Editor’s Note: What I love about working with Jeremy Hinks is his wealth of knowledge when it comes to music. I am no encyclopedia when it comes to all things music so his strength and depth on this topic is very welcome. He asked me if he could share a list of his favorite albums by queer artists. Knowing him, I was not going to see an Adam Lambert or K.D. Lang on this list (but there is some Etheridge!), but the post he was to create would be more than just a list, but it would be a n opportunity for me to not only learn some music history, but also LGBT music history. Thank you Jeremy. And to our readers, take a look and listed to some music that may be outside our normally ingested queer/LGBT music.
It is no secret that I have spanned the music universe looking for THE perfect song. I am happy to say, I have failed, and probably will for my entire life at this task, but I have had a great time looking for it. Along that journey, I have thought a lot about the most influential and just great albums by the artists in the queer community. These are MY favorites, and I have listened to them many many times over the years. When it comes to the top 15 albums by queer artists, I have to say these are the ones that rise to the top. They have stood the test of time, are of great quality music, and their messages are profound and in support of the community. Challenge if you wish, I am always interested in hearing what I might have missed.
HERE GOES: – The links are to the entire albums so if you want, come back here and listen to all the songs on the albums.
15: John Grant “The Queen of Denmark”. First solo album by the musical genius John Grant. Full of vitriolic sarcasm, self jabbing at his own sexuality and bad jokes with a huge side order of “FUCK YOU” with a nice cherry on top. The title song alone warrants buying the record. Piano, soft ensuring vocals then “WHY DON’T YOU TAKE IT OUT ON SOMEBODY ELSE, WHY DON’T YOU TEAR THE SHIT OUT OF SOMEBODY ELSE!!!!”. Unmistakable in its message, self love, and not caring about anything else if its not in your daily life.
14: Melissa Etheridge “YES I AM” . If you needed to title an album to say that you are gay, that one did it. First album of Melissa Etheridge to really crack open her talent to a wider audience. Lots more depth to her emotions, and the experience of dealing with understanding that you can not change your sexuality in “Your body is alive, but no one told you what you’d feel, the empty aching hours trying to conceal, the natural progression is the coming of your age, but they covered it with sin, and turned it into rage”. Passionate, intense, and direct, you feel what she was feeling in her writing. Still as good to listen to now 25 years on.
13: Erasure “The Circus”. The sophomore effort of Vince Clark and Andy Bell. Bell took this opportunity to “out” his flamboyance and androgyny in some songs that were clearly his story. Vince being the synth veteran genius, Bell was often mistaken for a woman with his vocal range and they had just launched after the “Yaz” project with Alison Moyet abruptly ended. The song “Hideaway” explained his coming out, and rejection, urging others in his situation “Don’t be afraid, you don’t have to hideaway”. His accordion skills were fantastic on the title track, but don’t let the sounds fool you, every song on this album has dark and sad lyrics, just written on top of happy up beat synthesizer sounds trademarked by Vincent Clark.
12: Grace Jones “Hurricane”. Final opus (so far) by the “Andro Goddess”, shows her ability to really sing, and wear her heart on her sleeve. None of her previous work was as personal, or as powerful as this album. She is a favorite of the LGBTQ Community, openly bisexual, and has the greatest history of love of gay men from the ’70s til now. Artistic and visually creative and full of stunts, If you haven’t stolen from Grace Jones, you don’t even know where to start with your own image. She defined so much, but this album tears you apart with the opening line “This is my voice, my weapon of choice”. Once you hear this album, you will never get away from it.
11: Judas Priest “Screaming for Vengance”. I loved this album as a kid, and still do. Rob Halford having the most diverse vocal range, singing fantastic heavy metal, when metal was still cool. Halford was not “Out” at this time, but the joke was on everyone, he wasn’t trying to hid anything. He was doing what he loved, singing metal as a “Leatherman”. His fans were not ready to accept that one of the greatest metal vocalists was gay, it was a hard pill for them to swallow though he has no shame about it, and flaunts it. These days driving a pink sequined Harley onto the stage for their concerts. If anyone thought “Gay guys can’t rock out”, well Halford said it best “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”. (Point made, is the video for “Breakin the law” still as silly as it was before you knew he was gay?)
10 : Marc Almond “Enchanted”. Having graduated from Soft Cell, his solo work is overlooked against his earlier work. Enchanted has more depth, artistic vision, musicianship, and pure operatic themes than anything else in his catalog. Soft Cell were legendary with “Tainted Love” and “Sex Dwarf” but none of that holds a candle to the masterpiece of “Enchanted”. This album is an opera in itself with a full orchestra, and some out of place Spanish flare that just takes it through to the end. “The Sea Still Sings In My Heart”.
9: Sylvester “All I need”. The best dance album by the “Queen of Disco” Sylvester James (that title was constantly in dispute with Donna Summer). His biggest dance songs “Hard UP” and “Do You Wanna Funk”.. Nuff said. The underlying riffs of some of his songs ended up in the pilot of the tv series “Buck Rogers”, though no one would have admitted it back then. This album was the one that clashed R&B with dance soul and strings. His falsetto was alarming to many but stood out as his trademark. He had no problem being who he was. Probably the most fun anyone had in a disco album, this is the pinnacle of the movement.
8: My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult “Sexplosion!”. The Chicago based disco act mixed PUNK to come up with early industrial dance music. This album though not their first, was the one that pulled me into their work. A coming of age album, “TKK” were a formidable influence in my sex education as a kid in high school. Most of their work was harder than most gay musicians were making at the time as the focus was on the poppy gay artists. “TKK” managed to throw all the rules to the side and make edgy fun, dark and dirty dance music. “Sexplosion!” just seemed to be the album where it opened Industrial music to the commercial world.
7: Divine “Maid In England”. Divine was the gold standard for drag queens, and favorite child of John Waters. Starting a career in campy trashy B-Movies, (Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, do I really need to give her catalog of films?) she moved on to doing incredible fun racy dance disco albums. This one is a compilation of singles of overly gay themed songs, “You Think You’re A Man”, “I’m So Beautiful” and “Walk Like A Man”. This one was a total score of an album when I was a kid going to dance clubs in 9th grade. What a way to get exposed to the art of drag right? I only knew “You think You’re A Man” for years, as her stuff was so hard to find. Once this album was available, I nabbed a cassette copy, because 22$ for an import LP was too much for a kid back then.
6: Bronski Beat “Age of Consent”. A protest album by front-man Jimmy Sommerville and Steve Bronski in 1984. When homosexuality was still enough to be prosecuted in court even though it had been decriminalized. The album covered many aspects of growing up gay in Scotland. “Smalltown Boy” covered the whole experience as shown in the video, being beat-up by homophobes which turned a blind eye in those days, being kicked out and disowned by his family. The single “Why” covers the desperation they all felt “You and me together, fighting for our love”. The dance songs give you something to enjoy, because the subject matter is anything but pleasant. Sommerville went on to do work in “The Communards” and has stayed a constant voice in the queer community in the UK.
5: Bob Mould “Workbook” . First solo album by punk pioneer Bob Mould after he left “Husker Du”. For sound and songwriting this album was a complete jumping off the cliff for Mould, and it was worth every gamble he took. The opening song “Sunspots” sounded as if he had 3 hands playing the guitar, and it goes on to impress anyone from there. With a cello, and often indirect “swaying” sounds, with “Brasilia Crossed With Trenton”, or the soft then building up to pure rock intensity “Heartbreak a Stranger” leaving you wondering how you could have missed this album. It was 50 years ahead of it’s time, and has been praised for the guitar work by the greats in the industry. The technique for recording is still mind blowing and leaves you speechless once you have gone through this one start to finish. The beginning of Mould’s “Storytelling” work, a must have for any music junkie.
4: David Bowie “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”. The “Andro-Glam” character “Ziggy Stardust” created by David Bowie and his lightly treated science fiction themed album. Opening with a song telling us we had “Five Years” left til the end of the world, no messing about “A cop knelt at the feet of the priest, and the queer threw up at the sight of that”, covering a depressing state of the world, on the micro and macro levels. His greatest album as a whole, no song really stood out over any others, it was a constant epic piece of perfection. Everything about that album from the notes, cover, song order, and production was perfect. It was all perfect then, and just as perfect today. Almost 50 years later this album lives on as one of Bowie’s most popular “Historical Documents”.
3: Takk “Sigur Ros”. From the Icelandic dream post punk metal orchestral ethereal new age world music band “Sigur Ros” (in English “Victory Rose”) comes one of the greatest albums, not just this band but of all time. Pieces from this album have appeared in countless films, documentaries and fan made videos. The openly gay vocalist Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson sings in a funky Icelandic dialect, playing his guitar with a violin bow causing insane distortion, pumped through another amp with all the distortion turned off. Its kind of like, “If god did acid, would he see people? No he would see Sigur Ros in concert.” The most known song is called “Hopoipolla”. It is so beautiful that I want it played at my funeral as the flames engulf my remains reducing me to ashes. It just means “Hopping over puddles”.
2:Lou Reed “Transformer” Lou Reed is the “God Of Rock And Roll”, Transformer was his fantastic album that he recorded after leaving the legendary band “The Velvet Underground”. This album carried his greatest hit “Walk On The Wild Side”, about his friends in New York, it touched on then-controversial topics of sexual orientation, gender identity, prostitution, and drug use. Lou was bisexual, and his approach to telling the world about these topics was in a simple way of, saying it to your face. It influenced so many indie bands and art rock fans alike. Produced by his best friend David Bowie, Lou Reed leaves no stone un-turned in the human experience.
1: Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Welcome To The Pleasuredome”. The album of albums, 1984 saw some great releases. Pleasuredome was one of those albums that will never be forgotten. Covering themes of homosexuality, underground sex clubs, bondage (Relax), nuclear holocaust, Ronald Reagan destroying the world (War and Two Tribes), love (The Power of Love), more sex (Relax), and even a Bruce Springsteen cover (Born to Run). One video had Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Chernencko in a gladiators ring trying to go for each-others “Gear” in the fight. Another video had a man strolling into an underground gay sex club (to a great dance beat). The j-card for the cassette had pictures of a man masturbating under his briefs, and other sultry icons. The title track alone “Welcome To The Pleasuredome” was a 13 minute opus with no real rhyme or reason to its construction, just several different phases of music hacked around and performed, but not really tying any themes together. An un named Easter egg track about orgasms was on the tape, and weaseled itself into the CD. The band took a beating in the mainstream, being banned for all kinds of reasons, their subject matter was so controversial in the Reagan/Thatcher era, and the music itself was pure talent (and a lot to take in with sheer wonder as an 11 year old). It is unbelievable that such an album could have been made, and still stands the test of time. I met one of the members in 1990, and he described the whole experience as “Surreal, fun, and feeling like we had to make a point, but not really knowing what we were doing”. With T-shirts promoting the album “Frankie Say” …. The theme of the album was quietly sung in “Two Tribes” “Tell the world that you’re winning, love and life, love and life”. Long live Frankie, this album will live on forever in music history, only getting more and more appreciation as time goes on.
Honourable Mention: “The Bisexual Rock and Roll Circus” Gabriel and the Apocalypse “Alphabionic”. The best female fronted rock band out there right now. Lindy Gabriel is the Post Mad Max apocalypse dominatrix who you certainly to not want to fuck with… (onstage). Offstage she is the kindest wittiest young woman in rock and roll, who had to reschedule a phone call cause she was on a last minute puppy rescue. When asked about sexuality she said “There is no reason to define or use labels. If the label you put yourself into makes you feel like you need to adhere to it, you might miss out on great things. If you connect with someone, and the sparks fly emotionally, physically, mentally, hey, congratulations. Most of us in the band are just “Sex Positive” and fluid, we try to convey that intensity live.” (and they do, you just need to go see them).
Honourable Mention: Eliza & The Delusionals “A State Of Living In An Objective Reality”. Australian indie bands first complete release, it is a “Shoegazing mixed with Fleetwood Mac” album. The band has various queer members in and out of positions. Most Notably the new lesbian bassist Ruby, who I have to say as a bass player was blown away at what she could do, expect to see her standing in on a RUSH cover band some day soon (she is barely old enough to drive). They have just completed their first “Cutting their teeth” tour of the states opening for veteran indie band “Silversun Pickups” . They were playing larger 4k-6k venues across the states, and once you hear them live, you will know why. They were slated to tour with another larger A-List LGBTQ band later this year, but like all other gigs, this tour was canceled. Eliza can do no wrong.