15 Gay Anthems You Better Have…Or Else

Posted June 23, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

The pride is high: 15 of the greatest gay anthems of all time

If we were to go back in time to 1939, when Judy Garland sung her heart out on “Over the Rainbow” in the classic hit film The Wizard of Oz, we would have clearly left the theaters thinking we have stumbled on the greatest gay anthem ever. It’s been covered by hundreds of artists (from Philly soul diva Patti LaBelle to American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee), and each version seems to bring something new and colorful to the mix. That’s exactly why you won’t see the song perched anywhere on this “must-have” list of gay anthems. Too many versions exist and there’s probably no one alive when Judy Garland first recorded it reading this website. Plus, no person living through the Great Depression had the inspiration to group “homosexuality” and “rainbows” in the same category. Not during those poor times.
Now let’s fast forward back to 2012. We’re now in the midst of Gay Pride season and also facing yet another great depression (Gosh, talking about history repeating itself). And although “Over the Rainbow” didn’t make the list, but don’t be drag: We’ve got fifteen tracks that no open minded, gay-loving person should live without.


“Boys Keep Swinging”
David Bowie
-never chated in the US – / 1979
The US banned the punk-rock song from being released as a single, but the gender-bending Bowie took it upon himself to introduce the song and its homoerotic lyrics to the late night crowd. During his performance of “Boys Keep Swinging” on Saturday Night Live, censors decided to bleep out the song’s most infamous line (“When you’re a boy/Other boys will check you out”). But Bowie’s artistic imagination supplied a world of entertainment — from Bowie dancing away as a goofy bluescreen puppet to Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias dressed as Bowie look-a-likes in the background. And then towards the end, an erect penis on the puppet prop was exposed on national television.


#16 pop / 1983
As Madonna’s breakout hit, “Holiday” positioned Madonna as the first major female act of the Eighties. The repetitive song lyrics of “Holiday” suggest Madonna likes her parties to be never-ending, almost eternal. That’s because Madonna was a product of New York’s nightlife. John “Jelly bean” Benitez, with whom she dated, supplied the song’s timeless production.


Katy Perry
#1 pop / 2010
“I Kissed a Girl” felt like a generous hand wave at Katy’s gay friends, but it was proved to be too tongue-in-cheeky. Two years later, Perry cooks up a celebratory, love-yourself romp with “Firework.” The results: A number one hit that merged a Madonna-sounding melody with synth-driven electropop.


“I Was Born This Way”
Carl Bean
#15 Dance/Club Play / 1978
Before Gaga poured the champagne, Motown uncorked the bottle. With a little help from Norman Harris and the hottest musicians in the city of Brotherly Love, this Valentino reworking proved to be the most successful, thanks to its effective Philly soul disco shuffle. Bean, Motown’s first solo act who was openly gay, works up the final line of the verse using a Cee Lo Green grit, singing “I won’t judge you/Don’t you judge me/We’re all the way nature meant us to be.”


“It’s Raining Men”
Weather Girls
#46 pop / 1982
It’s probably the campiest disco song that disco queen Sylvester skipped out on. Luckily, his renowned backup group who were originally known as Two Tons ‘O Fun were available. Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes spread their gospel-inflected vocals all across this spirited Donna Summer-esque track. Over a decade later, RuPaul recruited the girls for his re-imagined Eurodisco copy, but nothing beats the authenticity and fervor of the original.


Christina Aguilera
#2 pop / 2002
Not all gay anthems are intentionally carved out for the dance floors. As an encouraging ballad that’s wrapped in Whitney Houston pop and self-empowerment, “Beautiful” has the same DNA of inspiration that “I Will Survive” has on the dance floor: “We are beautiful no matter what they say/Yes, words won’t bring us down.”


“You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”
#36 pop / 1979
Giorgio Moroder wasn’t the only one going bonkers for the electro dance stuff. On Sylvester’s erotic disco, keyboard wiz James Wirrick redefined the template of hi-NRG using more of a rhythm-based attack than the electro impulses cooked on Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” But it is the mysterious Aretha-styled singer that sells the track. His style, despite its crossdressing enigma, wasn’t too much of a threat on Middle America when the Castro District act transformed into a Top 40 sensation.


“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”
Jennifer Holliday
#22 pop / 1982
Loaded with melodrama and off-the-rafters soulful belting, the Dreamgirls classic turned Jennifer Holliday into an overnight Tony and Grammy wonder and Jennifer Hudson into an Oscar winner. If you’re a big fan of lipsynching, you probably would have giving a Oscar or Tony to some of the drag queens who’ve explored this track during their burlesque shows.


Village People
#2 pop / 1978
Loaded with enough gay innuendo to scare off the Pope. But senior citizens, sports events and karaoke bars just can’t get enough of that irresistible sing-a-long of a chorus. The Village People had endless gay-friendly anthems, ranging from “Go West,” “In the Navy” and “Macho Man,” but “Y.M.C.A” remains their bread-and-butter.


“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
#1 pop / 2008
What gave the gay away in this high-end percussive track was hearing all the disco-thumping dancehall influences tucked inside its production. But it was the music video — featuring Beyoncé and her Robert Palmer girls – J-setting in scary stilettos and transparent Leg-ins — that turned Beyoncé into a posterchild for modern gay divas. It wasn’t all that original though, “Got Me Bodied” explored the format first. But it was “Single Ladies” that made the takeoff.


“Dancing Queen”
#1 pop / 1977
Disco/pop international band ABBA scored their greatest dance tune with the eternal “Dancing Queen” in April 1977, where it went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and duplicated the same success in over thirteen countries. Besides the obvious, “Dancing Queen” reduplicates the ethereal glow of George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby” and spins it into a karaoke sing-a-long that never grows old at the gay circuit parties: “You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life/See that girl, watch that scene, diggin’ the dancing queen.”


“I Will Survive”
Gloria Gaynor
#1 pop / 1979
Somewhere deep in the lyrics, Gloria Gaynor’s self-empowering girl anthem struck a mighty chord with the LGBT community. With disco down and out, the AIDS epidemic of the Eighties created an alarming crisis that reverberated with fear, uncertainty and gloom. Yet even after the disco ball dropped, “I Will Survive” projected an emotional sense of hope: “As long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.”


“I’m Coming Out”
Diana Ross
#5 pop / 1980
Never mind the Gay Pride salutation in the lyric, “I’m coming out/I want the world to know, gotta let it show.” It is Bernard Edwards’ killer bass and Nile Rodgers’ guitar riffs that tricks out this Studio 54 monster jam. But if you want to rub it in, this Diana Ross track makes “coming out the closet” feel like a piece of cake.


“Born This Way”
Lady Gaga
#1 pop / 2011
Mother Gaga summons her little monsters to “put your paws up” and gives them some ballroom advice: “Don’t be a drag/Just be a queen/” It’s possibly the gayest song invented, but its message is actually universal. It touches spirituality (“Believe capital H-I-M”), preaches self-love and spreads tolerance for all mankind, whether you’re black, white, beige or chola descent. It proved to be a monster of a hit after it soared to number one pop.


#1 pop / 1990
It was the only song on the Dick Tracy motion picture soundtrack that didn’t sound like it worked with the vintage time period of the comic book adaption. And “Vouge” didn’t sound like anything Madonna had worked on prior. But the dance-pop/deep house track, co-written by club DJ Shep Pettibone and Madonna, proved to be the perfect introduction to the pop star’s musical evolution into the ‘90’s. The music video is loaded with Michael Jackson genius as Madonna introduces proto-J-setting choreography (“Strike a pose”) to the music video. Today, “vougeing” remains a signature dancefloor attraction within the gay ballroom community.


“Walk On the Wild Side”
Lou Reed
#16 pop / 1972
Lou Reed penned the perfect anthem describing the characters living in Andy Warhol’s world. Tales about transsexuals, prostitutes and oral sex are done up with Bob Dylan-esque poetry. If disco didn’t become the heartbeat of the gay community, Lou Reed’s “Wild Side” would have been its national anthem.
“Free Man”
South Shore Commission
#61 pop / 1977
If you listen to the duet partners of this No. 1 dance/club classic, you quickly assume that the two lead voices are of two male singers. That’s probably the main reason why it was an instant favorite in New York discos, besides the ballzy lyrics declaring a rite of passage towards sexual freedom. But in actuality, the song was a male-female duet.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine



    I’d never heard that Bowie track before-another great list!

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