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.
Without further ado, let’s go!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jet Boy Jet Girl – Elton Motello – A very controversial song about a teenage boy’s relationship with an older man who rejects him for a girl, narrated from the teenage boy’s point of view. (Warning: song might be triggering)
How did it age? 1/10 It’s gross, unacceptable then and now, I couldn’t even listen to the whole song. Having sex with underage people is gross. You are a predator if you’re an adult who does this. Stick to “Ça Plane Pour Moi” since that has the same music to it and the lyrics aren’t gross.
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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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. 😃
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