May 12, 2018 at 1:29 pm EDT | by Kathi Wolfe
Love songs re-imagined as LGBT standards
Universal Love, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Universal Love’ album arrives just in time for Pride season and June weddings.

“Birds do it, bees do it/Even educated fleas do it,” enthused Cole Porter, in his 1928 hit “Let’s do it,” “…let’s fall in love.”

Ninety years later, hetero or LGBTQ, following Porter’s exhortation, we’re still, madly, exuberantly, falling in love. Nothing celebrates and nourishes love and romance more than music – from Beatles tunes to soul classics to Broadway musical standards. What couple hasn’t spoken of “our song?”

I felt the ping of youthful first love, when after hearing Van Morrison sing “Brown Eyed Girl,” the girl I was with told me, “you’re my brown eyed girl.”

Yet, many of us who are queer often feel disconnected when listening to songs.  Frequently, the music we hear – whether contemporary pop, classic rock or showbiz tunes — is addressed primarily to a hetero audience. Love songs to women are sung by men. Women sing love songs to men. Artists, even some queer artists, often use the pronoun “you” rather than a same-sex pronoun in a song.

Once, a woman and I heard Van Morrison sing “Crazy Love.” It’s a fab song! I love Van the Man! But, it was surreal for us, two women on a date, to hear a guy, sing “she give me love, love, love, love, crazy love.” Though, lovely, something gets lost in translation, when you encounter this disconnect.

In the age of marriage equality, where are the queer-friendly songs – the ones you can dance to without being a pronoun contortionist?

Don’t despair! Love conquers all. As Bob Dylan memorably sang, “The Times They Are a-Changin.” Just in time for spring, wedding and Pride season, a new EP “Universal Love -Wedding Songs Reimagined” has been released. The LGBTQ-friendly album features six queer and straight artists covering popular standards. MGM Resorts International funded the album of same-sex wedding anthems. Between 20 to 30 percent of the nuptials at MGM’s 15 hotels in Las Vegas are gay weddings, MGM International Resorts chief executive Jim Murren told The New York Times.

In a nod to how LGBTQ-sympatico the cultural landscape has become, all of the songs’ publishers gave permission for the music’s lyrics to be changed on “Universal Love.”     

Most indicative of the changing times, on “Universal Love,” Dylan who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 for his iconic lyrics, sings a queer version of the 1929 Great American Songbook standard “She’s Funny That Way.”  Some of us Dylan aficionados are a bit cynical because he has just come out with a collection of whiskeys called Heaven’s Door. Yet, props to Dylan, for his work on this album. In a nod to queer love, Dylan records the standard as “He’s Funny That Way.” Dylan jumped at the chance to be a part of “Universal Love,” Rob Kaplan, the album’s producer told The New York Times. “It wasn’t just ‘yes, I’ll do this,’…It was ‘hey, I have an idea for a song.”

Valerie June’s version of queer playwright, songwriter, and actor Noel Coward’s 1932 song “Mad About the Boy” takes you back to the days of camp and big bands. Then, a gay version of the song written by Coward was never performed because of homophobia. It’s a pleasure to hear June, a woman, sing this standard as “Mad About the Girl.”

On the album, Kesha does a knock-out rendition of Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love” (recast as “I Need a Woman to Love). Kele Okereke beautifully recasts the Temptations classic “My Girl” as “My Guy,” and St. Vincent does a kick-ass version of the Crystals’ 1963 hit “And Then He Kissed Me” (morphed into “And Then She Kissed Me”).

For the EP, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie revamps the Beatles’ classic “And I Love Her” as “And I Love Him.” As so often happens, the straight artists who sing in “Universal Love” became supportive of marriage equality because their queer family members or friends wanted to marry. Gibbard joined the same-sex marriage bandwagon because his sister is a lesbian. “When my sister got married, it was everything that my parents — and I — could have ever expected from a wedding ceremony and more,” Gibbard wrote in “The Daily Beast” in 2012.

Another new album “Instant Love” features women singing love songs to other women.  Listening to Irma Thomas sing “Crazy Love” on “Instant Love” is breathtaking.

Our world is filled with problems from wars to hate to poverty. Yet, let’s take a moment to celebrate queer, “crazy” love.


Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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