Ultimate Pride playlist: The 50 best gay songs
Get ready to celebrate with our list of gay anthems to stir the heart and move the hips. Happy Pride, everyone!
Fri Jun 6 2014
LGBT Pride month is here, and that means it's time to celebrate. Across the U.S.—and beyond—millions of revelers are gathering for parades, festivals and parties, all of which have one thing in common: great, anthemic songs. Music has always been an important part of gay culture. Songs of empowerment, hope and self-acceptance all resonate with the queer community, for obvious reasons. Of course, we also love a good novelty tune—hello, "It's Raining Men" and "Y.M.C.A."
So, with all that in mind, we set out to create a soundtrack for the perfect Pride party. Dance classics like "Relax," "Groove Is in the Heart" and "Finally" will have everyone on their feet and working up a sweat. While we did include a few chill-out moments—no Pride anthem list would be complete without Judy Garland's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" or Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors"—some great, gay-beloved songs didn't make the cut in the interest of keeping the tempo up (apologies to Barbra Streisand and the Indigo Girls).
Gay Pride doesn't have to be confined to June, of course. Our playlist will revive the spirit of the season any time of year. So turn it on, crank it up and let your rainbow flag fly.
Written by Brent DiCrescenzo, Adam Feldman, Sophie Harris, Ethan LaCroix, Kris Vire and Kate Wertheimer.
“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
The BBC tried to ban this thumping, boundary-pushing 1984 debut single by Britpop provocateurs Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for sexually suggestive (if confusing) lyrics like these: “Relax, don’t do it / When you want to suck to it / Relax, don’t do it / When you want to come.” The song’s outré original video was a Fellini-esque fantasy involving leathermen, drag queens, tiger wrestling and an obese emperor in a toga, all building to an even more over-the-top climax; the video was banned by the BBC, too (and MTV). But it didn’t matter: The song was a hit, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s time had come.—Adam Feldman
“Finally” by CeCe Peniston
CeCe Peniston's 1991 hit holds up just fine on its own, but it's been elevated to anthem status (and makes the cut here) thanks to its inclusion in the 1994 film classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Two decades later, it's impossible to hear this song without picturing Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce lip-synching along in their eye-popping drag getups.—Ethan LaCroix
“Grace Kelly” by Mika
This bold, fabulous single, from Mika's 2007 Life in Cartoon Motion, is at heart about refusing to change who you are to find acceptance. It's the stuff gay anthems are made of, from the message to the sheer jam-packedness of the music—tap-dancing rhythms, iconic film dialogue, Elton-like piano riffs and campy vocals all work together to create a joyous pop hit. (It also doesn't hurt that Mika is such a dreamboat.)—Kate Wertheimer
“I U She” by Peaches
Peaches may be the sexiest human alive, and the reason is made clear in this song, off 2003's Fatherfucker: "I don't have to make the choice / I like girls and I like boys." Never has sexuality been so fluid (and never have gender norms been so completely disregarded) as in the career of super queer, super talented Merrill Beth Nisker, who pushes the envelope and offends sensibilities at every turn. Also, she fights zombies with Iggy Pop—double swoon.—Kate Wertheimer
“Michael” by Franz Ferdinand
With their sharp button-downs, clean cheeks, perfectly parted hair and Russian Constructivist artwork, Franz immediately stood out among the great unwashed masses of the aughties rock & roll revival. Lazily lumped in with the Hives and whatnot, the four Scots were far more concerned with the dance floor (rhymes here with "dance whore") than the garage. While his peers focused on sneers and riffs, Alex Kapranos zeroed in on sex. "Michael, you're the boy with the leather hips / Sticky hair, sticky hips, stubble on my sticky lips," he sings, as the band rips through disco-punk like a rush to unzip.—Brent DiCrescenzo
“Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” by Sophie B. Hawkins
“I give you something sweet each time you come inside my jungle book,” coos omnisexual chanteuse Sophie B. Hawkins in this sensual 1992 hit, an explosive ode to unfulfilled desire that’s become a Pride staple. MTV banned the supposedly saucy video, but it’s the song that sizzles, as this fully clothed but still sexy version attests. —Sophie Harris
“Wut” by Le1f
It's a rare (and brave) thing to be a gay hip-hop artist, but Le1f is unabashedly queer—and also incredibly talented. "Wut" (2012) was his coming-out single (pun intended?), featuring some insanely tongue-twisting verses and a lot of Le1f thigh in the music video. Is it the coming of a new banjee rap era? Perhaps. Though, as Le1f told Fader, "Gay rap…is not a genre. My goal is always to make songs that a gay dude or a straight dude can listen to and just think, This dude has swag." Mission accomplished.—Kate Wertheimer
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Bananarama
"He'll never love you / The way that I love you," the cool chicks of Bananarama sing in their 1983 pronouns-and-all cover of the Steam oldie. It would be easy to see the song as a bit predatory, but the postpunk trio delivers the lyrics with such casual affection that it comes across as refreshingly oblivious to traditional notions of sexuality.—Ethan LaCroix
“Gay Bar” by Electric Six
“You! I want to take you to a gay bar.” Like many of the tracks on this Detroit dance-rock outfit’s 2003 debut (Fire), “Gay Bar” is infectious nonsense. But its hand-clappy, surf-rock vibe is good fun, and a tongue-in-cheek video, featuring singer Dick Valentine cavorting homoerotically around the White House with a cadre of scantily clad Gaybraham Lincolns, helped make the song a hit at the…you know.—Kris Vire
“Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass
Cass Elliott was a big, warm woman with a big, warm voice, and she didn’t fit easily into the sleek, cool world of pop music; she was unlucky in love, and died of a heart attack at 32. But these are the kinds of things that can make a gay boy love you even more. Part good-time gal pal and part maternal figure, she had credibility in 1969 when—having just ended her stint with the Mamas and the Papas, which forever tagged her as Mama Cass—she sang Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s words of encouragement and independence: “Make your own kind of music / Even if nobody else sings along.”—Adam Feldman
Watch the videos: 50–41
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