Welcome to part 2 of this two part series of LGBT rock songs. In this post, we will be focusing on the 70s and 80s. When doing the research for this post, I found that there were so many songs that I couldn’t fit them all into one post.
In case you missed it, you can read the first part of the series here. You can also read a post I wrote about LGBT rock stars here.
Without further ado, let’s go!
All The Young Dudes – Mott The Hoople – This David Bowie-penned song was Mott The Hoople was the band’s biggest hit. Bowie wrote the song for them when he found out they were going to break up because they weren’t going anywhere. How is it a gay anthem? There’s one lyric that references crossdressing: “Now Lucy’s looking sweet though he dresses like a queen”.
How did it age? 10/10 Nothing offensive here. Definitely a good singalong.
Closet Queen – Harrison Kennedy – This Canadian-born member of Detroit R&B/Soul group Chairmen of the Board wrote this accepting song about gay people. The song begins with “Closet Queen you are alright”. The lyrics are encouraging people to come out of the closet. “Closet Queen come into the light where you can be seen. You’ve spent years hiding and I know why.” The message is that “gay is nothing but good.” I could go on and on about it, but this is so ahead of its time.
How did it age? 10/10 The language is perfectly fine. The message is wholesome, saying that it’s good to be gay and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
Freakin’ At the Freakers’ Ball – Dr Hook – The Giving Tree author Shel Silverstein wrote this song about a club where misfits go and all the different subcultures in the LGBT community like BDSM (not a strictly gay thing, just that there are gay/bi people who are into that mentioned in this song) and Leather. It’s an odd sounding song.
How did it age? 4/10 There is some offensive language in this song so it wouldn’t be appropriate to play at pride, unless you’re around a group of friends who don’t care. I don’t think it’s being malicious and it seems like they’re celebrating the fact that the people in this club don’t fit into society.
Gudbuy T’Jane – Slade – A song about a drag queen. References are made to her being painted up like a fancy young man, that she’s a queen, and her boots match her suits. Slade were one of the most popular bands in the UK and got a lot of hit singles in the 70s. Glitter rock in the early 70s was pretty much as big a sensation as beat music in the 60s, all over the charts. Makes sense that there are a lot of glam rock songs with LGBT themes since there were a lot of LGBT fans and the genre was all about androgyny.
How did it age? – 10/10 Don’t see any problems.
John, I’m Only Dancing – David Bowie – Sung from the point of view of a bisexual man dating a gay man. He is at a club and he’s dancing with a girl named Annie. He admits that Annie turns him on, but he tells his boyfriend, John, that he’s only dancing with her.
This song was released the year that he came out as bisexual in an interview with Melody Maker. Two years later, he made a sequel/remake with a funkier, disco sound, titling it “John I’m Only Dancing (Again).”
How did it age? 10/10 It’s fine. Play it. The funky 1974 version might be more fun to play at pride and fit better with the mood of other songs.
Lavender Country – The first gay country album. The band were made up of Patrick Haggerty on guitar and lead vocals, Michael Carr on keyboards, Eve Morris on fiddle, and Robert Hammerstrom on guitar (Robert is the only straight member of the band). Before Lavender Country, Patrick was in the Peace Corps, but was discharged for being gay. After that, he was an artist and activist with the Gay Liberation Front. He came out at the age of 15.
The album opens with “Come Out Singing”. You’ll know this is an unapologetically gay album with the opening lyric: “Wakin’ up to say hip hip hooray. I’m glad I’m Gay”. “Gypsy John”, “Georgie Pie”, and “I Can’t Shake The Stranger Out of You” are gay love songs. If you want a love song from a lesbian perspective, listen to “To a Woman”, written by Eve Morris.
“Waltzing Will Trilogy” is a sad song that talks about the realities of being gay in the mid-20th century. It was a time when people considered liking the same gender a mental illness and being in a same sex relationship was illegal and you could be persecuted. I’ll let the lyrics say it:
“Now they call him a queer sickie. They herd him to group therapy. They lock him up at night so he don’t escape and if they hear any gay talk, a sizzle of electro-shock keeps his fantasies in fascist shape. They call it mental hygiene, but I call it psychic rape! And he won’t get no restitution till we’re dealing with the fact that all the mental institutions are backed by a pack of straight white honky quacks”
“Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” was played on the radio once. Lesbian DJ Shan Ottley played the song at the Seattle radio station she worked at to raise awareness of the gay liberation movement, but she got fired for it.
Patrick Haggerty’s first song “Back in the Closet Again” calls out the left for not including LGBT people in their movement, yet claiming to be progressive. Not all homophobia and transphobia is right wing. There’s some prejudice on the left too.
The last two tracks “Straight White Patterns” and “Lavender Country” talk about heteronormative and sexist expectations in society. “Lavender Country” to me is an escape from these expectations, a place where you can be yourself.
How did it age? 7/10 – It has some out of date language and slurs, but keep in mind the context. The slurs weren’t used to put anyone down, it was talking about being gay at that time and the musicians are gay.
Solid Gold Easy Action – T. Rex – A song that combines 50s rockabilly with glam rock. The particular lyric from this song that I’m focusing on here is “I know you’re shrewd and she’s a dude, but all I want is easy action”. More than likely this is referring to a drag queen and the narrator doesn’t care what gender you are, he’s equal opportunity when it comes to sex.
How did it age? 9/10 Maybe not the most politically correct way to say things, but it was 1972. I’m happy to call this a bi anthem.
Suffragette City – David Bowie – Some people interpret this song as being about bisexuality and about the narrator telling his friend (possibly with benefits?) that he likes a woman better and wants to be with her. He tells his friend to “leave him alone”, that the girl is a “total blam blam”, and “there’s only room for one and here she comes”.
In a live performance of this song, David Bowie walked over to guitarist Mick Ronson and mimed plucking the strings with his teeth.
How did it age? 10/10 Nothing problematic here. It’s fun.
Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed – Can’t leave off this classic song that name drops famous trans Warhol Superstars like Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis. Bisexual actor Joe Dallesandro is mentioned as well. The song was ground breaking, discussing trans people, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex.
Holly Woodlawn is described as leaving Miami after being bullied, hitchhiking, and transitioning to female. Candy Darling is mentioned doing sex work to survive while trying to achieve fame. Jackie Curtis is mentioned speeding away in a car, crashing and imagining she was James Dean.
How did it age? 8.5/10 Lou Reed paid respect to all these icons in this song, telling their stories.
5:15 – The Who – Hit from their concept album, Quadrophenia, which focuses on the story of a young mod in the 60s named Jimmy. Not a gay anthem (more of a teen angst song), but cross dressing is referenced in the lyric “He-man drag in a glittering ballroom. Gravely outrageous in my high heel shoes” and I personally interpret the lyric in the beginning, “pretty girls digging prettier women” as more than just an aesthetic attraction, but maybe that’s my bisexuality speaking. Brighton is well known for its pride festival, the biggest in the UK.
How did it age? 8/10 It’s fine. The line about the masculine drag queen may upset some, but otherwise the song is not offensive.
All the Girls Love Alice – Elton John – Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics of this song that tells a tragic story of a 16-year-old lesbian who died in the streets. Some people think that Alice is a reference to lesbian writer Alice B. Toklas, while others think it’s a reference to Alice Cooper.
Some lyrics: “She couldn’t get it on with the boys on the scene, but what do you expect from a chick who’s just sixteen? And hey, hey, hey (hey, hey, hey) you know what I mean.”
How did it age? 4/10 As always the instrumental is awesome. However, the d-slur is used. So this may not be a song for a pride party. A tragic song doesn’t fit the mood anyway.
Billy Mars – Vodka Collins – This Tokyo based glam rock band had one song about the androgynous Billy Mars who stole the narrator’s partner. He is introduced like this:
“Yes, I know that you love him
But he’s so like a woman
In his lipstick and lace, yes it is
Yes, I know that you love him
He’s an exotic queen
But honey is taking my place
Tell me, is that your taste?”
How did it age? 10/10 No problems here
Imaman – Jobriath – Jobriath was one of the first gay rock stars to be signed to a major record label. In this song, his voice is Mick Jagger-esque and it’s an interesting and nice combination with the piano. This song has a message of being yourself and taking pride in being uniquely you. Some lyrics that I interpret as being particularly gay themed are “you know I could love you, but if I should love you, then I would love you the way a man loves a woman.”
How did it age? 10/10 Good and positive message.
You Don’t Have to Camp Around – Todd Rundgren – This one minute long song is off the album A Wizard, A True Star, full of short songs (save one medley). It tells the story of a gay man whose parents are not very accepting.
How did it age? 7/10 The language is a bit out of date and some stereotypes are mentioned in the song, but not maliciously. I don’t think this song is celebrating the parents’ homophobic attitudes.
AC/DC – The Sweet – Before the band AC/DC made it big, The Sweet recorded this song, with a title that is a slang term for bisexuality.
Bisexual themed lyrics include: “She got girls all over the world, She got men every now and then, but she can’t make up her mind on just how to fill her time”, “AC/DC She’s got some other lover as well as me”, and “lesbian it together”.
How did it age? 5/10 Personally, I’m not offended by this, but it takes a lot to offend me. I’d play it to reclaim it, possibly. I can see people complaining that this song fetishises bisexual women and claiming that it perpetuates the stereotype that bisexuals are promiscuous, so maybe don’t play it. Keep in mind, it was the 70s, a time of free love and experimentation.
Do You Like Boys? – Starbuck – An obscure and catchy gay themed glam rock song. Gay songwriting duo Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley wrote the song.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s cute and wholesome.
Joey – The Pretty Things – The opening track of Silk Torpedo, The Pretties have a way different sound than a decade ago, more glam and hard rock than the R&B and garage rock sound of the beginning of their career. Phil May wrote this song and I think from looking at the lyrics, it’s written from the point of view of a guy who really likes this guy named Joey and he’s in his dreams and he’s always thinking of him.
How did it age? 10/10 No problems here. Just a guy having a crush on another guy.
Kill Your Sons – Lou Reed – This song is based on a true story. At the age of 18, Lou Reed had a nervous breakdown and his parents took him to a psychologist who recommended electroconvulsive therapy. Lou Reed thought that his parents made him go through ECT because he was bisexual and he wrote about this in “Kill Your Sons”. The song details how abusive and harmful ECT is, causing memory loss and essentially killing the person’s personality.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s not a happy song, but it is a song that talks about how abusive ECT is. Sexuality isn’t mentioned particularly in this song, but it was based on Lou Reed’s story. It’s no celebration song, but it didn’t age poorly.
Rebel Rebel – David Bowie – This hit song references androgyny with the lyric “You’ve got your mother in a whirl. She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” The song has a memorable guitar riff.
How did it age? 10/10 This song celebrates genderfluidity. Play it loud at pride!
Toorak Cowboy – Skyhooks – This Australian band were ahead of their time, talking positively about homosexuality in their songs decades before the majority of people started to accept it. Toorak is a neighbourhood in Melbourne. The character the song is about mentions has “lots of gay friends”.
How did it age? 10/10 Nothing offensive here.
How Many Friends – The Who – The Who By Numbers has a way different feel from the last few Who albums, and it’s polarising among Who fans because expectations were set very high with the previous studio albums setting the bar high: The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia. All of these albums are easily The Who’s peak. The Who By Numbers is a much more pensive album. This song definitely alludes to the narrator having both men and women interested in him. Here’s the gay lyric:
“I’m feelin’ so good right now
There’s a handsome boy tells me how I changed his past
He buys me a brandy
But could it be he’s really just after my ass?”
How did it age? 10/10 No problems.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight – Elton John – This song describes a true story. Elton John was going to marry his girlfriend, and he didn’t feel right about it, contemplating suicide. His friend, Long John Baldry, talked him out of marrying his girlfriend, essentially saving his life. “Sugar Bear” is Long John Baldry, the princess perched in her electric chair was his ex-girlfriend Linda. Long John Baldry came out to Elton John at a time when Elton John wasn’t sure about his sexuality. This blog post has a bit more information on the song.
How did it age? 10/10 While he sounds very upset with his ex-girlfriend, it’s understandable why. Hiding your sexuality is painful and you’re not living as your authentic self.
53rd and 3rd – The Ramones – Dee Dee Ramone wrote this song based on his life experiences. This song references an intersection in NYC known for male prostitution. The area also was a hotspot for gay nightlife. The song is written from the point of view of a straight Vietnam War veteran who is tries sex work and is failing. He feels ugly because no one pays him for sex. Then the police come and he conflates masculinity and violence and pulls out a knife.
How did it age? 8/10 Besides the use of the word “sissy” there’s no offensive language. It seems to be a commentary on how men sometimes use violence to prove their masculinity.
I Like it Both Ways – Supernaut – A glam rock song that tells the story about a bisexual guy named Johnny who likes it both ways.
How did it age? 4/10 Not the most positive representation of bisexuality. His mind is described as schizophrenic (which isn’t very sensitive to people with mental illnesses and it assumes) and deranged. In my experience, other people were more confused about my bisexuality than I was. It is possible that Johnny is internalising messages like “bisexuals are confused” from society and I feel this.
Straight in a Gay, Gay World – Skyhooks – An understanding song written from a straight person’s point of view. The narrator is an ally to the gay community and recognises that we are all human at the end of the day.
How did it age? 10/10 Positive message, but well, I wouldn’t say that we live in a very gay world.
The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 & 2) – Rod Stewart – A song about the killing of a close friend of his. This friend, Georgie, was gay.
The song talks about the homophobia he faced from his own family: “Pa said there must be a mistake. How can my son not be straight? After all I’ve said and done for him”. After his family disowned him, he left for New York City, where he made friends: “Leavin’ home on a Greyhound bus. Cast out by the ones he loves, a victim of these gay days it seems”.
How did it age? 10/10 Rod Stewart wrote a very nice tribute to his friend at a time when the world was way more homophobic than it is today. The song is very like Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”, another tragic song based on a true story.
Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy – Queen – Freddie Mercury wrote this music hall inspired song about a hopeless romantic speaking to his lover. Pretty self explanatory.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s a cute song. How can you not love Queen?
Life on the Road – The Kinks – Quite a few songs on the Sleepwalker album refer to LGBT people. This song isn’t all about being gay, but rather about being a touring rock musician and references a lot of places around London. One lyric references gay men: “I was standing with the punks in Praed Street, when a muscle man came my way. He said, ‘Hey, are you gay? Can you come out and play?’ And like a fool, I went and said, ‘O.K.'”
How did it age? 10/10 – I don’t see any problems here. Really a song I need to appreciate more because it’s really good. The Kinks really did come back artistically in the late 70s.
On The Outside – The Kinks – During the late 70s, the Kinks changed their sound to a more commercialised sound well-suited for playing in front of large audiences. This song was not on the original release of Sleepwalker, but was included as a bonus track on CD reissues. This song is about a person who is in the closet with lyrics like “You stay at home all on your own with nothing but walls to talk to.” The narrator encourages them to get out of the closet saying “There’s something hidden in you and you keep it out of view. You shouldn’t feel any guilt or have any doubts. You gotta let yourself out whilst there’s something left of you.” He also goes on to tell them that they are not strange for being who they are and that they shouldn’t feel ashamed because they are not to blame.
How did it age? 10/10 Another brilliant pro-LGBT song by Ray Davies. It’s really a shame that society wasn’t so accepting back then that it couldn’t be released 40 years ago. Overall, a great song. I really don’t listen to this era of the Kinks enough.
Prince of the Punks – The Kinks – A diss track towards bisexual punk rocker Tom Robinson who was formerly signed to the Davies Brothers’ label, Konk Records.
Two lyrics refer to Robinson’s sexuality: “He tried to be gay, but it didn’t pay, so he bought a motorbike instead.” and “He thinks he’s a stud, but I think he looks more like a queen.”
Tom Robinson responded with “Don’t Take No For An Answer”.
How did it age? 8/10 Some might see it as homophobic, but I don’t think it’s so much about Tom Robinson’s sexuality and what’s often left out is Ray is bisexual (or at least bicurious, and doesn’t explicitly say he’s straight) as well (additional source here). Ray is attacking Tom for being a phoney with his music and values and especially takes offence at him pretending to be working class since Ray himself really grew up working class and Tom Robinson grew up middle class.
Raw Deal – Judas Priest – Before Rob Halford came out of the closet, he and guitarist Glenn Tipton wrote this song. Rob Halford said in a later interview that his approach to songwriting is gender neutral and subjective. Here are the lyrics that indicate this song is about being gay: “the spiky leather guys were foolin’ with the denim dudes”.
How did it age? 10/10 Nothing offensive here. Always great to see heavy metal and hard rock gay representation.
Aliens in Our Midst – Twinkeyz – Going on the production quality and the psychedelic garage sound, you might think this song is from earlier in the decade or even the decade before. This space/psych/garage rock song talks about crossdressing and being gay. If you like The 13th Floor Elevators, Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers, and David Bowie, you might like this song.
How did it age? 10/10 This is a really interesting sounding song. The gay guy portrayed in the song is represented well and is said to have grown up OK.
Big Dipper – Elton John – A campy song about well… you can figure it out. The main character’s partner leaves him for another guy. This song was not co-written with Bernie Taupin.
How did it age? 9/10 Not family friendly, but nothing offensive here.
Cherry Poppin’ – Mitch Ryder – A disco/rock song that is about being gay and doing it with someone you like. An excerpt from the song lyric: “Come on boys, come on men, turn around back, let’s do it again. I just spoke to god, he said everything’s a sin.” The message is that “love is grand.”
How did it age? 10/10 Love is grand. It’s a fun and upbeat song.
Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen – Not explicitly about being gay, but a very empowering song about how nothing can stop you. There’s sexual innuendo and it’s playful and fun.
How did it age? 10/10 You better play this at pride.
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) – Buzzcocks – The lyrics are vague enough to have a lot of different meanings, but one of them is about unrequited same sex attraction and the “shouldn’t have fallen in love with” might be about how society doesn’t want you to be with someone of the same sex. And the hurt might be about how it’s painful to come out of the closet and be rejected. Songwriter Pete Shelley was bisexual.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s an emotional and beautiful song.
Gay Boys in Bondage – The Drug Addix – Pretty self-explanatory song about sex. For some reason, this kind of reminds me of the Rolling Stones. (Warning: some triggering lyrics)
How did it age? 1/10 Really did not like the “schoolgirls are too much fun” lyric. Creepy. Another creepy lyric I heard was “I’m gonna rape ya”. I don’t think this was ever acceptable.
Glad To Be Gay – Tom Robinson Band – Gay rocker Tom Robinson originally wrote this song for London Gay Pride March in 1976. The BBC banned this song from airplay, yet it peaked at #18 on the UK Singles Chart and #1 on Capital Radio Listeners’ Hitline.
The spoken introduction, “This song is dedicated to the World Health Organization, it’s a medical song and it concerns a disease whose classification according to the International Classification of Diseases is 302.0”, refers to the fact that homosexuality was classified under this number among mental and behavioural disorders. The song talks about what gay people went through in the 60s and 70s, being arrested for no good reason, bars being raided, police brutality, Gay News being called obscene even though there was no nudity in it, and stereotypes.
How did it age? 10/10 An angry and historic song. Britain’s national gay anthem makes you think about how far we’ve come in society. Tom Robinson has updated the lyrics over the years to reflect the AIDS crisis, for example.
Kashka From Baghdad – Kate Bush – This song on Kate Bush’s album, Lionheart, is about a gay couple who are happy together, but because of the homophobic attitudes in society, they hide.
How did it age? 10/10 Nothing offensive here.
Long Hot Summer – Tom Robinson Band – A song about the Stonewall Riots.
How did it age? 8/10 The problem here is the use of the f-slur. Some may be offended by that word, but Tom Robinson is gay and therefore can reclaim that slur, so it may be okay given the context. Know your audience.
Man Enough to be a Woman – Jayne County – Transgender singer Jayne County sang this song back in 1978 and even used the same name as her autobiography title. The song opens up with the lyric “I got a transsexual feeling, It’s hard to be true to the one that’s really you” and talks about her transition and the emotions and hard time society gives her.
How did it age? 9/10 The only issue I could see people having with this is maybe “The jerk made me hurt, he looked like a baboon”. Even then, I don’t think her intentions were bad, just calling him a monster, nothing to do with race.
Out of the Wardrobe – The Kinks – Pretty self-explanatory what this song is getting at, wardrobe is another word for closet. The song tells the story of a gay male crossdresser or a trans woman who was in the closet. He is married to a woman and is rethinking it and wanting to come out. When he comes out to his wife, she is confused and isn’t sure what to do. The guy is portrayed as beautiful wearing his dress and the narrator dispels stereotypes of him being a “dandy” or a “pansy”, he’s just living his life. Coming out of the closet is liberation.
How did it age? 7/10 The language in the song isn’t the most appropriate with the British word for cigarette being used. Because I’m not sure if the person in the song is a crossdresser or a trans woman, I’m not sure about the pronouns. If they are a crossdresser, male pronouns are fine if that’s what they prefer. Other than that, I don’t think the song is regressive, it has a good message about coming out of the closet and the person wearing the dress is told they look good in their dress.
A Thrill’s A Thrill – Long John Baldry – On the aptly-titled Baldry’s Out. Simple: love is love, a thrill’s a thrill. The particularly gay-friendly lyrics are: “Gays are straight and straights are queer. The bis just call everybody dear.”
How did it age? 10/10 Glad to see some bi representation! Yay! Wholesome song overall from the 6’7” tall legend Long John Baldry. Play it at pride.
Boys Keep Swinging – David Bowie – A bisexual/bicurious anthem. “When you’re a boy, other boys check you out. You get a girl, these are your favourite things. When you’re a boy, boys, boys, boys keep swinging.”
How did it age? 10/10 It’s good. Play it at pride.
Funky and Gay – Skyhooks – An unreleased song by this Australian band. Describes a good looking masculine gay guy with good dress sense. His mum seems to be okay with him, but his dad isn’t.
How did it age? 10/10 Paints a good picture of a cool guy.
Les Boys – Dire Straits – A pretty explicitly gay song with references to the leather subculture. The lyrics speak for themselves. “Les boys are glad to be gay”. Gay French writer Jean Genet is name dropped in the lyrics. It’s observational rather than something personal.
How did it age? 6/10 Well, in those days things were edgy with people ironically wearing Nazi clothing (still wrong then!!!). Keep in mind though that the Knopfler Brothers, Mark and David are Jewish. Not family friendly because it talks about the kinkier side of the gay community with the leather subculture. Maybe not a song to play at a family event, but otherwise, I don’t find it offensive.
Rough Boys – Pete Townshend – Essentially Pete Townshend’s “coming out” song. Lyrics like “Tough boys, come over here, I want to bite and kiss you” and “Rough boys, don’t walk away, I wanna buy you leather” can be interpreted to be about his attraction to men. Alice Cooper said, “You have Pete’s sexual ambiguity going on here – it sounds like a gay song. I still don’t know exactly what he was trying to say with that song, but I love it, whatever it is.” In an interview with Playboy in the mid-80s, Pete said that he had a gay life and understood what gay sex was about and alluded to having an androgynous gender identity, saying he knows how it feels to be a woman because he is a woman.
How did it age? 10/10 Pete Townshend talks about his own experiences and sexuality, nothing offensive here.
Controversy – Prince –This catchy song addresses rumours about his identity with lyrics like “I just can’t believe all the things people say. Controversy. Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Controversy. Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?” Prince didn’t understand the speculation and this song promotes a message of acceptance and unity with the chant, “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude. I wish there was no black or white. I wish there were no rules.”
How did it age? 10/10 A positive message and classy way of clapping back at the people who don’t accept you.
Elton’s Song – Elton John – Co-written with Tom Robinson, this song is a more personal one for Elton John. At the time the song came out, he was not out of the closet. In fact, he married a woman in 1984.
How did it age? 8/10 The only offensive thing about this song is the usage of the word “gypsy”.
Homosapien – Pete Shelley – Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks wrote this song in 1974, before forming his band. This song was the debut single from his 1981 solo album of the same name. There was a controversy with this song and the BBC banned it for apparently having “explicit references to gay sex”. The lyric in question was “homo superior in my interior”. Pretty tame for today’s standards. The word “gay” is never uttered in this song, but it’s clear it’s a pride anthem. Also he’s wearing a green carnation on the album cover and in the music video!
How did it age? 10/10 – No issues here. It’s a song that has a “screw labels” message. We’re all human at the end of the day.
Hand in Glove – The Smiths – The Smiths’ first single was successful on the Indie Charts in the UK, reaching #3, but flopped in the mainstream charts, not even breaking the top 100. References to homosexuality were veiled and the single cover had a picture of a naked man from behind on it. Another theme of the song is loneliness.
How did it age? 10/10 Nothing offensive.
Handsome Devil – The Smiths – Much more overtly about sex than Hand in Glove, this song is about two guys who do S&M and roleplay. There is some wordplay too with the lyric “A boy in the bush is worth two in the hand”.
How did it age? 10/10 Very sexual, but not offensive.
This Charming Man – The Smiths – The first Smiths song I heard. Paints a story of a man riding a bike and the tyre is flat and he’s stranded. A charming man in a car pulls up and offers him help. He decides not to overanalyse and just accept the help. He then worries that he doesn’t have nice enough clothes to go out with the guy, but the charming guy says that he shouldn’t worry about it and advises him not to get married. This story could be a metaphor for a young man growing up and maturing.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s a really cute song.
What Difference Does it Make – The Smiths – About coming out of the closet. The narrator says that “All men have secrets” and that he confides in his friend, who he cares so much about that he’d take a bullet for him. The friend doesn’t react well to it. “What difference does it make?” is in reference to who he likes. “It makes none, but now you have gone and you must be looking very old tonight” is the answer to the question about what difference his sexuality makes. In the end, the narrator is unapologetic and proud of who he is.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s relatable and it’s a common experience to feel like close friends don’t really accept you.
I Want to Break Free – Queen – Written by John Deacon. Not necessarily about coming out of the closet since the lyrics seem to point to getting out of a bad relationship, but people have interpreted this song as being a good coming out anthem. A nice bonus: the band are in drag in the music video, Roger Taylor’s idea.
How did it age? 10/10 How can you be upset at this song? Play this song and the music video!
Pretty Girls Make Graves – The Smiths – The reference to homosexuality can be heard in the lyrics “I’m not the man you think I am” and “I could have been wild and I could have been free, but nature played this trick on me.” You can also hear a reference to lyrics from “Hand in Glove” at the very end, “Hand in glove, the sun shines out our behinds.”
How did it age? 10/10 It’s good.
3e sexe – Indochine – A song about gender ambiguity and bisexuality. The narrator describes himself dressed and made up just like his girlfriend. The bisexual lyric: “Et j’aime cette fille aux cheveux longs, Et ce garçon qui pourrait dire non” translates to “And I love that girl with the long hair, and that guy who could say no”.
How did it age? 10/10 It’s a song that was ahead of its time and helped people accept themselves, whether they are gender nonconforming or transgender.
Canary Bay – Indochine – There wasn’t just one song on Indochine’s 3 album about LGBT issues. “Canary Bay” is about lesbians. The song describes a place where many women live secretly, love each other, and have fun.
How did it age? 10/10 I don’t see very many problems
Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush – This song topped the charts nearly 40 years after it came out thanks to the Netflix series Stranger Things. That song was a significant plot element in season 4, with it being Max’s favourite song, the one that keeps her grounded. Even before this, the song was used in Pose, when Angel, a trans woman who did sex work before being signed as a fashion model, was sleeping with a married yuppie client who works for Donald Trump. This song can be interpreted as a pro-trans song because Kate Bush herself said it’s about getting men and women to understand each other and if one could “make a deal with God” to swap places to better understand each other. I think we can all use a bit of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding where they’re coming from. That would make the world a better place.
How did it age? 10/10 No issues here. Who doesn’t love Kate Bush?
If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man) – Bonnie Tyler – The intro and chorus having the same tune as Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” (which came out later and had more success), Desmond Child wrote the song about androgyny and wanted something that mixed the sounds of Tina Turner, The Police, and Bruce Springsteen. He rewrote the song for Bon Jovi when he was disappointed with the song’s chart performance.
This song did better in Europe, reaching the top 20 in multiple countries, than it did in the US, where it reached #77. It was Bonnie Tyler’s last US hit.
How did it age? 9/10 Maybe some out of date gender role stuff, but nothing too offensive.
True Colors – Cyndi Lauper – Not really about sexuality, but people have interpreted this about being true to yourself and the people around you. “True colours” could mean your identity. These lyrics here sound progressive, “And I’ll see your true colours shining through. I see your true colours and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show your true colours. True colours are beautiful like a rainbow”. The rainbow is a symbol for the LGBT community.
How did it age? 10/10 Wholesome and beautiful, enough said.
Dude Looks Like A Lady – Aerosmith – A controversial and offensive song about either a crossdresser or trans woman. My first memory of this song is when watching Mrs Doubtfire (one of my favourite movies ever) and seeing the title character cleaning the house and rocking out to the song. The song tells the story of a person who sees a very feminine looking drag queen or trans woman and thinks she is attractive and hooks up with her. Co-writer Desmond Child said that the inspiration for the song came from seeing one of the guys from Motley Crue from behind and thinking that was a woman, but it was really a guy, the reaction was “That dude looks like a lady”, and there you have it.
How did it age? 0/10 Well… I can’t think of a trans person who likes this song, except for Caitlyn Jenner, who calls it her anthem.
A Little Respect – Erasure – It’s great to conclude this list here with a progressive synthpop song. Lead singer of Erasure, Andy Bell is gay and wrote this song about a heartbroken man asking his lover for forgiveness. “A Little Respect” was one of the band’s biggest hits in America, reaching #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the dance music charts. In the UK, Ireland, and Singapore it was a top 10 hit. During live performances, Bell would introduce this song like this, “When I was a little girl, I asked my mummy ‘Can I be gay when I grow up?’ She replied, ‘Yes, if you show a little respect.’” Some say that the song was a response to Section 28, which was passed on 24 May 1988. The act stated that a local authority cannot promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality and that schools cannot promote same sex relationships as acceptable. In 2000, the act was repealed in Scotland and in 2003, it was repealed in England and Wales.
How did it age? 10/10 I don’t have any complaints about it.
Tweeter and the Monkey Man – Traveling Wilburys – This song by this supergroup made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty talks about a character named Tweeter who “was a boy scout before she went to Vietnam”.
How did it age? – 10/10 Not really any problems. What happened in the past happened.
Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.) – Mötley Crüe – A song about a girl who leaves her boyfriend for a girl.
How did it age? 7/10 I wouldn’t say this song is feminist. I’m personally not offended. Know your audience.
So that concludes our list of LGBT songs from the 70s and 80s. Did I miss one of your favourites? Do you have a different understanding of the song lyrics? Does a song particularly resonate with you? Have your say in the comments section below. 😃
Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.
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[…] Enjoyed this post? Read part two. […]
[…] Want to learn more about LGBT history in classic rock? Read my post about classic rock songs about LGBT people. There’s a part two, too! […]
Thanks, loads of stuff I didn’t know but where is ‘Goodbye to Jane’?
“Goodbye to Jane, goodbye to Jane
Painted up like a fancy young man
She’s a queen
Can’t you see what I mean, she’s a queen
See, see, she’s a queen
And I know she’s alright, alright, alright, alright”
And for part 1 there is: ‘Kay Why’ by the Butch Brothers? (obscure)
or more ambiguous ‘We were Wrong’ by Bonzo Dog Do Dah?
“Cos’ I’m going to Rhino over your lino,
(& I’m going to Rhino with you).
In all kinds of leather, we Rhino “together”.
We’ll keep Rhinoing thru’.”
I must have missed these! Thank you for making me aware of them!
Desolation Boulevard still is one of my all-time favorite LPs. AC/DC had a large part to do with that.
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little disappointed about Aerosmith’s rating, especially because of the lyrics “never judge a book by it’s cover, or who you gonna love by your lover”
That’s an interesting point! That lyric is pretty open minded.
[…] better LGBT anthems, which I outline in these posts (Part 1: LGBT songs of the 60s and early 70s) (Part 2: LGBT songs of the 70s and 80s). I have bigger issues than Ariana Grande songs. Honestly, I have no idea about today’s pop […]
[…] campy, depressing, incorporated dark humour, and weren’t afraid to talk about homosexuality (e.g. “This Charming Man”, “Hand in Glove”, “Handsome Devil”). The 80s was a pretty homophobic time, keep in mind. Along with Joy Division, this is my go-to […]
Sorry I’m late to the party, but “All the Girls Love Alice” isn’t the first explicitly LGBTQ+ Elton John song; “Razorface” (1971, third track of the Madman album) is a love song to an older man, from the point of view of a younger man, and doesn’t pull any punches with lines like “I’ll meet you down by the truck stop inn” and “with a bottle of booze in the back of my car” either.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for letting me know! I’ll fix that!
Man, you forgot “That’s the way”, a wonderful ballad by Led Zeppelin and one of their best songs, IMHO
Read the lyrics… Many think it’s about environment, but I think it’s about a gay boy being ostracized by other people, including the narrator.
Nice job you’ve done here BTW… Greetings by an etherosexual guy
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That’s an interesting interpretation. I’ll need to look more into it. Thank you!
[…] you want to check out other LGBT related posts check out my posts on LGBT themed songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s and my post on classic rock musicians in […]
[…] month, reviewed a lot of stuff, and wrote one of the series I’m proudest of, a two part series on LGBT related songs dating from the 50s all the way to the 80s. Even at rock bottom, mentally, I was still powering […]
[…] posts on LGBT musicians of the 90s, crossdressing/drag and classic rock, and LGBT songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You might want to check these out if you haven’t already. It seems like I’ve maybe […]
[…] par un article anglais sur les chansons LGBT du classic rock où un de mes très vieux billets sur Indochine est mentionné, j’ai décidé d’approcher ce […]
[…] by a very cool post about LGBT songs in classic rock which linked back to my very old post about Indochine, I decided that would be the first post I […]
So thankful to have a list like this out there! Just one comment: Aerosmith’s Dude Looks Like a Lady deserves way more positive credit. If you actually listen to the lyrics, there’s no looking down on anyone or anything, and it’s really just a funny anecdote! Also, more importantly, the lovely dudes of Aerosmith were actually concerned when they wrote it that it WOULD be offensive, so they brought it to a gay friend and coworker of theirs (one of their managers or producers or something, can’t remember exactly) and asked him to read the lyrics and tell them if he felt it was crossing any lines. They were very attentive to their audience and to making sure their music was loving to all!