Here’s a writing prompt one of my WordPress friends, The Finicky Cynic, put out a week ago (a week ago, Allison?):
“What is your song on repeat at the moment, and why?”
Hmm… That’s a hard one for me to think about, I must admit. Lest you judge me by that thought, hear me out: I do like listening to music. What, you think I actually enjoy listening to all-news radio on a regular basis? Au contraire, mon ami. It’s just that my ears don’t tend to gravitate to one particular song or songs that will prompt my brain to keep hittin’ repeat-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat. (Thanks, Selena Gomez & the Scene. *grin*) I will say that my music tastes are somewhat varied and doesn’t single out a specific song or artist.
But what kinds of music do I like, you ask? I will say that I tend to gravitate towards “Adult Album Alternative“and musicians ranging from Elvis Costello and Ray LaMontagne to Sara Bareilles, Liz Phair, and Aimee Mann. (Yeah, the AAA format has a big artist list.) Put it this way, it’s the kind of music you’d hear at a college radio station (such as this one maybe?) or really adventurous public radio outlet (such as this one or this one).
Sometimes, too, my itchy preset-pushing button towards those “golden oldies” channels. You know, the kind that still saves room for the likes of The Beatles and The Beach Boys — and an understanding of those acts’ significance on music history — rather than turn their backs on them in favor of those “all ’80s weekends” that even I, a child of the ’80s, can get sick of after a while, if not after a few minutes.
But I’ll leave that broad discussion of music for another day and another much longer post. Let’s get back to specific songs, as F.C. prompted. Again, I don’t tend to have a let’s-put-it-on-repeat-for-infinity song. And I admit, too, that my hands and I are so busy at work that we don’t always get to write down the title or artist of that wow-that’s-one-awesome-song song playing on that live stream. (Note to self: Try writing some of those down; it may be good for a future post, if not a whole category.)
However, I want to adjust the above prompt a little bit. I will talk up some songs, but I want to have a LGBT theme to this list. There are indeed a ton of LGBT anthems, or songs that can be considered as such (like, say, this list from Time Out New York). But they tend to be the obvious ones that pop immediately in everyone’s mind when they hear the phrase “LGBT anthem” (e.g. “It’s Raining Men,” “Born This Way,” “I’m Coming Out”). I don’t mind hearing those songs every now and again, nor do I dissuade anyone from wearing a groove into the vinyl when they play them over and over. (Note to self: You’re not that old.) But I’m one who goes for “the out of the ordinary” in music sometimes.
So, with all that said, I thought I’d highlight six songs that you may not immediately consider a LGBT anthem. The lyrics to some of these may not be obvious, the music may not have that dance club beat to it, or your local radio station or streaming service of choice may have never heard of it. But listen carefully and you’ll hear music that can strike a chord with anyone in the LGBT community. If you have a pride celebration of any sort this month, don’t fail to add this sextet to your playlist, and put them on repeat if you have to.
So, are you ready to fire up the jukebox? Here goes:
“Make Your Own Kind of Music”
This song, I admit, was suggested by the above Time Out New York link I shared (and here’s that link again). I admit, too, that I had only connected it with its use in Lost‘s second season premiere. But Cass Elliot sings lyrics that give you a feeling of independence and standing firm when those you encounter may not appreciate the unique person you are (especially that first verse).
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”
Okay, this may be a stretch, but since this song was also suggested to me by that same Time Out New York list, I’m starting to dig its LGBT significance. But they’re not talking about the original 1969 version by Steam (with male lead vocals) but the 1983 version by the all-girl group Bananarama. Why that version? Bananarama didn’t change a single male pronoun in the lyrics to female. That means that when they tell their lover, “He’ll never love you, the way that I love you,” the listener doesn’t know if said lover is a man or a woman (they could be genderfluid for all we know). But while you listen to those unmolested pronouns, know that it was released in an era when any indication of being in a same sex relationship could still carry a lot of stigma, which meant that Bananarama’s move was a daring one for its time.
Before I tell you more about this song, an advisory: Be careful if you’re searching for info about “Rise Up” online. There’s an anti-gay song by a conservative artist out there that bears this same title. The “Rise Up” I’ll talk about here is not that song, not by a country mile. Rather, it’s a 1983 song from the Canadian band Parachute Club. If you’re from Canada, you’re probably well familiar with “Rise Up” and its place in the Canadian pop music canon. From its first public performance at 1983’s Toronto pride parade, “Rise Up” has been entwined with the LGBT movement, especially with upbeat lyrics that call for “freedom to love who we please.” But the song has also been used in several other progressive activist movements. Even Canadian politician Jack Layton sought permission to use the song in his campaign for the leadership of the progressive-leaning New Democratic Party. Parachute Club’s Lorraine Segato co-wrote a different song for Layton instead, although she did perform “Rise Up” at Layton’s wedding as well as his 2011 funeral. (The song has still been used as an unofficial anthem in some New Democrat campaigns, though.)
Oddly enough, when learning more about “Rise Up,” it’s interesting to learn that it was never originally intended to be an anthem for the LGBT community; rather, its lyrics were inspired in part by the belief of shared power practiced by some of Canada’s First Nations people. Nevertheless, the above mentioned 1983 pride performance cemented “Rise Up” as a LGBT anthem, and it’s been continued to be played or performed at many pride events in Toronto, if not throughout Canada, over the years, as evidenced by the 2008 performance embedded below. Even though we Americans have never heard “Rise Up” very much on our radios (a real shame), it’s still worth a listen. It is indeed one heck of a song, so much so that it earned the 1984 Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys) for song of the year.
“Love and Compassion”
Speaking of Parachute Club, there’s another song in their repertoire that came out a couple of years after “Rise Up” yet also emphasizes in its lyrics the importance of, well, love and compassion. There’s also a nod to the importance of equality and dignity, as well as an acknowledgement that they all don’t come to us with the snap of the fingers. Those are human traits that everyone longs to receive and give, yet many in the LGBT community have waited what seems like eternity to receive. Let’s hope this song (which really, really rocks, by the way) will remind all of us that nobody of any gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity should have to live without.. well, you know…
“They Don’t Know”
I know, I know. Another song from the ’80s, right? Well, it was first recorded several years before Tracey Ullman made it a hit in 1984 (which was a couple of years before she started telling her stateside audience to “Go Home!”). It’s been recorded several times after Tracey had her take on it. I once heard an acoustic version of this song by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and… well, do you ever notice that when you hear a stripped-down version of a song, you start to get a real sense of its lyrics? Well, that’s what happened when I heard that acoustic version. It immediately dawned on me that this is a perfect anthem for marriage equality and freedom to love, not to mention standing strong against the bigots of the world. Seriously, check out the lyrics, or listen to Kirsty MacColl’s original 1979 version below.
“Our Day Will Come”
Let’s end with a real golden oldie. Yes, many artists of many genres have recorded and performed this absolutely beautiful song over the years, up to and including Amy Winehouse; her soulful version was recorded in 2002 but not released until after her death. (You can hear her version at this lyrics link.) But there’s still something about the original 1963 recording by Ruby & The Romantics, which I’ve embedded below, that really emphasizes, in its spare yet beautiful instrumentals (ooohhh… that organ), the song’s dreamy, optimistic, anticipatory take on what love will bring to those who are patient. Sure, it’s more about falling in love and not so much about marriage equality, but it dawned upon me a few years ago that this song was well suited as an anthem for same-sex couples in their long fight for the right to marry — a day that finally did come to the U.S. one year ago this month, when this song’s lyrics became a fulfilled prophecy. The wait may not have been fun for everyone, but it was a beautiful fight. Here’s hoping this song helped inspire that fight.
Here’s hoping you take the time to listen and appreciate these songs. Here’s hoping, too, that when some website somewhere does their own “LGBT anthem” ranking, these will be a part of their list.
But don’t let me limit the conversation to just six songs. Do you think there’s a not-so-obvious song that would fit this list? If so, feel free to add your two cents in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and for listening.