By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
Mark Greif, co-founder of n+1
"Give Me the Cure," Fugazi, from Fugazi (1988)Reputedly, this song is about AIDS. It's the most compressed account I've ever encountered of the horror of being sick in an era when our expectation is that everything you can get sick from will eventually have a cure. You might be the one to die because you've come too early or because "they" don't care about the likes of you. That intrusion of human power—a power you can't reach—into the already unbearable thing that's between you and fate, or you and nature, or you and God . . . that's what I hear in the song.
Asali Solomon, author of Get Down
"Volverás" ("You'll Be Back"), Gloria Estefan, from Mi Tierra (1993)"Volverás" evokes a grand tradition in Spanish lyrics that revels in telling a callous lover that he (or she) will be sorry. I love that the song is not sassy—instead, it's a slow, mournful number with wailing Spanish guitars that builds to a crescendo. It uses a blues-like alchemy to suggest that there is great power in being spurned. It can even make you prescient enough to look into the future and see your stupid ex crawling back.
"Marry Me Dusty," Miaow, from Priceless Innuendo (1987, unreleased)
If you were a gay music lover in the late '80s, you had your Communards, your Erasure, and that was about it. Even those out-and-proud bands mostly trafficked in second-person pronouns, so the straights could listen along without a fuss. Cath Carroll, frontwoman of the London-based indie band Miaow, sang about things you never thought you'd come across in a pop song: cross-dressing lesbians, bisexual love triangles, Sapphic frolics at the Hampstead Bathing Ponds. The would-be lead single from Miaow's never-released debut album (the demos of which stream on Carroll's website), this ode to Dusty, the great gay chanteuse, evokes drag bars where "the girls in the backroom/Would lacquer up their hair and sing/'Won't you marry me, Miss Springfield?'"
Claire Dederer, author of the forthcoming Poser: A Memoir in Twenty-Four Yoga Poses
"Wig in a Box," from the Hedwig and the Angry Inch original cast recording (1999)
Alone in the trailer park, abandoned by her lover, her dick sawed off in a botched sex-change operation, Hedwig is feeling blue at the beginning of this song. All she wants to do is sit around drinking vermouth, but she stirs herself to put on her wig—and lo, she is transformed! She unleashes the chorus, a screamingly catchy sing-along. It's almost too catchy. In fact, I'm not really that crazy about the chorus. What I love is the intro, when Hedwig is forcing herself to get it together. "Put on the wig," she tells herself. "You know you'll feel better." I love that moment, when she wills herself to transcendence.
Todd Pruzan, author of The Clumsiest People in Europe
"Not Given Lightly," Chris Knox, from the Topless Women Talk About Their Lives soundtrack (1997)
Did statisticians chart a spike in New Zealand's birth rate 20 years ago? It was 1989 when a recovering punk named Chris Knox trotted out this drowsy, irresistible love song, opening his honey-voiced blues with a shy, sleepy nudge before grinding it into a joyous, full-throated serenade. (A serenade to his wife, no less: How punk is that.) "This isn't easy," Knox apologizes—"I might not write another"—but his good work is done.