The Essential Soundtrack to Pop's Greatest (and Gayest) Year
By Aaron Hicklin
Culture Club lands with a bang with their definitive sophomore album, Colour by Numbers, which goes on to sell 10 million copies worldwide (almost half of them in the United States). Its hit singles include “Karma Chameleon,” “Church of the Poison Mind,” “Victims,” and “It’s a Miracle.” With Frankie Goes to Hollywood just around the corner, this might be the gayest month in the history of pop.
“All the nice boys love sea men,” ran the tag line of the outrageous campaign accompanying the release of “Relax,” the debut single from Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The uncompromising lyrics — “Relax, don’t do it when you want to suck to it” — and raunchy antics of out gay front man Holly Johnson (he’d taken his first name from Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn) prompt the BBC to ban the single from being played on air. Naturally, the track immediately rises to number 1 in the charts, becoming one of the most commercially successful singles of the decade, racking up 52 weeks in the top 75.
“This Charming Man,” the second single by the Smiths, evokes a coded world of gay desire in contrast to the overt, hypersexed “Relax.” Morrissey will continue to play coy throughout his subsequent career, disdaining what he described to journalist Barney Hoskyns as “this festive faggot thing.” The single also establishes Morrissey’s use of archaic phrasing and borrowed lines — “This jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place” is lifted from the homoerotic 1972 film Sleuth. On the BBC’s weekly charts show Top of the Pops, Morrissey entrances brittle, shy teenagers across the nation with a performance in which he weaves around the stage waving a bouquet of gladioli.
Cyndi Lauper’s first solo album, She’s So Unusual, is released and goes on to sell more than 22 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of the decade.