The LGBTIQ communities always loved music – and some music loved them back. We’ve taken a stroll through over half a century of LGBTIQ anthems and favourites looking for the standouts. Here’s our top 35. See what you think.
Over the Rainbow
Judy Garland’s signature song found fans in the LGBTIQ communities for decades with its yearning for a better place.
Coming as it did from The Wizard of Oz, a movie that argued for acceptance of difference, the song never lost its appeal.
Judy Garland’s lifetime history as an ally to the LGBTIQ communities and fabled connection to the Stonewall Riots probably didn’t hurt either.
“Someday, I’ll wish upon a star, Wake up where the clouds are far behind me,
“Where trouble melts like lemon drops, High above the chimney top, That’s where you’ll find me.”
Somewhere from the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story became an instant gay anthem in a deeply closeted US.
“Someday, somewhere, We’ll find a new way of living, Will find a way of forgiving,
“Somewhere… There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us…”
The gay composer Stephen Sondheim denied the song referred to gay people, however.
“If you think that is a gay song, then all songs about getting away from the realities of life are gay songs.”
“Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy, But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine. Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola.
“Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand, Why she walked like a woman but talked like a man.”
The, at the time, controversial lyrics about a straight man picking up a drag queen, saw Lola initially banned in Britain and Australia.
Ironically, it later became the world’s most popular jukebox song, and also much beloved by pub covers bands.
LGBTIQ people took great pleasure watching yobs belt out the lyrics seemingly unaware of their meaning.
Walk on the Wild Side
Walk on the Wild Side with its overt references to transgender people, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex was groundbreaking. Lou Reed wrote the song about several of the stars of Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory.
“Candy came from out on the Island, In the back room, she was everybody’s darling. But she never lost her head, Even when she was giving head…”
Despite Lou Reed saying he wrote the songs about people he knew, Joe Dallesandro insisted he never met the singer at that time. Dallesandro also consistently denies suggestions of bisexuality or that he ever undertook sex work. And he denies that a performer that looks identical to him in several porn loops of the era is in fact him.
After declaring himself bisexual in a 1972 interview with Melody Maker, David Bowie in 1974 released Rebel Rebel. The gender-bending lyrics appealed to the 1970s youth ethos of sexual and personal freedoms.
“You got your mother in a whirl, She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”
Though Bowie later went quiet on his claimed sexuality saying “I was always a closet heterosexual,” few believed him. Many surmise he toned down references to his sexuality in order to increase sales in the more conservative US music market.
The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)
In 1976, Rod Stewart released a powerful ballad about discrimination against gays.
Inspired by the death of a friend in 1974, the song spent 10 weeks in the UK singles charts and enjoyed some success in Europe, Canada, and the US.
Many gay men attribute the song with helping them endure the discrimination of the time. Rod Stewart’s notorious heterosexuality probably made his defence of gay people all the more powerful.
“Georgie boy was gay I guess, Nothin’ more or nothin’ less, the kindest guy I ever knew.”
“Friday night and the lights are low, Looking out for a place to go, Where they play the right music, Getting in the swing, You come to look for a king.”
An LGBTIQ favourite from its release, ABBA’s Dancing Queen perhaps remains one of the most enduring gay anthems.
I Will Survive
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong, And I grew strong…”
Perhaps the leading gay anthem of all time, gospel singer Gloria Gaynor belted out her determination and found a ready audience.
Originally released by the Village People, Go West enjoyed greater success when later covered by the Pet Shop Boys.
Understood as a rallying cry to head west to the 70s gay mecca of San Francisco, the song gained an instant gay following.
“(Together) we will go our way, (Together) we will leave someday, (Together) your hand in my hands, (Together) we will make our plans.”
We are Family
Co-written by Nile Rodgers, a man who had a huge impact on pop music in the 70s and 80, and indeed, also on this list, We Are Family became the signature song of Sisters Sledge, and for many years, of the LGBTIQ communities.
“Everyone can see we’re together, As we walk on by. (And) and we fly just like birds of a feather, I won’t tell no lie.”
I’m Coming Out
Nile Rodgers also co-wrote Diana Ross’s 1980 hit. He found inspiration for the song when he saw three drag queens dressed as Ross in a nightclub.
“I’m coming out, I want the world to know, Got to let it show, I’m coming out.”
Before she embraced her LGBTIQ audience, Ross apparently accused Rodgers of trying to ruin her career once someone enlightened her on the double meaning of the lyrics.
However, despite her reservations, the song became a hit and remains a staple of her live performances.
Originally recorded in 1964 as a straight-forward hetero breakup song, Tainted Love came to be seen in a whole new context when Marc Almond sang the lyrics.
“Once I ran to you (I ran), Now I’ll run from you, This tainted love you’ve given, I give you all a boy could give you.”
Almond’s vocals gave the words ‘tainted love’ a whole new resonance as LGBTIQ people began to sneer at the perception their lovemaking was somehow perverse and distasteful.
In his fourth album, Prince addressed some rumours about him. Many saw the song as addressing the judgemental nature of the US under Ronald Reagan.
“I just can’t believe all the things people say, Controversy, Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Controversy, Do I believe in God, do I believe in me? Controversy.”
I’m Still Standing
Although Elton John describes I’m Still Standing as a response to his surviving the punk and new romantic music periods as a rock musician, the song also worked as an ode to resilience, making it an LGBTIQ fav.
“Don’t you know I’m still standing better than I ever did, Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid. I’m still standing after all this time, Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.”
I Want to Break Free
The sight of all the members of Queen dressed as women came as a shock to some of their fans.
The band enjoyed almost worshipful respect from their fans with a body of work including Bohemian Rhapsody.
Nevertheless, the entire band pulled on heels for the 1984 video and played the part of characters in the soap opera Coronation Street.
“It’s strange but it’s true, yeah, I can’t get over the way you love me like you do, But I have to be sure, When I walk out that door. Oh, how I want to be free, baby.”
You Think You’re A Man
Written by the guy who later wrote the Kinky Boots movie, You Think You’re a Man also gave Stock/Aitken/Waterman their biggest single until that time.
Charismatic and outrageous, Divine strutted onto the music scene with a defiance hitherto not much seen in openly LGBTIQ performers.
“Turn around, Stand up like a man and look me in the eye. Turn around, Take one final look at what you left behind. Then walk away, From the greatest lover you have ever known…”
Finally is an outlier in a list of LGBTIQ anthems. A fairly straightforward hetero love song, perhaps its inclusion in the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert soundtrack helped it with the LGBTIQ communities.
“Finally you’ve come along. The way I feel about you, it just can’t be wrong. If you only knew, the way I feel about you, I just can’t describe it, oh no no…”
Justified and Ancient
The KLF breathed new life into their previous single Justified and Ancient when they released a new version in 1991 featuring Tammy Wynette.
Although regarded pretty much a has-been by the early 90s, Tammy remained an icon of country music. She also had an enduring gay following for her signature song Stand By Your Man.
“They’re Justified, and they’re Ancient, And they like to roam the land. (just roll it from the top) They’re Justified, and they’re Ancient, I hope you understand.”
k.d.lang’s ethereal wail of desire won her a Grammy.
However, in 1993, the idea of a masculine-presenting lesbian achieving legitimacy through a music award horrified some. Consequently, religious groups protested outside the Grammys complaining of her win.
“Even through the darkest phase, Be it thick or thin, Always someone marches brave, Here beneath my skin. And constant craving, Has always been…”
Rhythm is a dancer
Any song that mentions freedom stands a chance for inclusion in lists of LGBTIQ anthems. That certainly proved true for the Eurodance group Snap! who enjoyed their biggest hit with Rhythm is a Dancer.
“Rhythm is a dancer, It’s a soul companion. You can feel it everywhere, Lift your hands and voices, Free your mind and join us. You can feel it in the air.”
Free remains the biggest hit ever for Ultra Naté, one of the most successful dance acts of all time as singer, producer, songwriter, DJ, and promoter. Go girl!
“Cos you are free to do what you want to do. You’ve gotta live your life. Do what you want to.”
Dana International progressed transgender visibility in leaps and bounds when she won 1998 Eurovision with Diva.
She remains a successful recording artist and is a high profile advocate for LGBTIQ rights in Israel and the Middle East.
“And when she cries, Diva is an angel. When she laughs, She’s a devil. She is all beauty and love. Viva Maria, Viva Victoria, Aphrodite, Viva le Diva…”
Countless Cher songs seem appropriate for inclusion in a list of LGBTIQ anthems. Just who sang them seems sometimes reason enough for inclusion. However, Strong Enough, because of its lyrical claim to resilience, takes out the prize.
“Cause I’m strong enough, To live without you. Strong enough, And I quit crying. Long enough, Now I’m strong enough, To know. You gotta go.”
Sung by former M People singer, Heather Small, Proud proved an immediate hit with all sorts of people, traditionally thought not to have reason to be proud.
“I look into the window of my mind, Reflections of the fears I know I’ve left behind, I step out of the ordinary, I can feel my soul ascending, I am on my way…”
How could this song not succeed? Sung by one of the top singing stars of the time, Beautiful was written by Linda Perry, lead singer and primary songwriter for 4 Non-Blondes.
Although 4 Non-Blondes only found real success with the single What’s Up, that proved enough. What’s Up remains an evergreen favourite. Linda Perry has also penned and produced numerous other hits for singers like Pink and Gwen Stefani.
“Now and then I get insecure, From all the pain, I’m so ashamed, I am beautiful, No matter what they say…”
All the Things She Said
There is no doubt some of the success of All the Things She Said stemmed from t.A.T.u.’s lesbian schoolgirl imagery. Although it’s important to remember, such imagery finds its biggest fans among hetero men.
Nevertheless, the girls gained a stanch LGBTIQ following, even despite some disappointment when the lesbianism proved to be a promotional ploy.
“All the things she said, all the things she said, Runnin’ through my head, runnin’ through my head, Runnin’ through my head.”
Supermodel (You Better Work)
After the success of Divine as a drag queen, then came Boy George and Marilyn with their more androgenous vibe. But it took RuPaul to bring the drag queen as sexual vixen to the world of pop music with Supermodel (You Better Work).
There’s no real need to recount her career since.
“Work (Supermodel) You better work it girl (Of the world) Wet your lips and make love to the camera, Work, Turn to the left, Work, Now turn to the right, Work, Sashay, shantay…”
I Kissed a Girl
Originally this song attracted criticism for its lesbian theme. However, some now see I Kissed a Girl “as the beginning to LGBT awareness in pop music” according to Wikipedia. That would no doubt be people who were born yesterday.
That’s no criticism of the song though – a fun, light-hearted panegyric to girlish fun.
“I kissed a girl and I liked it, The taste of her cherry chap stick, I kissed a girl just to try it.”
Dancing On My Own
There’s no ambiguity in Robyn’s lyrics. She’s a woman in love with a woman and her words never equivocate on that.
Robyn says her ” love of inherently sad, gay disco anthems” inspired the track.
“I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home, ooo, I keep dancing on my own.”
Born This Way
Already well-established as an LGBTIQ ally, and icon, Gaga only increased her appeal to those communities with her 2011 hit.
“It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M, Just put your paws up ’cause you were born this way, baby, My mama told me when I was young, We are all born superstars.”
Let It Go
LGBTIQ people seem to adore the fairy tales of fellow traveler Hand Christian Andersen. Perhaps the only thing gay men love more is all things Disney.
Add to that Elsa’s supposed lesbianism. Then, there’s the parallel between Elsa’s story and that of kids growing up in the closet. Therefore, it’s no wonder Let It Go became an LGBTIQ anthem.
“A kingdom of isolation, And it looks like I’m the queen, The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside, Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried, Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.”
Sia, who describes her sexuality as ‘flexible’ wrote the ultimate hymn to survival and resilience.
Alive tells the story of a woman who appears to have been to hell and back. Yet, the lyrics also emphasise the importance of getting through – of surviving no matter what is thrown at you.
“I had a one-way ticket to a place where all the demons go, Where the wind don’t change, And nothing in the ground can ever grow, No hope, just lies, And you’re taught to cry into your pillow, But I survived.”
Lizzo says, “I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing… That’s why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there’s a spectrum and right now we try to keep it black and white. That’s just not working for me.”
A staunch advocate for the LGBTIQ communities, her fans are known as Lizzbians.
“Why men great ’til they gotta be great? Woo, I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch.”
Troye Sivan appears relatively unknown among older gays while fast becoming an icon for the younger.
Thought of by some as a ballad to bottoming, something Troye Sivan confirmed, Bloom is filled with metaphors for gay sex.
“And, boy, I’ll meet you right there, We’ll ride the rollercoaster, ‘Cause it’s true, baby, I’ve been saving this for you, baby.”
Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels
Gay Star News described Nails, Hair, Hips Heels as “begging to be danced to and blasted at all Pride celebrations.”
And that’s true. An LGBTIQ anthem for our time.
Unashamed, unabashed and Gay As Fuck – that’s our Todrick.
“Girl, what did that girl just say, girl? Girl, I don’t dance, I work, I don’t play, I slay, I don’t walk I strut, strut, strut and then sashay (okay).”
Do you think we missed any songs that should join these?
Or did we include something you think doesn’t belong?
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