Loud and Proud: Essential Vinyl Records by LGBTQ+ Artists
With the arrival of June comes Pride Month. Pride, however, goes beyond a single month of the year. Rather, Pride is about commemorating and reflecting on LGBTQ+ history, celebrating Queer culture, and remembering to always support and uplift our friends in the community well after the month of June ends. Our mission at Victrola is to help everyone create lifelong music memories in their homes, so in honor of Pride, here are some essential vinyl records by LGBTQ+ artists that have helped us make those memories and shaped our culture.
Elton John already had some modest success with his previous releases, but Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the album that vaulted him into a culture defining superstar. One of the greatest rock albums of all time, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road contains hit after hit, most notably the title track and "Candle in the Wind." John became one of the most exciting performers in music, with his flamboyant personality, eclectic fashion sense and energetic stage presence helping to make him one of rock music's early Queer icons. John recently embarked on his farewell tour, the highest grossing tour in music history.
Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard went solo with Jaime, a soul revivalist album that allowed her to tell deeply personal stories the way she does best. Howard approaches each song with her signature emotional grit, with stories of her upbringing, her father, and the struggles of existing as a gay woman of color. Howard dabbles in several genres, from jazz to funk, all the way to experimental sound art, creating a truly original record that stands on its own when compared to her work with Alabama Shakes.
Freddie Mercury, simply put, was the frontman to end all frontmen. In addition to his incredible vocal talent, Mercury fit the definition of "rock star" to a T. A Night at the Opera captures Mercury and the rest of Queen in their prime, featuring their most identifiable track, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Queen would go on to own the '70s and '80s, peaking with their appearance at Live Aid in 1985. Mercury tragically passed due to complications from AIDS in 1992, leaving behind an iconic legacy.
Sam Smith began their career with almost instant success. Smith's brand of soulful R&B led them to numerous accolades, including being chosen to record the theme to the 2015 James Bond film, Spectre. In the years that followed, Smith began to gravitate more towards traditional pop music, culminating with the release of Gloria. The album's lead single, "Unholy" took the music world by storm, shooting to the top of the charts, while Smith and their collaborator Kim Petras became the first non-binary and transgender artists to win a major-category Grammy Award.
Brandi Carlile is one of the finest storytellers working in music today, one of the major players in the revival of Americana. By the Way, I Forgive You is her best work in an exceptionally strong catalog of music, featuring gut-wrenching tracks like "The Joke." One of the highlights is "The Mother," a tribute to her daughter, Evangeline. In this emotional tribute, she sings of her love for her daughter, her pride in watching her grow up, and the struggles faced by same-sex parents.
A self-described "boy band", hip-hop stars Brockhampton quickly became one of the more inventive groups in rap after debuting in 2016. Iridescence is a genre-spanning epic, featuring lyrical contributions from each member as each track takes on a life of its own. Where some LGBTQ+ artists prefer not to make their sexuality a focal point of their art, group leader Kevin Abstract feels the opposite, saying he will rap about being gay "as long as there are fans in need of a voice."
The B-52's burst onto the scene in the late 1970s, part of the rise of new-wave genre. Combing a retro-futurist aesthetic with punk attitude, they separated themselves from contemporaries such as Talking Heads and the Cars by incorporating elements of traditional '50s and '60s rock and roll, as well as experimenting with alternate guitar tunings. Their debut album remains a classic, with its bright colors recognizable the instant you walk into a record shop.
Orville Peck is about as close as you can get to the second coming of Johnny Cash, except he does it in a fringed, leather mask. Peck has never revealed his identity, adding to the mystery of the singer who came out of nowhere in 2019, conjuring the spirit of outlaw country. Bronco is a strong sophomore effort, showcasing Peck's songwriting ability and his '60s and '70s influences. Peck's lonesome rhinestone cowboy persona is an artful blend of Queer culture and traditional Western machismo, pulling it off with seamless ease.
Dual-threat Rina Sawayama can't be put in a box. While her self-titled debut album felt like a fun throwback to early 2000s pop, Hold the Girl plays with genres not normally heard in pop music. Sawayama reaches back into that early 2000s box, only this time pulling out the likes of Korn rather than Britney Spears. The odd fusion of nu-metal and dance-pop works surprisingly well, a testament to Sawayama's musical acumen. Each track on Hold the Girl is surprisingly unique, but somehow comes together to form a cohesive package.
Stay Alive is the debut solo album by Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, born mostly out of necessity, as with many other albums recorded in 2020. Due to the pandemic, Grace was left unable to record with the rest of her bandmates, so Stay Alive was recorded and dropped as a surprise album. Grace came out as a transgender woman in 2012, and has often spoken of the struggles of transitioning as an already public figure, even titling Against Me!'s 2014 release Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Stay Alive is mostly Grace and her acoustic guitar, as she offers a stripped-down album with her signature punk attitude.