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Song Lyrics That Used the Word 'Gay' Before Its Meaning Changed

GayIf a song has the word 'gay' in its lyrics chances are it came from an earlier era, most likely before Stonewall and the beginning of the gay liberation movement (but there are exceptions).  Such songs use the word to describe a mood of happiness or lightheartedness.  When people hear these lyrics today some smile, others giggle, but traditionalists are often annoyed that the word has lost its innocent meaning.  (Occasionally a misguided soul tries to change 'gay' to 'happy' or 'fun' but then relents when his/her attempt is discovered and ridiculed in the media.)  For this post I've found seventeen songs that use the word the old-school way, and here they are ...

 

TWISTIN' THE NIGHT AWAY

This was a top-10 tune for R&B singer Sam Cooke in 1962.

 

Let me tell you about a place

Somewhere up-a New York way

Where the people are so gay

Twistin' the night away

 

Samcooke_twistin

 

THE GREAT PRETENDER

This was one of the biggest hits of the 1950s, by the Platters.

 

Oh yes, I'm the great pretender

Just laughing and gay like a clown

 

Platters_great.pretender

 

WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE

Like The Great Pretender this was another big hit from 1956.  Originally performed by Frankie Lymon & the Teenager, it was also a top 10 hit for Diana Ross 25 years later.

 

Why do birds sing so gay?

And lovers await the break of day?

Why do they fall in love?

 

Frankielymon.whydofools

 

IT MIGHT AS WELL AS BE SPRING

From the 1945 movie State Fair, it won Rogers & Hammerstein an Oscar for Best Original Song.

 

But I feel so gay

In a melancholy way

That it might as well be spring

 

Might.as.well.be.spring

 

LUSH LIFE

A jazz classic written in the 1930s by gay composer and lyricist Billy Strayhorn (who also wrote Take the 'A' Train).

 

I use to visit all the very gay places

Those come what may places

Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life

To get the feel of life

From jazz and cocktails

 

Lushlife.billystrayhorn

 

ALONE AGAIN (NATURALLY)

This maudlin pop song by Gilbert O'Sullivan topped the charts in the summer of 1972. 

 

To think that only yesterday

I was cheerful, bright and gay

 

Alone.again.naturally

 

STANDING IN THE DOORWAY

Written by Bob Dylan in 1997, long after the word 'gay' had its transformation.

 

I'm strummin' on my gay guitar

Smoking a cheap cigar

 

Bobdylan

 

THE MUMMERS' SONG

A somewhat generic New-Age song in the style of Enya or Sarah Mclachlan that was a hit for Loreena McKennitt.

 

We've been rambling all the night

And some of the day

Now returning back again

We bring a garland gay

 

Mummers.dance

 

KOOKABURRA

This is an Australian nursery rhyme.  The kookaburra is a large bird found in Australia and New Guinea that has a loud call that resembles human laughter.

 

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,

Merry, merry king of the bush is he

Laugh kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra

How gay your life must be!

 

Kookaburra
 

PETER COTTONTAIL

Here's another children's song, from 1949.  The composers, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, would write Frosty the Snowman the following year (but with no use of the word "gay").  Peter Cottontail was released as a single by Gene Autry and it went to #5 on Billboard's Hot 100!  

 

Bringin' every girl & boy

A basketful of Easter joy

Things to make your Easter

Bright & gay

Peter.cottontail.gene.autry

 

I FEEL PRETTY

From West Side Story, this song has a gay pedigree as its lyricist was Stephen Sondheim.

 

I feel pretty, oh so pretty

I feel pretty and witty and gay

And I pity

Any girl who isn't me today

 

Ifeelpretty

 

GLITTER AND BE GAY

This comes From Leonard Bernstein's operetta Candide, composed in the 1950s.

 

Glitter and be gay

That's the part I play 

Here I am in Paris, France

Forced to bend my soul

 

And later in the song ...

 

Enough! Enough!

I'll take their diamond necklace

And show my noble stuff

And being gay and reckless

 

Glitter.and.be.gay
 

 

THEME FROM THE TV SHOW 'MOONLIGHTING'

Al Jarreau provided vocals for this jazz-infused theme song for ABC's detective comedy from the late 1980s.  It starred Cybil Shepherd and, in his breakout role, Bruce Willis.

 

Some walk by night, some fly by day

Nothing could change you, set and sure of the way

Charming and bright, laughing and gay

I'm just a stranger, love the blues and the Braves

 

Moonlighting.abc

 

HAPPY WORKING SONG

Sung by Amy Adams' character in the 2007 Disney movie Enchanted, this is the most recent example of a song tapping the word 'gay' for its earlier meaning.

 

And you’ll trill a cheery tune in the tub

As we scrub a stubborn mildew stain

Lug a hairball from the shower drain

To the gay refrain

Of a happy working song

 

Amyadams.happyworkingsong

 

THEME SONG FROM 'THE FLINTSTONES'

This was the first cartoon to air in primetime.

 

When you're with the Flintstones

Have a yabba dabba-do time

A dabba-do time

We'll have a gay old time!

 

Flintstones

 

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

Although the word 'gay' didn't mean 'LGBT gay', this holiday chestnut was first sung by gay icon Judy Garland in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis.

 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let the yuletide be gay

From now on our troubles will be miles away

 

Judygarland.merrylittlexmas

 

DECK THE HALLS

This is likely the best-known song on this list, largely because it's been around since the late 19th century.

 

Don we now our gay apparel

Fa la la la la la, la la la!

Troll the ancient Yuletide carol

Fa la la la la, la la la la!

 

Gayapparel

 

Finally, one of the readers of this post was inspired to post a video on YouTube with a medley of 34 songs, including most of those listed above.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Song Master

"Pretend You Don't See Her," a Jerry Vale hit about 1958.

Pretend you don't see her my heart
Although she is coming our way
Pretend you don't need her my heart
Just smile and pretend to be gay


"I Surrender Dear," recorded by Bing Crosby and others in the early 1930s.

I may seem proud, I may act gay,
It's just a pose, I'm not that way

Rob

I'm not familiar with either song - what great additions! Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

Song Master


PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1929):
When I pretend I'm gay
I never feel that way
I'm only painting the clouds with sunshine
When I hold back a tear
To make a smile appear
I'm only painting the clouds with sunshine

WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME (1863):

Oh, the men will cheer the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, Duke Ellington (1939,
recorded in 1990 by that gay Johnny Mathis):

I want something to live for
Someone to make my life an adventurous dream
Oh, what wouldn't I give for
Someone who'd take my life and make it seem
Gay as they say it ought to be
Why can't I have love like that brought to me?


JAMBAYALA, Hank Williams (1952):

Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma-chère-amie-oh
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of-a-gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou

AM I BLUE, Ethel Waters (1929):

Am I blue you'd be too if each plan that you had done and fell through
There was a time I was your only one now I'm sad and lonely one I'm such lonely one
Was I gay till today now you're gone and we're through am I blue

AROUND THE WORLD, from "Around the World in 80 Days" (1957)

It might have been in County Down,
Or in New York, or gay Paree,
Or even London town.
No more will I go all around the world
For I have found my world in you.

I'LL BE SEEING YOU, Hildegarde (1938):

I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way

ON THE SENTIMENTAL SIDE, Billie Holiday (1938):

I should act gay
Laugh it off and say, farewell
Say it just didn't wear well
But I'm not that way

ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER (For Somebody Else) (1929):

When the cat's away the mice will play
I don't say I will but still I may
I may be blue away from you
And then again I may be gay

THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY, Charles Aznavour (1973):

If we just close our eyes and dance around the floor
That gay old-fashioned way that makes me love you more

BUT BEAUTIFUL, Bing Crosby (1947):

Love is tearful or it's gay
It's a problem or it's play
It's heartache any way
But beautiful

STAY AS SWEET AS YOU ARE, Lanny Ross (1934):

Young and gay or old and gray,
Near to me or afar,
Night and day I pray
That you`ll always stay
As sweet as you are.

I'D RATHER STAY HOME, Kitty Wells (1956):

There's nothing to be glad about, since you went away
So what the use to get about pretending I'm gay
My tears are too real for smiles to conceal
I don't want to roam, I'd rather stay home

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1941):

The last time I saw Paris,
Her heart was warm and gay.
I heard the laughter of her heart
In every street cafe.

YESTERDAYS (1933):

Yesterdays, yesterdays
Days I knew as happy sweet
Sequestered days, olden days, golden days
Days of mad romance and love

Then gay youth was mine
Truth was mine
Joyous free and flaming life
forsooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I'm dreaming of yesterdays


Rob

Wow, I just knew there were a lot more than what I turned up - thanks for these additions!

Song Master

HOW TO HANDLE A WOMAN, 1960

"How to handle a woman?
There's a way," said the wise old man,
"A way known by ev'ry woman
Since the whole rigmarole began."
"Do I flatter her?" I begged him answer.
"Do I threaten or cajole or plead?
Do I brood or play the gay romancer?"
Said he, smiling: "No indeed.
How to handle a woman?
Mark me well, I will tell you, sir:
The way to handle a woman
Is to love her...simply love her...
Merely love her...love her...love her."

rab williams

thanks a great word wasted

John Woods

Thanks, you gave me the inspiration, see...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAWCfAOArbU

John Woods.

Rob

Thanks John. Of the 500 or so posts I've written this one ranks fourth in popularity.

Cristian

Thank you very much. I was looking for the name of the song "Alone again" for long time.

DEfan

Andy Williams - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year
It's the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It's the hap-happiest season of all

DEfan

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
'Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la Don we now our gay apparel Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Joe

That's Amore 1953
Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis
(In Napoli where love is king
When boy meets girl here's what they say)
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore
When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine
That's amore
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling
And you'll sing "Vita bella"
Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay
Like a Gay tarantella

Gay

Ok apparently a song in 1974 uk top ten had Gay in it anyone know x the lyric was something like “gay, don’t take your love awayyyy”

Stephen Fuller

Lucky me I’m a singing every day,
Ever since the day you came my way,
You made my life for just one big happy game,
I’m gay every morning, at night I’m still the same.

Paralyzed, Elvis Presley

Tommy L. Day

I wish gay still meant happy, lighthearted, carefree etc.

Not only is it easy to rhyme with, it also has a niche that no one word can really replace. You can say happy, but gay wasn’t just regular happy, it was jubilantly, exuberantly happy. It wasn’t just fun, it was gleefully, extravagantly so. The perfect word to describe the thrill of love amongst other things. Now all but lost to songwriters like myself, which is a shame.

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