It’s always a surprise to people who don’t know the Midwest very well that there are actually, get this, lesbians who live there. When I moved to New York with my partner, the maintenance men looked at us—my soft-butch baseball tee and Charlie’s shaved head—and said, “How did you girls even make it out there?” And truthfully, I don’t really know. Living and going to college in Iowa’s bluest bubble surely had a lot to do with it. But we did, and we’re not the only ones; I mean, Melissa Etheridge made her name being a cowgirl gay. Just look at this leather jacket she wore at a Chiefs game, of all things. So in honor of her iconic cowgirl Big Dyke Energy, her talent, and her beam of hope for us rural queers, here are Melissa Etheridge’s top 10 studio albums ranked from least to most gay. I say “least gay” loosely, as they’re all pretty damn gay. Enjoy:
10. A New Thought for Christmas (2008) ★★
Christmas is kind of a hard time to be really gay. I mean, you do get make cute little families of gingerbread and snowmen, but leave it to Melissa Etheridge to remind us that sometimes all you have to do make a family Christmas gay, is to show up. Making a scene wouldn’t hurt either. Not that I would know.
9. 4th Street Feeling (2012) ★★ 1/2
The Christmas album aside, there’s not a whole lot of especially tender songs in M.E.’s discography, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a kind of intimacy and 4th Street Feeling is filled with love songs with decidedly queer meanings. Describing “I Can Wait” on the album commentary, she says, “It’s a song about being still while your partner might be going through whatever they’re going through… but my part in it is to not take it personally and not assume anything and to let my partner go have her fear, her journey, whatever they’re supposed to do, and I will stay right here and wait.” That’s pretty good advice, I think, and pretty gay.
8. Brave and Crazy (1989) ★★★
Still a full five years before M.E. would come out publicly, Brave and Crazy was released full of songs of forbidden love. But how anyone could think there was a heterosexual explanation for opening the whole album on the lines, “Hello, hello this is Romeo. / Calling from a jackpot telephone. / Shame, shame, but I love your name,” is beyond me.
7. This is M.E. (2014) ★★★
It’s rare that an album inspires in me so much existential confusion, but after 2014’s This Is M.E., I can’t even say “me” without at least quickly thinking of Melissa. The whole album sounds tough and ready to fight (like so many of my favorite queers). But no song captures that spirit quite like “The Monster.” It’s no secret that queers love using monsters as metaphors for ourselves, for the way society sometimes sees us, but this is a bob even the Babadook could tussle to. I mean, come on: “I’m gigantic, titanic I might cause a panic / Ready or not baby here I come / I am a monster / Full of desire full of love / I am a monster / The one that everyone is so afraid of.”
6. Breakdown (1999) ★★★ 1/2
Despite her questionable allegiance to the Kansas City Chiefs, M.E. has always been able to absolutely belt out a political anthem, and you don’t need to look any further than “Scarecrow” for the kind of revolutionary kind of lesbianism anger. Like she says: “Showers of your crimson blood / Seep into a nation calling up a flood / Of narrow minds who legislate / Thinly veiled intolerance / Bigotry and hate / But they tortured and burned you / They beat you and they tied you / They left you cold and breathing / For love they crucified you”
5. Your Little Secret (1995) ★★★★ ½
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As if this title weren’t enough to let you know that you were in for something sapphic, then the cover art would. It looks like a soft-core porn cover: the keyhole, the dark lined eye, the hand partially covering her face as if caught in the motion of calling you through. It’s an accurate depiction for the album which asks the listener to come join and be part of the kind of intimacy that is usually saved for closed doors. Take “An Unusual Kiss” for a super gay example: “1:25 a.m. / I thought that you were headed for the door / Then something touched my skin / I won’t ask you to leave here anymore/ Was it the talk or the drink or the dance that led to this? / Was I so naive presuming the innocence? / Well it’s 1:54 and it’s such an unusual kiss”
4. Lucky (2004) ★★★★ ½
I’ll be completely honest and say that I’m rating this whole album this high mostly because the title track is such a bop, and I may or not have lip-synched “I want to see how lucky lucky can be! I want to ride with my Angel and live shockingly! I want to drive to the edge and into the sea!” on Snapchat Story. I’m practicing for next time I’m at Stonewall on karaoke night.
3. MEmphis Rock and Soul (2016) ★★★★ 1/2
MEmphis Rock and Soul, her most recent album, is probably also one of her most interesting. It’s full of more musical allusions than ever and finally incorporates other singers, whose soul merges so well with Melissa’s kind of rock. And “Any Other Way” is an absolutely relatable song for when your ex sends someone to ask about you. We’ve all been on both of sides that before. It’s a sad part of gay culture where even our breakups are still filled with care. Like former GO editor, Corinne, writes “We queers are hard-wired to do that, to sit with our ex-lovers and process the feelings we have about our breakup, even after the fact, and call it ‘friendship.’”
2. Yes I Am (1993) ★★★★★
And speaking of queer breakups, the last time I listened to “Yes I Am,” full disclosure this was like two months ago, I was deep in that post-breakup process. I walked past her apartment building on my way home from work hoping to run into her. And one day, when I finally did, I put in earbuds and hit play only to hear M.E. sing “So you walked with me for a while / Bared your naked soul /And you told me of your plan / How you would never let them know / In the morning of the night / You cried a long lost child / And I tried oh I tried to hold you / But you were young / And you were wild / But, I , I will never be the same” So for sentimental reasons alone I would say this album is pretty gay, but it’s also worth mentioning that M.E. released this album just months after she came out. So it’s all there. Every beautiful, heart-wrenching moment of it. I’m not crying. You are.
1. Melissa Etheridge (1988) ★★★★★
Finally, the absolute gayest Melissa Etheridge album of all is Melissa Etheridge. If not for “The Way I Do” then for the sheer Big Dyke Energy of releasing a self-titled album right off the bat, the first album out.