Over the rainbow and onto the charts 

For Pride Month, CL counts down the Gay Top 40

Gay people have always been around, of course. But gay culture was never as visible as it is today. And on the road to the mainstream, gay-identified music insinuated itself into the pop charts, often with few taking any note of its gay content or subtext.

But beyond the impact of gay people on popular music, significant as it has been, the reverse is also true. From classical to camp -- made by gays, straights, those in and out of the closet, men, women, drag queens, and everything in between -- music has been an integral part of the gay community's identity. It has delineated the struggles and triumphs, and helped to define the culture -- not only to the outside world, but also to itself. Whether it provides comfort to the loner or a soundtrack to celebrations, music is where the gay community can find its own unique story told.

Here, then, is our list of gay culture's 40 greatest songs. The big themes -- truth, identity (gender and otherwise), personal transformation, survival, comfort, inspiration and fun -- figure prominently. And so do songs associated with films, videos, the stage and the dancefloor. You'll also note the large contingent of those strong, sexy women who've become gay icons. As Madonna once said, "Music makes the people come together," so "let's take some time to celebrate."

40. "Relax," Frankie Goes to Hollywood -- Frankie ushered in the gay '80s video age. Songs like "Krisco Kisses" held nothing back, but it was this ode to holding back one's ejaculate where the group really made its mark.

39. "Losing My Religion," R.E.M. -- Religion and sexuality are prickly bedfellows, so when a gay man contemplates a loss of faith, eyebrows are likely to be raised. But surprisingly, like Michael Stipe's recent public coming-out, this song didn't cause much controversy.

38. "Tutti Frutti," Little Richard -- A pioneer of rock 'n' roll, R&B and camp? With song titles like "Tutti Frutti" accompanying his outrageous behavior, Georgia's own Little Richard gave gay audiences in the '50s an alternative in every sense of the word.

37. "Love Shack," the B-52's -- Pure fun and camp. This original, gay-inclusive band with Georgia roots has been putting a smile on our face and a beat in our step for years.

36. "Wig in a Box," John Cameron Mitchell -- The list's most recent entry, this bit of catchy fun from Hedwig and the Angry Inch captures the camp and frivolity of the stage show (and subsequent movie). Kudos to songwriter Steven Trask.

35. "1812 Overture," Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky -- The contribution of gays to popular music predates disco and Broadway tunes. Tchaikovsky introduced his artistry before anyone had a notion of gay culture.

34. "Could it be Magic?," Barry Manilow/Donna Summer/Take That -- Barry Manilow used to play piano for Bette Midler in gay bathhouses. Donna Summer covered it as a disco tune. Britain's Take That, one of the first big boy bands, updated it as a dance track. Three strikes and we're out.

33. "Go West," Village People/Pet Shop Boys -- Both the Village People and the Pet Shop Boys flirted with this tune's theme of escape to an idyllic, faraway place. A modern rewrite of "Over the Rainbow," the desire to reach that elusive place just beyond resonated with two gay-identified groups of different eras.

32. "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight -- Spearheading efforts to raise money for the battle against AIDS, this adult foursome helped the public care about the disease a president was then ignoring. It also inspired singer Elton John in his untiring charity work.

31. "I'm Too Sexy," Right Said Fred -- Setting a new high in over-the-top male camp, these were not drag queens but, rather, full-on muscle men. Their talk of runways and sex appeal showed us how to have fun in all its gym-boy glory.

30. "Anything Goes," Cole Porter -- The contemplative gay-but-closeted composer was a pioneer of the Broadway musical and helped define the modern pop standard. The title alone served as a sign that our time was about to come.

29. "Finally," CeCe Peniston -- A dance song with such joy and passion, its inclusion in the film The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert gained it a whole new audience. It was so beautifully set to drag, it became a classic all over again. (CeCe Peniston performs at the Atlanta Pride Festival, Sat., June 29, 9 p.m.)

28. "Philadelphia Freedom," Elton John -- About lesbian tennis champion Billie Jean King and her team. Neither John nor King was exactly out in the '70s, but they weren't entirely in either. The title says it all.

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