For many of us, nothing quite says Gay Pride Month like sparkling sequins, a twirling disco ball and a triumphant diva(s) with glass-shattering pipes.
Of course, those elements may not appear in each of the 30 songs to make our list of best gay anthems ever, but we like to think of them as recurring themes. But what is it, exactly, that makes an unforgettable gay anthem?
No doubt world-weary torch songs about regret or the search for love (Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away”) rank high on the list, as do danceable proclamations of self-confidence (Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Cher’s “Believe,” to name just two). And then, of course, there’s the pure, unadulterated celebration of sexuality (Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”).
From Barbra to Kylie, George to Adam, “Vogue” to “Firework” — kick off your Pride by taking a look at our favorite gay anthems below, and be sure to let us know which ones we’ve missed!
For ongoing Pride coverage, visit our Pride 2012 page, where we’re featuring news stories, Pride previews, photo slideshows, blog posts, and more all month long.
‘Over The Rainbow,’ Judy Garland (1939)
It’s shocking to think now, but Judy Garland’s signature tune was initially deleted from “The Wizard of Oz” because MGM executives thought it slowed down the action of the film. Ranked by the American Film Institute as the “greatest movie song of all time,” it has since been recorded by Eva Cassidy, Patti LaBelle, Kylie Minogue, Matthew Morrison and others.
‘The Man That Got Away,’ Judy Garland (1954)
“A Star is Born” helped revive Judy’s then-floundering movie career in 1954 (though she lost out on an Oscar to Grace Kelly in “The Country Girl”) and this memorable solo number quickly became a regular part of her concert repertoire going forward.
Interestingly, the song has also been covered by a number of men, including Rufus Wainwright and Broadway performer Raul Esparza, without changing the gender.
‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from ‘Funny Girl,’ Barbra Streisand (1968)
Years before it became known to teen audiences as a staple of “Glee” star Lea Michele, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” was a signature tune for Barbra Streisand, who crooned it in both the stage and screen versions of the musical “Funny Girl.”
‘Dancing Queen,’ ABBA (1976)
ABBA’s only No. 1 U.S. hit, “Dancing Queen” originally contained another verse which was scrapped in the final recording: “Baby, baby, you’re out of sight/hey, you’re looking alright tonight/when you come to the party/listen to the guys/they’ve got the look in their eyes…”
‘I Will Survive,’ Gloria Gaynor (1978)
Gaynor’s smash because the first — and only — song to ever receive the Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording in 1980, as the award was discontinued the following year.
Interestingly, the success of “I Will Survive” was sheer luck: the song was originally released as the B-side to a cover version of the Righteous Brothers’ “Substitute,” but club and radio DJs opted to play the other side of the record instead.
‘Last Dance,’ Donna Summer (1978)
The theme song to the film “Thank God It’s Friday” was one of the first disco songs to also feature slow-tempo segments.
Although the song cemented Summer’s “Queen of Disco” moniker, the star is said to have always resented that reputation. “I do not consider myself a disco artist,” she once told emTime/em magazine. “I consider myself a singer who does disco songs.”
‘Y.M.C.A.,’ Village People (1978)
Though “Y.M.C.A.” is often understood as a reference to the Young Men’s Christian Association’s perceived reputation as a popular gay cruising and hookup spot, the Village People’s lead singer Victor Willis (who appeared both as “The Cop” and “The Naval Officer”) has claimed the song was written rather as a reflection of young urban black youth.
‘We Are Family,’ Sister Sledge (1979)
“We Are Family” wasn’t just a dance smash, it was also the theme song for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.
As if to cement its reputation as a gay anthem, the song was featured in both the 1996 film “The Birdcage,” starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, and the 1997 film “The Full Monty,” about a group of working-class British men who decide to form a male striptease troupe.
‘I’m Coming Out,’ Diana Ross (1980)
Nile Rodgers, who also produced smash hits for David Bowie and Madonna among other artists, is said to have come up with the idea for the song after noticing three different drag queens dressed as Diana Ross at a New York club.
In 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. sampled this on the track “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” which became a No. 1 hit in the U.S.
‘It’s Raining Men,’ The Weather Girls (1982)
“I thought, ‘Nobody is going to buy this song. Nobody is going to believe this,’” Martha Wash now recalls of recording the song — which had previously been rejected by Barbra Streisand, Cher and Donna Summer among others — with her fellow Weather Girl Izora Armstead, who died in 2004.
Wash’s doubts were quickly proven wrong, however, as the single nabbed the top spot on the Billboard dance charts and has since been covered by RuPaul and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, whose version was featured on the soundtrack of “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”
‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from ‘Dreamgirls,’ Jennifer Holliday (1982)
One of the few recent Broadway ballads to achieve success on the pop charts, “And I Am Telling You…” made a superstar out of Jennifer Holliday, who originated the role of Effie White in the musical “Dreamgirls,” in 1982, and then did the same nearly 25 years later for Jennifer Hudson, who portrayed the character in the acclaimed movie version.
‘I Am What I Am’ From ‘La Cage Aux Folles,’ Gloria Gaynor (1983)
Arguably the best-known song from the 1983 musical “La Cage aux Folles,” “I Am What I Am” didn’t quite repeat the chart success of “I Will Survive” for Gaynor, but nonetheless went on to become the second of her singles to achieve gay anthem status.
‘I Want To Break Free,’ Queen (1984)
Queen frontman Freddie Mercury remains an LGBT icon for many reasons — as one of rock music’s first performers to not only acknowledge his bisexuality, but also embrace it in his flamboyant stage presence. Mercury’s openness was certainly envelope-pushing in the world of 1970s and ’80s arena rock, and it only seemed to further his band’s popularity among the masses.
The video for the song, which featured Freddie and other band members in full drag, was considered controversial in the U.S. and initially banned by MTV.
‘Relax,’ Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984)
When it was initially released, “Relax” sparked controversy for what some interpreted as graphic lyrics — “When you want to come,” for instance, was thought to be a reference to orgasm.
In addition, the original version of the video showed lead singer Holly Johnson cavorting in a leather bar along with other blatant homoerotic imagery, and was banned by MTV.
‘True Colors,’ Cyndi Lauper (1986)
Although Lauper’s smash single has long been embraced a gay anthem, co-writer Billy Steinberg (who also penned Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” and the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” with Tom Kelly) is said to have written the song about his own mother.
The song’s title also became the name of Lauper’s New York City-based foundation for homeless LGBT youth.
‘A Little Respect,’ Erasure (1988)
A 2010 remix of Erasure’s 1988 hit merely re-affirmed its status as a gay anthem, with sales benefitting the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the home of the Harvey Milk High School in New York City.
In 2004, lead singer Andy Bell, who is openly gay, confirmed he was HIV-positive, noting, “My life expectancy should be the same as anyone else’s, so there is no need to panic. There is still so much hysteria and ignorance surrounding HIV and AIDS. Let’s just get on with life.”
‘Vogue,’ Madonna (1990)
One of the Material Girl’s seminal (and, arguably, most gay-encompassing) smash hits almost didn’t see the light of day on radio, as it was originally planned as the B-side to “Keep It Together,” the fifth and final single off her 1989 “Like A Prayer” album.
Madonna was introduced to “voguing” by two of her Blond Ambition Tour dancers at the New York City club Sound Factory, and her endorsement helped spark a major dance craze.
‘Freedom ’90,’ George Michael (1990)
Oddly, George Michael refused to appear in the music video for “Freedom ’90,” so director David Fincher recruited a number of supermodels (including Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell) and male fashion models to star in it instead.
The song was later covered by British pop star Robbie Williams, who left boy band Take That to achieve global success as a solo star, much as Michael did following his split with Wham!
‘New York City Boy,’ Pet Shop Boys (1999)
There’s plenty of gayness to admire in the lyrics to “New York City Boy,” but the Pet Shop Boys’ embrace of the gay community doesn’t stop there. The English electronic dance music duo has collaborated with some of the most beloved gay icons of all time, including Elton John, Liza Minnelli, Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Lady Gaga.
‘Believe,’ Cher (1999)
Named by emBillboard/em magazine as “the best darn thing that Cher has recorded in years,” the song — which sold over 10 million copies worldwide — breathed new life into the diva’s music career, re-inventing her as a disco queen and making her the only recording artist to hit No. 1 on the pop charts in each of the past six decades.
‘Your Disco Needs You,’ Kylie Minogue (2001)
From 1987′s “I Should Be So Lucky” to 2010′s “Get Outta My Way,” Kylie has a number of great tunes which could be considered anthems.
But none cemented the Aussie pop diva’s status as a gay icon quite as effectively as 2001′s “Your Disco Needs You,” which had limited chart success at the time despite quickly becoming a fan favorite. The song got an extra layer of gay endorsement when it was covered by original Village People member Randy Jones in 2008.
‘Beautiful,’ Christina Aguilera (2002)
Penned by 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry (who is openly gay), “Beautiful” earned Christina Aguilera a 2004 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, while its accompanying video — which featured both gay and transgender characters — nabbed the star a GLAAD Media Award.
‘Defying Gravity’ from ‘Wicked,’ Idina Menzel (2003)
A song about living without limits and going against the grain has undoubtedly immediate resonance to the gay community — let alone a ballad sung by a famed “Wizard of Oz” villain in the Broadway musical version of “Wicked,” which re-casts the Wicked Witch of the West in a more sympathetic light than in previous incarnations of the story.
A remix version of Idina Mendel’s classic was the official anthem of 2007 Gay Pride Parade and Festival in Los Angeles, and was also performed by both Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) in the hit series “Glee.”
‘Take Your Mama Out,’ Scissor Sisters (2004)
The glam rock band is known for their upbeat, retro-sounding tunes, but perhaps none of their hits is better suited as a gay anthem than “Take Your Mama Out,” which is said to be about a young gay man growing up in a conservative household.
‘Single Ladies,’ Beyonce (2009)
The choreography seen in the video for “Single Ladies” was inspired by Bob Fosse, who directed Liza Minnelli in the Oscar-winning movie music “Cabaret” as well as well as her “Liza With A Z” television concert, which won four Emmy Awards.
Things came full circle in 2010 when Liza covered the smash song for the soundtrack of “Sex and the City 2,” and performed it — with the full Fosse-inspired choreography — for the film’s gay wedding scene.
‘Dancing On My Own,’ Robyn (2010)
Robyn has said that “Dancing On My Own” was inspired by her own love of gay anthems, so it’s only fitting her 2010 song has gone on to achieve major success within the gay community.
“I think it’s a song about being on the outside — very physically — and if it feels like a gay anthem then I take that as a super compliment,” she has said of the song.
‘Firework,’ Katy Perry (2010)
Perry revealed in an interview that the hit song, which she’s said was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road,” included the line “like a firefly,” rather than “like the Fourth of July,” which made the final cut.
The song’s colorful video was shot in Budapest, Hungary and features aerial shots of several of the city’s landmarks, including Buda Castle and the Chain Bridge.
‘Born This Way,’ Lady Gaga (2011)
Though it faced substanial criticism for its perceived similarities to another ambitious blonde singer’s 1989 anthem, “Born This Way” has certainly achieved its own place in pop history.
Not only are we pretty sure it’s the first time a song of this caliber has ever included the word “transgender,” but it’s also gone on to become the name of Lady Gaga’s anti-LGBT-bullying foundation.
‘Outlaws Of Love,’ Adam Lambert (2012)
The “American Idol” alum became the first openly gay performer to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with his album “Trespassing.”
However, none of his songs expresses openly gay sentiment as much as “Outlaws of Love,” which he premiered at a Canadian music festival in 2011.
“All of the things I’ve been talking about over the past year, all of it boils down to acceptance and this is a song that I wrote about how it feels, that no matter where you go or where you turn, sometimes it feels like you’re just running from the law,” he has said of the song.
‘Call Me Maybe,’ Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)
Undeniably one of the songs that will define summer 2012, Jepsen’s smash has already prompted a number of inspired covers, with everyone from Justin Bieber to Harvard University baseball players to gay porn stars crooning along. Of course, Jepsen’s video isn’t lacking in gay appeal, either, featuring a hunky handyman with a little secret of his own.