Some critics may already deride “Old Town Road” as a one-hit wonder but the multiple remixes of Lil Nas X’s hit already make it one of the biggest songs of the decade. That the now openly gay singer-songwriter chose a cowboy theme for his track is not surprising. Songs featuring an element of yippee ki-yay old west mythology always found favour with gay music fans. So let’s take a look back at the history of the gay cowboy and cowgirls in song.
Let’s start with “Old Town Road”.
No one should count out Lil Nas X just yet.
The song, based on a Nine Inch Nails-sampling beat Lil Nas X bought from a bedroom producer for $30, already racked up over one billion streams.
The catchy track achieved 506 millions streams world-wide for the original version.
The Billy Ray Cyrus remix added another 779 million.
Last week, Lil Nas X released the fifth official version, this time with K-pop superstars BTS.
Lil Nas X – Seoul Town Road Remix feat. RM of BTS
Unofficial remixes “Old Town Road”
In addition to the official remixes, other musicians took inspiration from the track.
Rapper, singer and songwriter CupcaKKe, famous for her explicit hyper-sexualised lyrics and advocacy for LGBTIQ rights and female empowerment, released a version called “Old Town Hoe”.
Lil Naz X described CupcaKKe’s version as “amazing” and said “I love her.”
CupcaKKe – Old Town Hoe
WARNING – Explicit Lyrics and Imagery
Yet another unofficial version features explicit lyrics celebrating gay male sex acts.
At first listen, the version is ambiguous.
Does it celebrate gay male sexuality or is it actually homophobic?
But that is probably a reaction to decades of parodies intent on demeaning male to male sex.
Lil Nas X himself responded favourably to the version on YouTube.
Old Town Road – Unofficial gay cowboy version
WARNING – Listen at your own peril.
Cowgirl and Cowboy songs of the past
Highly sexualised lyrics in country songs by gay artists are nothing new.
In 1972, Pat Haggerty, the first openly gay country singer, recorded an album of country music with his band Lavender Country.
The album featured tracks like “Come Out Singing”, “Back in the Closet Again”, and the amazing “Cryin’ these Cocksucking Tears”.
Needless to say, in 1972, the band enjoyed limited success.
However they appeared at events like the first ever Seattle Pride.
Shan Ottey, a lesbian radio DJ who previously participated in the Stonewall Riots, found herself banned from the airwaves after broadcasting the song.
Lavender Country – Cryin’ these Cocksucking Tears – Explicit
One of the strangest cowboy song hits of all time is Benny Hill’s Ernie (The fastest Milkman in the West).
The cowboy song parody became a Number One hit in 1971. While not a gay cowboy song, it’s camp as tits.
The lyrics narrate a feud between milkman Ernie and bread delivery man Ted as they compete for the affections of Sue who is on both their rounds.
The song even features a shoot-out but with bottles of milk and baked goods as the weapons of choice.
Now Ernie dragged him from his van and beneath the blazing sun,
They stood there face to face, and Ted went for his bun.
Hill, a comic renowned for innuendo and a lecherous leer, remained a life-long bachelor, though he laughed off suggestions he was gay.
A biography noted he regularly holidayed in cities “noted for the number and ingenuity of the local ladies and gentlemen of easy virtue.”
Whatever Benny’s sexuality, his schtick was camp as a row of tents.
Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
With the emergence of disco in the late 70s cowboys became very popular.
The Village People included a cowboy among their line-up of characters symbolic of gay fantasy personas.
Randy Jones, the original cowboy, was one of hundreds of applicants who answered an ad for band members.
“Macho Types Wanted: Must Dance And Have A Moustache.”
Their only song specifically referencing the west though was the title track of their fourth album “Go West”.
Village People – Go West
Skatt Brothers – unambiguously gay cowboys
Articles all over the internet describe the Skatt Brothers as a straight Canadian response to the Village People.
Who knows where that bit of nonsense originated?
At the time of their success they were known as the unambiguously gay Californian response to the more coded nuance of New York’s Village People.
Skatt Brothers founding member Sean Delaney originally found fame as the ‘fifth member’ of Kiss. He was the long-term partner of their first manager and contributed to the supergroup in managerial roles and through song-writing and musicianship.
After their first hit “Walk the Night”, the Skatt Brothers enjoyed massive success in Australia with “Life at the Outpost”.
With the song only charting in Australia, the band never bothered with a video so their local record company hired some Aussie dancers to mime the song for play on Molly Meldrum’s “Countdown”.
When the band later toured Australia, audiences were disappointed to discover a line-up that differed from that in the film clip.
“Life at the Outpost” proved a huge hit Downunder.
I personally would love a dollar back for every male strip show I ever MCed that included the track.
The North Queensland Cowboys still play “Life at the Outpost” as their victory song, with Townsvilliians belting out the homo-erotic lyric “Give your love to a cowboy man, He’s gunna love ya hard as he can” at every opportunity.
Skatt Brothers – Life at the Outpost
After coming to fame in John Water’s cult movies, one of the most influential drag queens of all time embarked on a successful disco career.
Divine found success with hits like “You Think You’re a Man”, “I’m so Beautiful” and “Walk Like a Man”.
The video for “Walk like a Man” shows Divine as a western saloon girl.
She later reprised the character in the movie “Lust in the Dust” starring alongside Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter.
Divine – Walk Like a Man
I Wanna Be a Cowboy
Boys Don’t Cry’s “I Wanna be a Cowboy” became a hit for the British group in 1986.
Despite releasing further music in the years since, Boys Don’t Cry remain a one-hit wonder with no real chart success other than “I Wanna be a Cowboy”.
Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna be a Cowboy
Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)
American duo Big & Rich took an old gay witticism and turned it into a hit in 2004.
Big & Rich – Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)
Songwriter Ned Sublette wrote a song about gay cowboys in the 80s when he lived for a while in rural America.
He said the song documented something everyone in the West knew but ignored.
Willie Nelson apparently had a cassette of Sublette singing the track for 20 years and loved it.
In response to his long-time friend and manager coming out as gay and to the movie Brokeback Mountain which he contributed a song to, Willie eventually covered the gay cowboy song.
His recording of “Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)” was the first mainstream song by a major country artist with a gay theme.
Willie Nelson – Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)
Our final track is not a cowboy song but a long-time country and western standard, much beloved by comedy drag queens.
Tammy Wynette recorded the best-known version of “Stand By Your Man”.
However, Lyle Lovett later recorded a version also and it provides a poignant encore to the movie “The Crying Game” as it plays over the credits.
Tammy Wynette – Stand By Your Man
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