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Over the rainbow and onto the charts 

For Pride Month, CL counts down the Gay Top 40

Gay people have always been around, of course. But gay culture has never been as visible as it is today. On the road to the mainstream, gay-identified music insinuated itself into the pop charts, often with few taking any note of the gay content or subtext. But beyond the impact of gay people on popular music, significant as it has been, the reverse is also true. From classical to camp, no matter who it's created by, music has been an integral part of the gay community's identity. Music has delineated its struggles and triumphs, and helped to define the community -- not only to the outside world, but also to itself.

For many gays, music means much more than mere pop culture. Whether it provides comfort to the loner or is the soundtrack for communal celebrations, music is where the gay community can often find its own unique story told. Here, then, is our list of the 20 greatest songs of gay culture. The big themes -- truth, identity (gender and otherwise), personal transformation, survival, comfort, inspiration and fun -- figure prominently, of course. And so do songs associated with films, videos, the stage and the dance floor. You'll also note the large contingent of the strong, sexy women who've become gay icons. As Madonna once said, "music makes the people come together," so "let's take some time to celebrate."

20. "Somebody to Love," Queen -- Stunning operatic vocal arrangements may have dressed up this song, but its message was straightforward -- "Find. Me. Somebody to love." The tribute concert after Freddy Mercury died of AIDS complications was unprecedented, with artists as diverse as Guns and Roses, Liza Minelli and George Michael all participating (Michael covered this song).

19. "Justify My Love," Madonna -- Through both the song and accompanying video, Madonna asked the world to open their minds. Pushing sexual boundaries and shattering taboos more effectively than anyone before her, she could be on this list 20 times over.

18. "Glad To Be Gay," Tom Robinson -- No need for subtlety here. Brit Tom Robinson's pulled no punches with this 70s anthem. Like the catchphrases "I Am Woman' and "Say it Loud I'm Black and Proud,' this was about inclusion, representation and expressing what needed to be said.

17. "I Will Survive," Gloria Gaynor -- Gays don't have an exclusive lock to this (or any other classic), but the themes of overcoming adversity, self-respect and independence all gave this disco classic even more resonance with gays. "Anthem' gets overused (here and elsewhere), but this soulful four minutes of self-declaration certainly fits the bill.

16. "Believe," Cher -- Not just another dance hit, but a true return (and umpteenth comeback) for this survivor. The star of TV, film, stage and recording -- not to mention mother of a lesbian activist -- has been kicking butt longer than almost anyone in the business.

15. "Time Warp," The Rocky Horror Picture Show cast -- Before Rupaul and Hedwig, Rocky Horror broke gay boundaries. While some of us still can't say for sure the difference between cross-dressers, transvestites and transsexuals, we should all be thankful for the warped presentation given the characters in this musical.

14. "Walk on the Wild Side," Lou Reed -- Risque for its time, this early 70s hit left a lot to the imagination, but lyrics of "giving head" and cross-dressing misfits and the disenfranchised were nothing if not vivid and colorful.

13. "Staying Alive," The Bee Gees -- Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gee's falsetto. Disco smash. Record breaking soundtrack and eventual Broadway show. The effect of this song was enormous and its themes of survival proved prophetic. The song itself survived the big backlash and still comes up a winner. Turns out "disco sucks" was the passing fad, disco was here to stay.

12. "Living After Midnight," Judas Priest -- Forget the cliches, this is neither a dance song nor a Broadway tune, and it's not sung by a diva. Instead, we have a leather-clad, metal-studded hard-rock front man singing about the adventures and dark side of nightlife. With metal one of the last bastions to be touched publicly by gays, Rob Halford's coming out was loud and proud and shocking. But it confirmed again that gays truly come in all shapes and sizes.

11. "Smalltown Boy," Bronski Beat -- This song chronicled so well the journey of a young gay man coming out and leaving home -- a story never heard before in a top 40 hit. Groundbreaking and daring, this haunting tale still resonates today.

10. "Karma Chameleon," Culture Club -- The themes of identity and gender roles weren't new when the world met Boy George, but we'd never seen anything quite like him in mainstream pop before. The smash hit and accompanying video burst into living rooms across the globe. One look at the flamboyant and outspoken singer meant transgendered youth were no longer alone.

9. "It's Raining Men," The Weather Girls -- If you've ever danced without abandon to this fun, frolicking camp classic, you know what we're talking about. Hallelujah -- is it half past 10 yet?

8. "Somewhere," Barbra Streisand -- The gay community identified with the tale of forbidden love, hope and yearning in West Side Story, where this song originated. The song became instant classic as part of the musical, but when Ms. Streisand covered it for her Broadway Album, she took it to a whole new level and made it her own.

7. "YMCA," The Village People -- Do you snicker every time you see a wedding reception -- or stadium -- full of people dancing to this song? Just the thought of breeders twisting their bodies to this song, a tribute to men meeting men at the gym, earns its place on the list.

6. "Streets of Philadelphia," Bruce Springsteen -- Start with a very straight rock star associated with cars, girls and the good old USA. Add one of the first Hollywood movies ever to deal with AIDS. The result is one of the most harrowing ballads ever to be included on a soundtrack. Addressing the struggle with illness, personal rights and freedoms, the Boss broke down barriers -- and won a deserved Academy Award along the way.

5. "I Am What I Am," La Cage aux Folles cast -- After the huge success of the French film La Cage aux Folles, Broadway turned it into a musical and the Great White Way was never gayer. To call this a gay anthem is obvious. This drag queen staple will always be a poignant and dramatic reminder of the pride of coming out. Rarely has a song dealt so directly and openly with gay identity and struggle.

4. "Cabaret," Liza Minelli -- "What good is sitting alone in your room?" This song, from the musical Cabaret, had so many elements appealing to gay audiences: show tunes, Liza, exotic local, dark sexuality and an invitation to come here the music play. All the stereotypes yes, but so much more.

3. "Dancing Queen," ABBA -- Two married, and later divorced, Swedish couples who sing English pop becoming gay music icons? With songs like this, why not? The music speaks for itself. Maybe the happiest dance song of all time.

2. "Over the Rainbow," Judy Garland -- It may be no coincidence the rainbow is a symbol for the gay community. In The Wizard of Oz, Garland sings her heart out looking for the place where love exists for all. She was one of the earliest gay icons and her death is closely associated with the Stonewall Riots, which launched the gay rights movement.

1. "Vogue," Madonna -- Inspired by drag balls. A video with shapely male dancers. Sung by one of the gay community's most beloved icons. This is as gay as it gets.

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