Camp Records was a 1960s recording company that released humorous Gay-themed songs in two albums: black vinyl discs that spin on turntables at 33 and 1/3 rotations per minute (rpm), and a series of 45 singles: smaller discs that spin at 45 rpm, also known as 45’s.
The company was an underground commercial enterprise, operating in a time when production and distribution of such songs could lead to arrest for possession and distribution of obscene material.
Camp Records advertised through beefcake magazines: publications featuring muscular (and almost exclusively White) men. Beefcake magazines were promoted as aesthetic in design rather than erotic. They were supposedly published for those who followed bodybuilding or were interested in physical culture: bodybuilding as a healthy, manly, and morally pure activity. Such magazines were often the only legal means for Gay men to get pictures of nearly nude musclemen in the years of the twentieth century before the Stonewall Uprising (1969) and the eventual relaxation of censorship against homoerotic photographs.
The Queen Is in the Closet
This album was novelty songs with comedic lyrics sung by men.
Stereotypes associated with effeminate men, such as feminine clothing and campy behavior, make up much of the content. One example is “A Bar Is a Bar Is a Bar,” in which Gay men are called “kids” (a term that is also used in Ballroom folklife for people “in the scene”):
There is a tavern in this town
Where every waiter wears a gown
It’s such fun you’ll never want to leave
And when it’s raided you will grieve
Oh, the laws are getting rougher
The police are getting tougher
If they raid this bar again we’ll have no place to play
Oh, they do not want a drag joint
and they’re very firm on that point
Though we break no laws we’ll have to go away
“Li’l Liza Mike” is about a masculine woman who is attracted to women:
Now I got a gal that’s mighty strange. li’l Liza Mike
I’m afraid she ain’t ever gonna change, li’l Liza Mike
She never wants to wear a skirt, li’l Liza Mike
Wears Levi’s [jeans] and a big sweat shirt, li’l Liza Mike
The songs are meant to be light-hearted and silly. But there are nevertheless somber undertones in the lyrics. In “A Bar Is a Bar Is a Bar,” police raids are condemned in the midst of comic presentation. By the end of “Li’l Liza Mike” (a parody of the song, “Li’l Liza Jane”), the male singer who wants li’l Liza Mike follows her to her bar with a “clientele that’s kind of gay.” He then falls in love with a femme man named Bill, presenting a picture of Gay festive culture that includes feminine men and masculine women together.
Mad About the Boy
The album title is from a popular song written by openly Gay composer Noel Coward for Words and Music, a musical review that opened in 1932. The song describes an adoring fan’s infatuation for a male movie icon. Although the song was written for women to sing, the original Broadway version has campy references to a smitten male fan in a business suit, the effeminacy of the movie icon, and psychoanalysis. Censors prevented the original version from being performed on Broadway.
Mad About the Boy features men with masculine voices singing popular torch songs (romantic songs, from the phrase, “carry a torch” for somebody) about the men they love without being overtly campy, with lyrics such as those of “Make the Man Love Me”:
I must try to make the man love me
Make the man love me now
By and by, I’ll make the man happy
I know how
He must see how badly I want him
Want him just as he is
May I say that should the man ask me
I’ll be his
Romantic rather than comedic, the album Mad About the Boy does not consistently equate same-sex attraction with effeminate behavior in men and masculine behavior in women, nor does it have lyrics that trivialize same-sex love and gender variation as comic.
Camp Records songs were also released on 45 singles, one song on one side, a second song on the other. The singles are humorous in content and in the names given to the artists, such as “Homer the Happy Little Homo” by Bird E. Bath and the Gentle-Men, and “Leather Jacket Lovers” by Sandy Beech. None of the actual musicians on Camp Records gave their real names. In order to avoid trouble for recording songs that were considered immoral and possibly criminal, the entire operation was kept as anonymous as possible.
Many of the songs on albums and 45′s used popular tunes with re-written lyrics. One single, “What Can the Matter Be,” is easily recognizable as the children’s nursery rhyme, “Johnny’s So Long at the Fair.” Others use more subtle musical references, such as in the song “Mixed Nuts,” which opens with a melody reminiscent of the popular tune “Strangers in Paradise” from the 1953 musical Kismet. Rearranging the music and lyrics of popular tunes into narratives of same-sex love and play, the authors wrote in the album notes to Mad About the Boy, “was to prove that good songs could and should be sung by everyone. Gender should not be a determining factor as to who should sing what.”
Boucher, Cindy. “Newly Imagined Audiences: Folkways’ Gay and Lesbian Records.” Journal of Popular Music Studies. Vol. 20, Issue 2, June 2008, pp. 129-149.
Doyle, J. D. Queer Music Heritage website: http://www.queermusicheritage.us/index2.html, accessed July 2010.
Payne, Graham and Barry Day. My Life with Noel Coward. New York: Applause, 1994.