PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Various Artists: Queer Noises 1961-1978

It must be said that Queer Noises brims with good intentions but most of these songs should have remained in the closet.

Various Artists

Queer Noises 1961-1978

Subtitle: From the Closet to the Charts
Label: Trikont
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2006-07-03

It's best to approach Queer Noises as a historical document to derive any amount of listening pleasure from it. Spanning 1961-1978, these rare and obscure songs, compiled by renowned music journalist Jon Savage, provide a disturbing (but realistic) depiction of how gay men perceived themselves during an era when the American Psychiatric Association included "homosexuality" on its list of mental disorders (it was removed in 1973). The liner notes appropriately warn, "This CD tells a story of hard-won freedoms that remain all too fragile". Given the time period this collection covers, Queer Noises doesn't make for easy listening.

But that doesn't mean it should be unlistenable. In theory, a collection of rare songs that reflect a generation of gay male history is compelling. Music is an essential anthropological tool, capturing the pulse of people at a particular place and time. The volatile fight to earn civil rights -- that the LGBT community is still fighting -- makes for quite a soundtrack. Unfortunately, Queer Noises only half succeeds in presenting a satisfying time capsule of how gays moved from the "closet to the charts".

Primary among the collection's shortcomings is inferior sound. Most of these songs have a raw, bootleg quality. Whether due to licensing difficulties or a tight budget, too many tracks simply sound lifted from well-worn vinyl. To be fair, the crackles and pops lend a certain "authenticity" to the recordings on display. The muffled sound of "At the Black Cat", for example, gives the impression that this 45-year old snippet of a drag act in San Francisco was only recently unearthed. The sonic imperfections on the CD are endearing at first but there's no reason not to have a "clean" version of The Kinks' "See My Friend".

Whereas other collections of this kind contain mainstream songs by gay icons, Queer Noises contains songs written by, for, and/or about gay men (the exception is Polly Perkins' "Coochy Coo", though one imagines a drag queen performing a saucy burlesque version of it). As products of their time, these songs do little to construct a positive gay identity. Queer Noises indicates that the only explicit representations gay men had of themselves on vinyl in the 1960s amounted to gay minstrelsy: the characters are predatory ("Florence of Arabia"), desperate ("Eros"), outrageously campy ("I'd Rather Fight than Swish", "Nobody Loves a Fairy When They're Forty"), and vituperative ("At the Black Cat", "Do You Come Here Often?"). The music is grating. Hearing these songs twice is simply one time too many.

The gay community was forever changed one night in June 1969 when police raided the Stonewall Bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. Tired of being harassed and degraded, the habitués fought back. The ripple effect was large and loud. New York's first gay pride march, organized by the Gay Liberation Front, followed in 1970. Gay was "good" and the music representing this particular period on Queer Noises improves upon the caustic, one-note stereotypes of the early 1960s material. Harrison Kennedy's "Closet Queen" (as in "Closet queen you're alright!") is pleasant enough acoustic pop-rock with a sunny melody. "I'm a Man" by Jobriath -- the first "out" rock star signed to a major label (Elektra Records) -- explodes with glitter-rock bombast while the swinging beat of Valentino's "I Was Born This Way" signifies the first gay anthem of the disco era. They are loud, proud, and liberated statements.

One of the more remarkable tracks on Queer Noises comes from the Motown vaults. In 1975, The Miracles, sans Smokey Robinson, recorded "Ain't Nobody Straight in L.A." It's the only track on the collection that observes gay life from a heterosexual point of view. Over a quasi-Latin beat, the band members debate whether or not to hang at a gay club. The final consensus? "Gay people are nice people too, man. Yeah, let's go!" In his comments about this track, Jon Savage posits, "One wonders how the Miracles' message of tolerance would go down today, even if a major R&B act were to record it."

The message of tolerance is short-lived on this collection, however, as a trio of mid-'70s punk tracks prove: The Ramones' tragic tale about a male hustler ("53rd and 3rd"), Black Randy & The Metro Squad's documentation of police violence against gays on "Trouble at the Cup", and "Nobody Loves You When You're Old and Gay" by Dead Fingers Talk show the gritty underbelly of gay pride in the 1970s.

Closing the collection is the most well known of all tracks on Queer Noises: "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" by Sylvester. To hear his voice soar high above the celestial Eurodisco beat clears the palate after digesting the dank and degrading slices of life compiled by Savage.

It must be said that Queer Noises brims with good intentions. Savage did exhaustive research to contextualize each track and find rare images of the artists and corresponding cover art. Queer Noises doesn't attempt to whitewash the oppression against the gay community and that is, indeed, commendable. It's a history that must be told with all its pain and glory. Just because a song is historically relevant, though, doesn't mean it's a great piece of music. Most of these songs should have remained in the closet.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.