2003   JUNE 14   #165

Byrd E. Bath and Guests, featuring Rodney Dangerfield - Lil Liza Mike/A Naughty-cal Tale/Florence of Arabia

The Queen Is In The Closet was released sometime between 1961 and 1965 on the obscure Hollywood-based label Camp Records; according to the exceedingly helpful page at http://www.queermusicheritage.com/camp.html, the album was advertised in a 1965 issue of the underground gay magazine Vagabond, and it must have been recorded after 1961 because that's when the comedy career started of the only one of the album's participants to go on to bigger things under the same name: Rodney Dangerfield.

Yes, I know. America's favorite schlemiel made gay-themed party records early in his career? I was surprised too, but the credits on the cover and label scans at the above-mentioned site have it in black and white: the matinee idol-styled lead vocal on "Florence of Arabia" is none other than himself. (I wonder if the very similar lead vocal on "A Naughty-cal Tale" - which posits new and interesting answers to the musical question "What do you do with a drunken sailor?" - is also ol' Rod; the other lead singer is the pseudonymous Byrd E. Bath.)

The presence of the openly heterosexual Rodney Dangerfield on these tracks aside, the writers and performers of these tracks clearly know and identify with their presumed audience. It's probably hard to fathom in these post-John Waters times, but the gay subculture in the pre-Stonewall era was largely invisible from mainstream America; anybody who's seen five minutes' worth of an episode of Will and Grace will get these jokes now, but in the early '60s, that wasn't necessarily the case. The tone is gleefully silly - even if charges of political incorrectness had been in favor at the time, these jokers' response would be a eye-rolling "Oh, Mary, do hush up!" - but there's something sweet, even almost innocent about these goofy celebrations of early '60s gay culture.

- Stewart Mason

TT-8:45 / 8MB / 128kbps 44.1khz
From the LP "The Queen Is In The Closet" (Camp Records 3455) c. 1961-1965

(Image courtesy of Stewart Mason)

Doug Harvey writes:
I have this LP and have a theory that the cover art was done by Andy Warhol - he was still doing commercial work in the early 60s and the image done in his signature blotted ink style (that he stole from Ben Shahn). He usually signed stuff but may have not here because of the content or because his art career was taking off and he didn't want to draw attention to his commercial work. You can quote me on this, but it's just a theory.