "Are You Man Enough to Be a Woman."
Now next I've got a couple mellow songs from two different genres. In 1979 Tom Wilson Weinberg, then just known as Tom Wilson, released an LP called "Gay Name Game," packed full of topical songs. This album was actually the first openly gay music I ever heard, and I loved it. One of its quieter songs makes a nice statement to those who would use the Bible against us. It's called "My Leviticus."
Wilson Weinberg - My Leviticus (1979)
And that was a little bit of the old show tune "We Kiss in a Shadow," from the 1951 musical "The King & I." It's one of the songs in which gay folks in the 50s & 60s saw special meaning. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus knew that, of course, and included it on their first LP, in 1981, which was the first album released by an openly gay or lesbian chorus. Trivia question, the sort of adoption of a song intended for another use or meaning, like "We Kiss in a Shadow," was not the only example of songs like this in our history. These have also been described as conscripted songs. Can you come up with another? Hint, one was sung by a famous blonde in the 50s. Frank Sinatra had a big hit with another, and an early Beatles song was one.
In the late 70s the disco craze really got started, and I think for a lot of gay people it represented a new freedom, and this was a genre we adopted for our own, and we found a community in the clubs playing this music. I sometimes get on my own soapbox that disco music really is not gay music, because about 95% of it is by straight artists, mostly women, and a small percent of the small percent by actual gay artists was lyrically gay. Still this music just has to be represented here, and I've picked three acts special to us. And, no, I'm not playing "It's Raining Men." I love that song, but it's just not a gay song because the Weather Girls were not gay. So, here are the Village People, where while the lead singer was straight, most of the rest were really singing like they meant it, at the "Y.M.C.A."
People - Y.M.C.A (1978)
Sylvester, of course, was very openly gay, and "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" was just one of his hits. And it wasn't known much then, but Alicia Bridges is, and was then, lesbian, and her huge hit was "I Love the Nightlife."
These next two songs are both fairly obscure, and I'd be surprised if even people who follow LGBT music would know them, but I like them for the messages they tell. First is a Canadian artist who released his first album in 1981, called "Chivalry Lives," and the song I'm sharing with you gives the perspective of what it is like to be a gay teenager. Here is David Sereda and "Underage Blues."
David Sereda - Underage Blues (1981)
And the second song tells a different story. It's by Judy Reagan on her 1983 album "Old Friends," and I love that her song "Hollywood Haircut" pays tribute to the lesbians who walked before her. It was true in 1983 and now 27 years later of course it's even more true. Judy Reagan and "Hollywood Haircut."
Judy Reagan - Hollywood Haircut (1983)
I had to set a time frame for these two shows to encompass, and I set mine to cover our musical history up though 1985, so I am pleased that this allows me to include the first well-known transsexual, Christine Jorgensen. Her famous sex-change was headline news all over the world in 1952, and afterwards she mainly became an entertainer. A very rare night club appearance of hers was recorded in 1982, though not released until 2006. Her act was more telling jokes and stories than singing but here you get to hear her introduce her theme song.
Jorgensen - I Enjoy Being a Girl (1982)
From 1983 that was of course a bit of "I Am What I Am," from the musical "La Cage Aux Folles," which was really the first big hit musical to have gay themes as its central plot. Again, that was 1983, the same year that Romanovsky & Phillips began their careers. I did a special show on them in 2003 and here's how I introduced it: They were one of the most prolific acts of gay & lesbian music. They gave us eight recordings and over one hundred songs that chronicle gay culture with their perfect balance of wit, sensitivity, humor, charm and a political passion all their own. They've given us the soundtrack of our lives. From their first full-length album "I Thought You'd Be Taller," here's "The Prince Charming Tango."
Romanovsky & Phillips - The Prince Charming Tango (1984)
Also from 1984 is one of the very earliest songs about AIDS. It's by the San Francisco group Automatic Pilot. It's called "Safe Living in Dangerous Times."
Automatic Pilot - Safe Living in Dangerous Times (1984)
That song was recorded in 1984 but an album project went on hiatus when the member coordinating it died of AIDS, as have several other group members. The Automatic Pilot CD was, if you will, resurrected and called "Back from the Dead," and was finally released in 2005.
Did you know there was a rap song that fits this show? Actually it's by an act that was probably the very first to do lyrically gay rap songs. They were from Los Angeles and were called Age of Consent, and were active from 1981 to 1985. Their work was compiled on a 2004 CD called "Old School on the Down Low." I love that the song tells about the Stonewall Riot, though I had to edit a couple words in the song to make it more ready for radio. Here's Age of Consent and "History Rap."
Age of Consent - History Rap (1982)
A subject I've not addressed yet is, well, what about the B in LGBT? When you are talking music, songs are few and far between that actually tackle the subject head on, without being vague or coy, or for novelty or shock value. If someone is singing to the same sex it is assumed they are gay or lesbian, and if they are not, well, they are assumed straight. So the B is barely represented. Yes, it was rumored in the 70s that David Bowie was bisexual, but that's something he denied many years later. Keeping within my time period of before 1985 I could have picked some obvious songs by straight acts, like the song "AC - DC" by the band Sweet from 1975, or "I Like It Both Ways," by Supernaut, which reached #1 in Australia in 1976. Instead I'm glad I can share with you one that is from a truly honest first-person perspective. From 1984 is Tom Robinson and "More Lives Than One."
Tom Robinson - More Lives Than One (1984)
And this is a good time to go back and ask again, what is queer music, and what makes it different, and the same, from what straight artists write and sing about? It's the same because of course LGBT people write about relationships, falling in love, wanting to be in love, and losing love, although now I think the songs are being done in a more matter of a fact way, the other person just happens to be of the same sex.
How have gay lyrics evolved over the years? Well, in the early years there were a lot of songs about coming out, or political songs about acceptance, which led to Pride songs and songs about Stonewall. The AIDS song you just heard points out how strong topics can inspire our music. In the late 70s there were a lot of songs about Anita Bryant, and then about Harvey Milk and Dan White. As AIDS really hit in the mid 1980s and 90s, many, many songs have addressed all angles of that, such as the emotional areas of grief, anger, sympathy, and the political and social approaches. The death of Matthew Shepard brought forth a number of songs, and I've accumulated over 50 of them on my site, and over 80 songs on same-sex marriage. There are also many songs about gays in the military, and gays and religion, and on and on. People write about what move them. And I do want to acknowledge that our straight allies do write gay songs, for example about many of the topic areas I've just mentioned.
This is JD Doyle and I'm winding down Part 2 of this very special show called Queer Music History 101. Remember there are a lot of resources on my website to accompany these two segments, and that's at QueerMusicHeritage.com. I picked 1985 as a stopping point, but of course the 25 years since then have been very rich in the music produced, and there are numerous songs and artists I wish I could have included, both before and after that time frame, in so many genres.
These last two songs are quite different from each other, but both of much significance. I know of more than one person who has told me that they were inspired to come out of the closet by this next song. It's message and that its music video was widely available to those waiting in the closet, gave it a wonderful impact. Jimmy Somerville was the vocalist, then as part of the band Bronski Beat, and 1984 was the year for "Smalltown Boy."
Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy (1984)
That was Bronski Beat. And the last song of this show was inspired by our history. It was written by Holly Near, and sung here by Holly and Ronnie Gilbert, from the 1983 album "Singing for Our Lives." And that's the title of the song. Over the years I've interviewed many of the artists you heard in these two segments, and while I wasn't going to include artist quotes about the songs, I'm making an exception, and letting Holly Near introduce the song "Singing For Our Lives."
Near introduction (2010)
Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert - Singing For Our Lives (1983)
are a gentle angry people
are a land of many colors