22 Queer One-Hit Wonders From Yesteryear
But LGBT entertainment lovers have our own tastes, a mixture of the discerning and the offbeat. We gravitate to megastars like Madonna, who has something like 11 million Top 40 hits, but we also love artists on the fringe such as drag icon RuPaul, whose modest 1992 Billboard chart success — he landed at #45 with "Supermodel (You Better Work)" — was a cause for celebration in our community.
In fact, some of the most influential and enduring figures in LGBT musical culture are, in terms of the Billboard chart, technically one-hit wonders. For all her talent, would you believe the legendary k.d. lang has scored only one Top 40 song, with "Constant Craving" in 1992? Pioneer synth pop icon Jimmy Somerville has had just two songs in the Hot 100 and only one of those weaseled its way into the Top 40, the Communards' 1986 dance tune "Don't Leave Me This Way," which squeaked in at number 40.
A trip down musical memory lane reveals that the Top 40 archives are peppered with one-time-only hits by LGBT artists — some beloved and some relatively unknown. Let's turn the radio dial to yesteryear and remember a few such gems.
Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side" (1973)
If you're a fan of Lou Reed, who reportedly bedded both men and women, you know his tribute to transgender cult film stars Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, which made it to number 16 on the pop charts, was just the tip of iceberg. "Walk on the Wild Side" only hints at Reed's vast, decades-long musical catalog that explored life on a seedy Lower East Side. But of course, for many, this hit tune's catchy doo-doo-doos are all they'll ever hear of Reed, who died in 2013.
LaBelle, "Lady Marmalade" (1974)
Sure, R&B legend Patti LaBelle scored plenty of hits later as a solo artist, but before that she was in the funktacular 1970s all-girl trio LaBelle, featuring bisexual singer-songwriter Nona Hendryx. Together, LaBelle, Hendryx and their fellow singer Sarah Dash scored big time with exactly one song, "Lady Marmalade," an ode to a New Orleans prostitute. That's Hendryx wearing the bejeweled hood in the video above. She's been recording consistently interesting, sometimes truly avant-garde music, for decades, and yet "Lady Marmalade" remains her only foray into Billboard's Top 40. But wow, what a spectacular one. (UPDATE: "Lady Marmalade"'s songwriter, the late Bob Crewe, was gay.)
Janis Ian, "At Seventeen" (1975)
The best song about growing up female ever written, out folk singer Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" made it all the way to the number 3 spot on the pop singles chart (and hit the number 1 spot on the adult contemporary chart). This ballad of an "ugly duckling" was nominated for several Grammys, scoring a Best Female Pop Vocal Performance win. Though she continues to release excellent music, Ian never cracked the Top 40 again. But she's actually not a one-hit wonder: In 1967 she hit number 14 on the pop charts with "Society's Child," a timely take on interracial relationships.
Soft Cell, "Tainted Love" (1981)
Out singer Marc Almond's woeful vocals graced this smash hit, which landed at the number 8 spot on Billboard's pop singles charts. Thirty-plus years later, the pioneering electroclash tune is still popular. You know it, you've danced it. And it was the duo's only American hit.
Kajagoogoo, "Too Shy"(1983)
Fronted by then-closeted singer Limahl, Kajagoogoo reached the number 5 spot with "Too Shy," and after Limahl went solo, he made it to the number 6 spot on Billboard's adult contemporary chart with the theme song for the film The NeverEnding Story. The singer, who's been out now for many years, discussed what it was like being famous and closeted with the authors of Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Music and Songs That Defined the 1980s, saying, "I wasn't embarrassed about being gay, but my role as Limahl, my pop star role, had to be more enigmatic. I didn't want to start talking about gay sex and gays in 1983 when most of our following was teenage girls."
Sam Harris, "Sugar Don't Bite" (1984)
Though he was closeted at the time, Sam Harris was one of the first to find success on a television singing contest. After wowing audiences with his rendition of "Over the Rainbow," Harris was crowned the winner of Star Search and then reached the Billboard number 36 spot with the sassy "Sugar Don't Bite." Harris went on to have a career in television and theater. He's been with his partner, Danny Jacobsen, since 1994. The duo, who married in 2008, have one child.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Relax" (1985)
Though Frankie Goes to Hollywood exploded at home with a blitzkrieg of hits in the U.K., it took longer for America to fall in love with the band, which featured out lead singer Holly Johnson and out backing singer Paul Rutherford. The act's first single, the sex-drenched "Relax," finally climbed up to the number 10 position when it was re-released in the states in 1985. Johnson has been with his partner, Wolfgang Kuhle, for 30 years.
Dead or Alive, "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" (1985)
The act's gender-bending front person Pete Burns has undergone a complete physical transformation since the band landed in the number 5 spot with this gem. A sometime reality TV star at home in England, the cosmetic surgery-loving Burns, who was married to a woman, Lynne for 28 years, and in 2006 married a male partner, has challenged gender and sexuality notions for decades.
Baltimora, "Tarzan Boy" (1985)
Baltimora was a short-lived Italian dance-pop group fronted by a young gay Irishman named Jimmy McShane. It scored exactly one hit, "Tarzan Boy," which spent six months on the Billboard chart, ultimately reaching the number 13 spot. The song bounced back on the chart in remixed form in 1993, climbing to number 51. Sadly, McShane died of complications from AIDS in 1995.
Paul Lekakis, "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room)" (1987)
Take one look at pretty boy Paul Lekakis and you'll understand why this goofy ode to one-night stands was a hit back in the day, settling in at number 43 — not quite Top 40, but of course it was a staple in the gay clubs. A former model, Lekakis has had a sporadic recording career that includes a few more naughty dance tracks. (One title: "Assume the Position.") In 2000, Lekakis, who is HIV-positive, appeared on the cover of Poz magazine. In the article he recalls major record labels wanting to market him as a teen idol in the 1980s, which did not interest the already out young singer.
Jane Wiedlin, "Rush Hour" (1988)
Belinda Carlisle was not the only member of the Go-Go's to add a post-breakup solo hit to the list of Top 40 tunes that band enjoyed. Bisexual guitarist Jane Wiedlin scored exactly one Top 40 hit on her own with "Rush Hour," which made it all the way to number 9.
Kon Kan, "I Beg Your Pardon" (1989)
Another dance club staple, "I Beg Your Pardon" was the only hit (number 15) for Canadian synth-pop group Kon Kan, which featured gay musician Barry Harris, who told author Randolph Michaels the song was about an ex-boyfriend. He added that he got the idea to sample country star Lynn Anderson's 1970 hit "Rose Garden" from the Pet Shop Boys' "Always on My Mind."
Army of Lovers, "Crucified" (1991)
Though it only got to the number 43 spot on the Billboards singles chart, "Crucified" made it to the number 6 spot on the dance chart and was a bona fide club sensation. The song was so huge, even Kurt Cobain wrote about loving it in journals published after his death. The Swedish band, which takes its name from a German documentary about gay rights, has had rotating members over its long on-and-off career. Alexander Bard and Jean-Pierre Barda, the act's male members in 1991, are both out and proud.
Right Said Fred, "I'm Too Sexy" (1991)
British Brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass had everyone singing this silly song in the summer of '91 as it shot to the top spot on the singles charts. In 1991, Richard told a British tabloid he was bisexual and revealed he was in a relationship with a man. In 2010, Stuart Pantry, his partner of 28 years, died of cancer.
Sophie B. Hawkins, "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" (1992)
Calling Sophie B. Hawkins a one-hit wonder is actually not accurate. The self-described "omnisexual" pop star has cracked the Hot 100 a total of four times and twice made it into the Top 10. She first scored big with "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover (number 5) and again in 1994 with "As I Lay Me Down" (number 6). But, for some reason, "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" is all folks seem to remember.
The Breeders, "Cannonball" (1993)
Who didn't love this song and its juicy bass line? OK, so it made it only to the number 44 spot, but for a weird alt-rock band fronted by an erstwhile Pixie, that was a real coup! Listen to that sassy bass again and raise a toast to the Breeders' lesbian bassist, Josephine Wiggs.
4 Non Blondes, "What's Up?" (1993)
Listing 4 Non Blondes in a one-hit wonder category feels bizarre considering the band's out front woman Linda Perry would go on to write megahits for Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Gwen Stefani. But I swear, this song, which settled at number 14, was Perry's only hit with her own band.
Me'Shell Ndgéocello and John Mellencamp "Wild Night" (1994)
Another one that's hard to believe: Critically acclaimed bisexual R&B songstress Me'Shell Ndgéocello has cracked the Top 40 just once, and that was in a duet with John Mellencamp. And the duet was a cover of an old Van Morrison tune. It went to number 3 on the pop chart.
Take That, "Back for Good" (1995)
At the time Take That scored a #8 hit with "Back for Good," allegedly bisexual British bad boy Robbie Williams — a huge solo star in England — was in the group. Why "allegedly"? Many in the media don't buy Williams's claim that he sleeps with both men and women, even though he titled a recent album Swings Both Ways and recorded a campy duet with out singer Rufus Wainwright. Williams, who's married to a woman and has a child with her, doesn't help his cause when he says things like, "There is a history of gay people pretending to be straight. I want to balance the sides. I’m a straight person pretending to be gay.”
Luscious Jackson, "Naked Eye" (1996)
Fun fact: In the 1990s, Luscious Jackson's lesbian drummer Kate Schellenbach dated Breeders bassist Josephine Wiggs, and while together, the duo appeared on the cover of The Advocate. "Naked Eye" marks the only time Schellenbach and her bandmates made it onto the singles charts, coming in at number 36.
Billie Myers, "Kiss the Rain" (1998)
Bisexual British singer Billie Myers scored a number 15 hit with the introspective, Desmond Child–penned "Kiss the Rain." In October 2009, Myers sang "America the Beautiful" at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.
S Club 7, "Never Had a Dream Come True" (2000)
British singing act S Club 7 saw its 2000 song "Never Had a Dream Come True" climb to number 23 on Billboard's pop single chart before disbanding in 2003. Jon Lee, the group's youngest singer, came out during a 2010 interview with a British LGBT magazine. Lee has been working steadily in London theater productions.