Music Box: The 100 Greatest, Gayest Albums (of All Time)?
The headline of Out Magazine’s recent list of the The 100 Greatest, Gayest Albums (of All Time) is a bit misleading. One can argue “Greatest”, for it’s opinion over fact, a selective, personal observance that molds the cornerstone in the life of the listener. For example, I might think “Indigo Girls” (#4) is pretentious high school poetry while you think “I Am A Bird Now” (#10) is pretentious art school prose.
But ‘Gayest’? Well, not so easily defined (#4 and #10 notwithstanding). But, the article itself negates its own headline, as it reads:
…we polled more than 100 actors, comedians, musicians, writers, critics, performance artists, label reps, and DJs, asking each to list the 10 albums that left the most indelible impressions on their lives.
Well, “gay indelibility” doesn’t automatically equate “gayness”. While the gay/straight ratio is almost 50/50 (nearly half the titles on the list are by artists that have defined themselves at one point or another as gay/bisexual) the headline should have read “The 100 Greatest Albums as Chosen By 100+ Gay People”. But, that wouldn’t cause much water-cooler talk, now would it? Most folks probably skipped the opening paragraphs of the article and started browsing the list, no doubt screaming, “How is [insert title here] GAY?!?” And I’m sure Out wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Impressive – or psychotic, depending on how you view it – is that I own 93 out of the 100 titles on the list (for those who care, I do not possess #s 22, 23, 45, 48, 56, 89 and 98).
Well, maybe not so “impressive” after all (I mean, I do own 5000+ CDs so chance would have it I would have owned many/most of these titles ), but yeah, a little “psychotic” (just exactly why do I own many CDs I don’ t like?).
I’m just thrilled that there isn’t a Mariah or Whitney in the whole damned bunch.
(Text written by various Out music critics, not me)
1. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972
It’s ironic that an album with an opener forecasting Earth’s expiration and a closer tackling celebrity excess and self-destruction remains one of the most liberating, uplifting records of all time — about as ironic as a straight man topping this list. Robust, swaggering anthems “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City” prove this space odyssey is far from morbid or apocalyptic, yet it is on standouts like the languid, gender-flirting “Lady Stardust” and brash come-on “Moonage Daydream” — in which the singer asks for a raygun to be placed to his head with almost masochistic sexual glee — that Ziggy and his Spiders really shine. When in the grand finale, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” Bowie wails “Oh no love! You’re not alone!” over a sea of theatrical strings, you know he was singing for every exiled, dejected, sexually confused young kid who longed for a world of greater possibilities.
“At a time when social and sexual taboos were just starting to break down, Bowie as Ziggy created a world where the possibilities were limitless. You could be whatever you wanted to be.” — Boy George
2. The Smiths, The Smiths, 1984
After glam rock faded in the mid ’70s, the gay sensibility so integral to British culture was redirected to its pop and dance music. But the Smiths proved the exception to that rule, particularly on the band’s 1984 debut, with a front cover featuring Warhol hunk Joe Dallesandro. As the chiming guitars of Johnny Marr suggest both despair and its transcendence, singer Morrissey articulates alienated longings that gain extra poignancy if one understands them as queer. “You can pin and mount me like a butterfly,” he croons on “Reel Around the Fountain.” Many have dreamed variations on that theme.
3. Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman, 1988
Announcing the arrival of an acoustic singer-songwriter defined by quiet alto anguish and lyrics that speak of social injustices from an insider’s viewpoint, Tracy Chapman’s 1988 debut is a revolution that sounds like a whisper. An eerily memorable chronicle of frustrated dreams, “Fast Car” still seems to slow life down every time it’s played, but the album’s plainspoken love songs — particularly “Baby Can I Hold You” — remain just as eloquent.
4. Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls, 1989
5. Judy Garland, Judy at Carnegie Hall, 1961
“She is a legend for a reason. That performance, at that time, by that woman was clearly once in a lifetime. When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure who needed whom more. Was it the gay men in the audience needing her, or was it her needing them?” — Wilson Cruz, actor
6. The Smiths, The Queen is Dead, 1986
7. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973
8. Madonna, The Immaculate Collection, 1990
9. Cyndi Lauper, She’s So Unusual, 1983
10. Antony and the Johnsons, I Am A Bird Now, 2005
With unflinching passion, a desperate desire for human connection, and a tremulous voice redolent of Nina Simone, cherubic Antony Hegarty — with help from Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, and Boy George — delivered a sparse set of some of the saddest, rawest songs ever recorded. In I Am a Bird Now’s 10 tracks, the singer meditates on the lonesome “middle place” between life and nothingness (“Hope There’s Someone”); gender mutability (“For Today I Am a Boy”); sadomasochism (“Fistful of Love”); and, on the album’s breathtaking climax, “Bird Gerhl,” the sublime freedom of flying alone.
11. Various artists, Hedwig and the Angry Inch soundtrack, 2001
12. The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967
13. Ani DiFranco, Dilate, 1996
“The record took me two years to digest; it overwhelmed me. Ani put words to experiences from my generation with poise and generosity I had never and still haven’t heard.” — Melissa Ferrick, folk musician
14. Erasure, The Innocents, 1988
15. George Michael, Faith, 1987
16. Queen, A Night at the Opera, 1975
17. Lou Reed, Transformer, 1972
“The gender-bending ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ is (as far as we know) the only song about transsexuals, male prostitution, and blowjobs to hit the Top 40. Bonus points for the leather hunk with a giant hard-on on the back cover.” — queer psych-prog band Mirror Mirror
18. George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. I, 1990
The 6 1/2-minute “Freedom ’90” was not only the first great pop song of that decade, it was George Michael’s condensed autobiography — the true story of a boy who had painted himself into a corner but was dying to come out. So he recast himself with lip-syncing supermodels, stopped touring, and began to quietly make good on his promise to “take these lies and make them true somehow.” There are other excellent songs on Listen Without Prejudice (most notably the viciously political “Praying for Time”), but it is the gospel choir-worthy “Freedom” that will remain a queer anthem.
19. The B-52s, The B-52’s, 1979
“I remember auditioning for the character of Duckie in Pretty in Pink and bringing in ‘Planet Claire’ to dance to in front of the director. I still hate Jon Cryer.” — John Cameron Mitchell
20. Queen, A Day at the Races, 1976
21. David Bowie, Hunky Dory, 1971
22. The Gossip, Standing in the Way of Control, 2006
23. Deee-Lite, World Clique, 1990
24. Sylvester, Living Proof, 1979
25. k.d. lang, Ingénue, 1992
With its silky textures and subtle, slinky rhythms, 1992’s Ingénue shifted k.d. lang’s musical focus from the prairie to a cabaret of her own design. “Miss Chatelaine,” her dreamy Lawrence Welk tribute (as its video bears out), birthed a butch-goes-femme lesbian variation on camp that narrowed the aesthetic divide between lang’s sapphic sisters and her gay brothers, while “Constant Craving” wooed adult pop radio and scored lang her well-deserved third Grammy, transforming this Canadian country crooner into an unconventional mainstream icon. In live performance lang remained a wild thing, but on her fifth and most popular album, she’s deliciously smooth — nearly regal with poise.
26. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters, 2004
27. Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), 1983
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s romantic partnership had ceased by the time of its release, but that troubled relationship is at the core of Sweet Dreams. On the title track the yin/yang of Stewart’s driving synths with Lennox’s ethereal vocals is as electrifying today as it was 25 years ago, but while the single scored their first (and only) U.S. number 1, it’s the spectral “Love Is a Stranger” and “This City Never Sleeps” that evoke the mood of foreboding and loneliness that came to dominate Lennox’s solo career.
28. Queen, The Game, 1980
29. Pet Shop Boys, Actually, 1987
30. Diana Ross, Diana, 1980
31. Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstacy, 1993
“Lesbians all across the world have had sex to this record. A lot of sex.” — Jen Foster, folk musician
32. The Smiths, Meat Is Murder, 1985
33. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow, 1984
34. Donna Summer, Bad Girls, 1979
35. Yaz, Upstairs at Eric’s, 1982
When this synth-pop duo first appeared, many thought its singer was a black gay man. In fact, Yaz (or Yazoo, outside the United States) was deep-voiced English chanteuse Alison Moyet and fellow Brit Vince Clarke (formerly of Depeche Mode). Together they merged hot soul and icy arpeggios not only for “Situation,” one of the first new wave crossovers from gay clubs, but also for the album’s equally explosive ballads. After one more album Moyet went solo, while Clarke created another pioneering synth-pop duo: Erasure.
36. Madonna, Erotica, 1992
“Madonna was fully exploring her sexuality with the simultaneous release of Erotica and the Sex book, and as a budding young queer teen, I had never heard a mainstream artist tell me it was OK to love who I love and have sex with who I want.” — Ari Gold, pop singer
37. Blondie, Parallel Lines, 1978
38. Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis, 1969
Despite its many songwriters, this exquisitely sequenced album by British songbird Dusty Springfield presents a unified statement on the tumultuous nature of love. It didn’t sell spectacularly, even while yielding the instant classic “Son of a Preacher Man,” but it has long been considered a pinnacle of white soul. When Springfield follows the philosophic “No Easy Way Down” with the pleading “I Can’t Make It Alone,” the effect is softly devastating. A year later she spoke openly of her same-sex attractions.
39. Laura Nyro and Labelle, Gonna Take A Miracle, 1971
“Nyro brought in Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash (well before ‘Lady Marmalade’), and the four voices are staggering, heartbreaking, and roof-shaking. It’s simple music that was never written to be this complex, but these girls looked at it from another angle, which is the hallmark of the gay approach to life — and which so often results in great art.” — Bruce Vilanch, comedian
40. Pet Shop Boys, Behavior, 1990
41. Melissa Etheridge, Yes I Am, 1993
42. ABBA, Gold, 1992
43. Prince, Purple Rain, 1984
44. Pet Shop Boys, Very, 1993
The foppish synth-pop duo’s coming-out album, released at such a politically charged era in queer history, unspools like an unabashed crash course in gay. Self-deception (“Can You Forgive Her?”), the AIDS crisis (“Dreaming of the Queen”), and feigned barroom indifference (“To Speak Is a Sin”) all show up to the party, before Neil Tennant’s tenor throws open the doors and summons us to a campy utopia in the bittersweet Village People remake “Go West.”
45. Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped, 1993
46. Madonna, Ray of Light, 1998
47. The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, 1999
48. Cris Williamson, The Changer and the Changed, 1975
49. Patti Smith, Horses, 1975
50. Rufus Wainwright, Poses, 2001
51. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, 1984
52. Kate Bush, Hounds of Love, 1985
“What I love about this album is essentially what I love about being gay. It’s eccentric, wildly imaginative, and has a completely naive view of the world in which it exists. In Kate Bush’s conceptual world the clouds make magical shapes in the sky, God can change the place of a man and a woman, and innocence is lost only to give way to the beauty of romance. I paint the memory of my coming out in similarly vibrant and violent colors.” — Darren Hayes, pop singer, formerly of Savage Garden
53. Culture Club, Colour by Numbers, 1983
54. Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes, 1992
“A song has the ability to convey so many emotions, and that’s exactly what this exquisite album does. It takes you on a very powerful journey.” — Perez Hilton, blogger
55. David Bowie, Diamond Dogs, 1974
56. Team Dresch, Personal Best, 1994
57. Prince, Dirty Mind, 1980
58. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville, 1993
59. Bronski Beat, The Age of Consent, 1984
“It was the first overtly political queer album. It saved lives and broke hearts.” — Kiki and Herb’s Justin Bond
60. R.E.M., Automatic for the People, 1992
61. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out, 1997
62. Jeff Buckley, Grace, 1994
“My first boyfriend lived in New York City when we met, and he insisted I buy this cassette. Jeff’s angelic voice and soul-wrenching lyrics touched my heart immediately. During my first trip to New York to visit said boyfriend, he and I got into a huge fight. While I was wandering alone around the East Village, I ran into Jeff outside a music venue. I told him I loved his music. He told me he loved my shirt. I immediately tracked down the boyfriend for make-up sex.” — Darryl Stephens, Noah’s Arc
63. Björk, Debut, 1993
64. Patti Smith, Easter, 1978
65. Le Tigre, Le Tigre, 1999
“It was the soundtrack to the queer cultural landscape of the late ’90s. It inspired countless girls to pick up instruments and give a shit about what was going on. It was riot grrrl with a bit more technology and dance appeal.” — Scream Club
66. Soft Cell, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, 1981
Of all the new wave albums to have conquered the charts, Soft Cell’s debut is the most deliciously sleazy: It sounds as though it was recorded in a Times Square peep-show booth. Known primarily for the album’s massive synth-pop reworking of Gloria Jones’s cult soul classic “Tainted Love,” the British duo of queer singer Marc Almond and keyboardist Dave Ball also documents the last gay gasp of pre-AIDS abandon in tracks like “Seedy Films” and “Sex Dwarf” as well as the sobering mornings after in “Bedsitter.” Almond misses notes but, more important, nails the tenderness at the heart of the hedonism.
67. Hüsker Dü, Candy Apple Grey, 1986
68. Nirvana, Nevermind, 1991
69. Frances Faye, Caught in the Act, 1959
Perhaps the most unjustly forgotten nightclub singer in queer history, Frances Faye was a brassy bisexual broad whose act was equal parts cabaret and comedy, a mischievous love child of Mae West and Cole Porter. Caught in the Act — a live recording from 1958 featuring her wild versions of “Night and Day” and “The Man I Love” — is rare, undeniable evidence that her fans, including Rock Hudson, Barbara Stanwyck, and even Paul McCartney, were in on all the dirty jokes. In “Frances and Her Friends” anything goes: “I know a guy named Willie / Willie goes with Tilly / Tilly goes with Millie / What a ball!” And the crowd goes wild.
70. Rent original Broadway cast, Rent, 1996
71. Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, 1975
72. Donna Summer, Once Upon a Time, 1977
73. various artists, Fame soundtrack, 1980
74. Michael Jackson, Off the Wall, 1979
75. Carole King, Tapestry, 1971
76. Ani DiFranco, Imperfectly, 1992
77. New Order, Substance, 1987
78. various artists, The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, 1975
“I was a regular Rocky midnight attendee by the time I was 11 (courtesy of my best friend’s hippie Mom). Now I’m a singin’ dancin’ tranny with a penchant for tranny girls in fishnets. You do the math.” — Sean Dorsey (trans choreographer, dancer, and Artistic Director Fresh Meat Productions) and Shawna Virago (trans rock star, activist, Director Tranny Fest)
79. T. Rex, Electric Warrior, 1971
80. Rufus Wainwright, Want One, 2003
81. Scissor Sisters, Ta-Dah, 2006
82. Cher, Believe, 1998
83. Bette Midler, The Divine Miss M, 1972
84. Cyndi Lauper, True Colors, 1986
85. Nina Simone, Anthology, 2003
86. Madonna, Madonna, 1983
“I was in love with her. I never wanted to be her but I definitely wanted to hold hands. I still have my Like A Virgin tour t-shirt. I can tell you what I wore to the concert but that might be really saying too much. One word… AWKWARD!” — Melissa York, drummer for the Butchies and Team Dresch
87. Madonna , Confessions on a Dance Floor, 2005
88. Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade, 1984
89. Fifth Column, To Sir With Hate, 1986
90. Kate Bush, The Kick Inside, 1978
“This is frilly and gorgeous and even new agey but for some reason also ‘hip’ so i was able to drench myself in it without worrying about getting beaten up.” — Nils Berstein, Matador Records
91. Grace Jones, Nightclubbing, 1981
92. Morrissey, Viva Hate, 1988
93. Sade, Lovers Rock, 2000
94. Hair original Broadway cast, Hair, 1968
95. Culture Club, Kissing to Be Clever, 1982
96. Nick Drake, Bryter Layter, 1970
97. Janis Ian, Between the Lines, 1975
98. Ferron, Testimony, 1980
99. Joni Mitchell, For the Roses, 1972
“An album to play alone in your bedroom when the phone doesn’t ring after your virginity is gone.” — Tom Kalin, director Savage Grace
100. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967
“I couldn’t help being influenced by this truly trailblazing album by the ultimate pop group who was managed by a gay man, Brian Epstein. The world would have missed this cultural watershed without his influence.” — Holly Johnson, Frankie Goes to Hollywood