10 Essential Queer Albums for Pride

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 8, 2021

Long before there were gay storylines on television or big celebrities coming out of the closet, it was some of music's biggest icons who first blazed the way.

Remember how groundbreaking it was to see "Queer as Folk," "Will & Grace," and "Brokeback Mountain" when they first came out? Well, three decades before "Queer as Folk," David Bowie told the world he was gay. And by the time "Will & Grace" brought gay characters to mainstream television, Lou Reed had been singing about Candy Darling's oral transgressions for a quarter of a century. And Freddie Mercury had been dead for two decades before bigots around the world were protesting the release of "Brokeback Mountain.'

The legends on this list broke the rules, changed the game, and left us forever proud. Here are 10 essential albums by queer artists we think you should keep on rotation this Pride.

"The Platinum Collection," Queen

Call it a cop-out, but if we are to examine the huge, worldwide impact of Freddie Mercury and Queen, then the best way to do that is to consider this greatest hits retrospective that includes over three hours of the band's best songs. While this compilation leaves no stone unturned, it does present the material in a manner slightly less cohesive (and theatrical) than Mercury and company intended. Regardless, this is a fitting tribute to a gay icon gone too soon.

"Yes I Am," Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge released three albums prior to 1993's "Yes I Am," yet it remains her most successful (and essential) album. Although Etheridge never hid her sexuality, she officially came out of the closet in the months before the album was released — though she claims the title was purely coincidental. Almost 30 years, a Grammy, and an Oscar later, Etheridge is rightly considered a trailblazer and continues to be an outspoken advocate of LGBTQ rights. It also doesn't hurt that this is a great album, either.

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," Elton John

While Elton John wasn't technically out of the closet when this masterwork was released in 1973, he wasn't necessarily in the closet either. Nevertheless, it serves as a touchstone of gay culture in the mainstream. Widely considered John's best album — and one of the greatest albums of all time — "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" has aged like fine wine, with the title track becoming its own kind of gay anthem.

"Colour By Numbers," Culture Club

With all the kitschy theatricality of Boy George and Culture Club, it's easy to overlook their massive cultural impact; it's also easy to forget that Boy George is one helluva songwriter. With over 10 million albums sold worldwide, "Colour By Numbers" was one of the defining albums of the 1980s, and it holds up pretty damn well today. Think of what an impossible time a male singer would have today of achieving mega stardom while wearing a full face of makeup and blurring the lines of gender. Their success is all the more amazing when you consider Boy George and Culture Club did just that almost 40 years ago.

"Channel Orange," Frank Ocean

Is it too soon to say an album released only nine years ago is one of the greatest albums of all time? Never. "Channel Orange" is a start-to-finish masterpiece, not unlike Ocean's 2016 release, "Blonde" (which could be given an honorable mention on this list). A week before he released this album, he published an open letter detailing a relationship he had with a man he called his first true love. That's pretty unheard of for a young Black man just breaking into the music industry, but it cemented Ocean's status as an LGBTQ icon and one of the most compelling artists working today.

"The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," David Bowie

"I'm gay, and always have been," David Bowie famously told the press in 1972, the same year that he would go on to birth his queer, androgynous alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust. The rest, as they say, is history. This album influenced leagues of rock 'n' rollers — both straight and otherwise — for decades to come.

"The Smiths," The Smiths

The Smiths will never be everybody's cup of tea, but like it or not, lead singer Morrissey is his own kind of icon. The Smiths' self-titled debut album was an international success, and the American version of the album included "This Charming Man," arguably the best song the group has ever released, which explored sex and lust in ways that were altogether different from what anyone else in the music industry was doing at the time. What else can you expect from an album that featured Joe Dallesandro on its cover? For that reason alone, this album is iconic.

"Faith," George Michael

One of the best-selling albums of all time — and George Michael's solo debut — "Faith" propelled Michael to a new dimension of stardom, earning him the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1988. Michael wasn't always an eager LGBTQ role model, and his coming out was largely not of his own volution, but it was a role that he came to heartily embrace. Faith is a testament to Michael's one-of-a-kind electricity, one that still radiates on this album more than 30 years later.

"Transformer," Lou Reed

There is some debate over the extent to which Lou Reed can be considered a queer icon, but it has been said that Reed may have been the first out songwriter. Regardless of the extent of his purported bisexuality (or later, androgyny), "Transformer" remains one of the most influential albums ever. With its timeless — and still somewhat controversial — lead single, "Walk on the Wild Side," Reed brought things like transgender issues to the relative mainstream. Produced by none other than David Bowie himself, "Transformer" remains a delight from beginning to end.

"Scissor Sisters," Scissor Sisters

This final slot could have gone to any one of several contemporary artists — Mika, Adam Lambert, Janelle Monáe, Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kikoko, Kim Petras, and Kehlani are all reasonable contenders — but we went with Scissor Sisters' 2004 self-titled debut album. Not only has it stood the test of time, but it is pure pop heaven, especially the now-classic "Take Your Mama" and the band's Grammy-nominated cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," which lost the Best Dance Recording Grammy that year to Britney Spears' "Toxic." (2004 was a good year.)