As LGBT History month comes to a close, IMPACT brings you a choice selection of some of the finest LGBT-affiliated songs to soundtrack your demonstration of pride throughout the year. Where some of these entries are just a few of our favourite tracks by LGBT artists, others have an incredible political, social, and cultural importance in the historical narrative of gay liberation. For more information on commemorating the past, celebrating the present, and creating the future of LGBT communities, please visit: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk
Carl Bean // ‘I Was Born This Way’
For a long time maligned as a genre for being vapid, vacuous and ‘not about anything’, disco nonetheless during its prime birthed a number of striking, defiant songs about ‘something’. As Donald Lynskey put it in his excellent history of protest songs 33 Revolutions Per Minute, although disco generally “had no intellectual axe to grind…it was, at least initially, political by its very existence”. This was never more true than in Carl Bean’s ‘I Was Born This Way’, a rerecording of a Valentino misfire. Released on Motown during their politicised, post-What’s Going On heyday, IWBTW coupled disco’s obligatory optimism with defiant statements like “now I won’t judge you – you don’t judge me” resulting in an anthem ever since cribbed from, sampled and inspired by, in every sense.
Courtney Barnett // ‘Pickles From The Jar’
Courtney Barnett is an extremely cool woman. So is her partner, Jen Cohler. Together they make quite the awesome musical super-group, and I would very much like to be their best friend. Whilst their duet ‘Numbers’ may be the obvious choice for the LGBT playlist, I’ve chosen Barnett’s ‘Pickles from the Jar’, because I think its raw and honest simplicity makes it the perfect love-song. The lyrics are short and sweet, illustrating the differences between her and Cohle (“We couldn’t be more contrary if we tried, Oh, chalk and cheese, we really see eye to eye”). It’s a truthful and authentic account of their relationship, and it makes for an endearing and relatable track.
Frank Ocean // ‘Forrest Gump’
Some people discuss the song’s perspective, but whether it’s written entirely as metaphor or from the perspective of the film-Forrests’ love interest, Jenny, ‘Forrest Gump’ is brave, affecting and funny. The open letter written by Frank Ocean in 2012 in itself was as much of an exquisitely crafted masterpiece as Channel Orange in it’s impact upon hiphop and modern music. With a beautifully crafted, universally acclaimed album to accompany it, Ocean breathed modernity into a genre that is simultaneously so contemporary but so frustratingly stagnant in its approach to LGBT rights. During recording, producer Malay wasn’t sure if Ocean’s use of male pronouns was a use of creative license, or personal. Listening to ‘Forrest Gump’, it almost doesn’t matter – it removes any perceptions of homosexual love and exists solely as a love song, focusing purely on the love, which is really the whole point.
PLANNINGTOROCK // ‘All Love’s Legal’
Bolton born Berliner Janine Rostron has played with the sexuality of her artistic persona since she started out in 2004, long before the resurgence of the civil rights movement we’ve seen in the past 24 months globally. On stage and in photoshoots, she corrupts her pretty features with a disturbing prosthetic nose, and on record her girlish vocals are pitch shifted until they become androgynous. Co-signed by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and signed to his label DFA: Rostron’s 2013 release of the same name wasn’t exactly subtle, boasting track names such as ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, ‘Let’s Talk About Gender Baby’ and ‘Patriarchy Over and Out’ – but this title song is the best of the bunch, dealing in sexuality over gender and featuring an intense and incredibly infectious groove: at once foregrounding her progressive ideology whilst also proving she’s far from defined by it.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood // ‘Relax’
Although FGTH released their debut single, ‘Relax’, late in 1983, the track wouldn’t hit the number one spot in the charts until late January in 1984, following the BBC’s ban of the song, after Radio One DJ Mike Read – who was also the genius behind last year’s UKIP calypso – expressed his distaste for the record’s suggestive, “obscene” imagery. Whilst such distaste for the track was likely accentuated by the fact that two members of FGTH – Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford – openly identified as homosexual, the controversy, at the expense of the Beeb’s subsequent and lasting embarrassment, saw ‘Relax’ soar to the top of the charts, and it leaves an impressive and victorious legacy for one of Britain’s favourite 80s pop groups.
Cakes da Killa // ‘You Ain’t Kno?’
Pansy Division // ‘Denny (Naked)’
Decidedly bleaker than many of the other songs on this list, but ‘Denny (Naked)’ is significant for two key reasons. One, it’s an in-the-trenches illustration of a life few of us experience, and, two, it strikes a near impossible balance between unsentimentality, cynicism, purity and, dare I say, romanticism of a doomed inevitability. Depicting the encroaching end of a young man with HIV, it’s a song whose details suggest a whole – a strained relationship with the narrator, the array of graphic tattoos serving as battle scars and a cut-short porn career which provides the most haunting couplet. A far cry from Pansy Division’s generally more sex-positive lyrics, with the simplicity of a haiku ‘Denny’ is indeed naked, and unnervingly hypnotic.
Perfume Genius // ‘Queen’
Seattle musician Mike Hadreas’ first two records were defined by frailty: covered in beautiful song writing, delicate piano playing, and a voice that sounded like it could break down at any instant. His music dealt with his sexuality as vulnerability, and with tales of his own abuse across the record, such a perspective made sense and was palpable in the tone of the music. ‘Queen’, the first single from his third record, Too Bright, however, saw a radical transformation. Suddenly Mike’s music was packed out with luscious instrumentation, on stage dresses and heels began to appear and, in his words especially, ‘Perfume Genius’ became an unabashed provocateur. “No family is safe, when I sashay!” mocks the chorus, and just like that a generation of young gay men found a new role model: “Don’t you know your Queen?”
Tom Robinson // ‘Glad To Be Gay’
Originally produced to celebrate the 1976 London Gay Pride Parade, and thus, in turn, stress the necessary urgency of the continuing proliferation of gay liberation in Britain, Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad To Be Gay’ stands as a hugely significant cultural artefact in the historical emergence of modern LGBT rights-based activism. As confrontational and subversive as any new wave punk group of the 1970s, ‘Glad To Be Gay’ observed and critiqued the many restrictive, hypocritical and, ultimately, homophobic aspects of British society that undermined the notion of equality for gay people. Covering topics like unfair police harassment, the denigration of Gay News and street violence from “queer bashers”, Robinson asserted that the continuing, overt homophobia in British culture had not been, and could not be, eradicated by the 1967 Sexual Offences Act alone. This track, even today, stands as a rallying cry for solidarity against such prejudice and discrimination.
Featured image from kaybee07 via Flickr