I would have liked to call this piece “A Gay Man’s Guide to the 10 Best Songs to Listen to While Doing Housework,” but since it is very hard to hear music over a vacuum cleaner, I have created this list to accompany the most quiet of household tasks, the dreary, dreaded, dolorous and thoroughly disagreeable removal of dust. Intuitively, a gay man understands that to dust well requires not only the right tunes, but a musical approach to the physical task itself. A short list of dusting moves any gay house cleaner worth his salt must know, would include the theatrical swipe, the broad lunge, the jab, the Tinkerbell (jumping to reach a high object whilst fluttering your dusting sceptor of choice), the around-the world and, perhaps the best-loved of all, the “I can see myself.” Proper gay dusting attire will be addressed in subequent installments.
Regarding housework repertoire, a good dusting song for a gay man should be rousing, anthemic, or highly dramatic and be both musically and lyrically motivating within the context of housework. A successful selection can be uptempo or a ballad but in either case should distract from the onorous work at hand while simultaneously transporting the duster’s imagination someplace else. This special destination—this someplace else—is, of course, highly personal. For me, it is either to a five star hotel in an exotic locale or, even better, to my own imaginary urban aerie where I have staff of people to supervise. In either of these exalted imaginary places, the only thing required of me would be some advance straightening to allow the cleaner access to surfaces or, even better, some casual pointing (as in, I think you missed a spot, or make sure you move the lamp—don’t just dust around it), while I catch up on the phone with an old friend.
Here then, is the first Stargayzing list of songs that will make your dusting responsibilities as effortless and light as a cloud of Febreze wafting across your California King. From my home to yours—with love.
Oh the ’80s were so great for this kind of biblical, sonic, schmaltz. Though any Jim Steinman production is great for housework—one could easily make a strong argument for any of his work with Meatloaf, Celine Dion, or even Air Supply—I opted to lead with what may, in fact, be his most bombastic record ever, Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.” If you are at all familiar with Steinman’s approach, you know that this is not a small statement. Mr. Steinman was fortunate enough to have his record of “Holding Out for a Hero” included on the Footloose soundtrack, which ensured a major payday for him and the song’s co-writer, the estimable Dean Pitchford (who also co-wrote the film’s title song, as well as Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear it for the Boy.”)
“Holding Out for a Hero” is so over-the-top that when it came time to shoot the video, it was, apparently, determined that the only visual capable of supporting the operatic intensity of Steinman’s studio wizardry was to put the Welsh songbird on top of the Grand Canyon. The resulting clip conjurs Clash of the Titan-level drama; one half expects Zeus to reach down from the heavens to deposit a hero at Bonnie’s feet. It is hard to think of another record in any genre released since 1984 that comes close to matching “Holding Out for a Hero” for turbo-charged Sturm und Drang. It remains for me, the crack cocaine of diva pop.
I recommend this song for dusting the highest peaks of your home: tops of bookshelves, on top of the refrigerator, or the tippy top of your closets—the places only goddesses like you and Bonnie Tyler can hope to reach. Bonnie needed a helicopter to reach her royal perch, but you need only need Stargayzing to click:
I recommend keeping the housework sound bed lively by pulling from many genres. Toward that end we have one of my favorite country tunes, “The Auctioneer.” The LeRoy Van Dyke and Buddy Black composition is certainly one of the catchiest ditties of the 1950s. Missouri native Van Dyke wrote the song while stationed in Korea and, upon his return home, entered it in a contest that led to a record deal with Dot Records. Van Dyke has had a long country music career, in fact, he’s still alive.
You’ll be living for this earworm and the hertoefore unknown regional qualities it will bring forth in your dusting. Do not be surprised if you begin to square dance, even if you have never square danced before, or spontaneously begin to bid on your own dusty knick knacks. The response frequently begins with a slight, insistent up and down shoulder move and can quickly spread throughout the body. Don’t be alarmed: this is all a normal response to “The Auctioneer.” Just remember: keep dusting, you’re not really at an auction and most of your crap has no value to anyone but you.
After the jump, enjoy eight more of Stargayzing’s all-time best dusting songs.
I have written extensively about “Working Girl (For the)” on Stargayzing in the past—in fact, it got an entire blog piece writen about it—but when it comes to my regard for the song, one just can’t say too much. Culled from the more linear-titled album For the Working Girl, this Melissa Manchester/Bernie Taupin song was meant to be an everywoman anthem, a sort of “I Am Woman” for its own time. There had even been talk of a film to be spun off from the song’s narrative and produced by Taupin’s production company.
Sadly, none of that came to pass. Even worse, the song wasn’t even released as a single. What was label head Clive Davis thinking? Maybe Arista got cold feet and lost its appetite for working a feminist anthem with a shit load of vibrato at radio. Or maybe the promotion department struggled with what is certainly one of Taupin’s worst lines ever: “a nest eggs a day dream, that never gets laid.” Whatever the reasons, I’m still sad about what happened so I like to talk about it once in a while; it’s cathartic. I listen to the song regularly—probably once a week—but it never makes me happier than when while I’m doing work around the house. Try it and you’ll see. Taupin’s lyric, notwithstanding the line about the nest egg, is perfectly paired with Manchester’s passionate, theatrical performance. I guarantee you will identify with every put upon occupation Melissa names as you clean your home.
4. “This is My Life (La Vita),” Shirley Bassey (1968)
There is nothing like adding a dollop of defiance to your ballads to keep the dusting on track. Dame Shirley Bassey’s 1968 lung-busting anthem is just the song to do it. Never known for her restraint, here Miss Bassey really let’s it rip and the seismic result is one of her signature tunes. If you don’t know it, you’re in for a treat. If you do know the song but haven’t heard it in a while, it will feel like you’ve run into an old friend that you had mixed feelings about; though charismatic, you find this old friend loud, unduly attention-seeking and forever mired in her anger issues dressed up as self-actualization. I’m sure you know the type.
A word of warning: absolutely do not work with anything fragile while listening to Miss Brassey, as the sheer power of her voice and depths of her desperation to, you know, grow, are likely to summon forth your own anger issues. A safe bet is to work on wood objects for the 3:17 seconds it takes the singer to get it out of her system.
Mickey Katz was a trailblazer. In the years after WWII he became famous as a Yiddish musician and comic who enjoyed a great deal of crossover success. First as a member of Spike Jones and His City Slickers and then on his own, Katz released many successful LPs. Though his music bore a clear influence of both jazz and Klezmer, Katz is best remembered today for his parody records. One of my favorites is his “Borscht Riders in the Sky,” a parody of the 1948 country standard “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” For me what makes Katz so impressive, beyond the inate likability and musciality of his records, is how willing he was to make his ethnicity the focus of his work at time when so many performers were circumspect about their Jewishness. In addition to his great records, Katz has also left us the familial legacy of his son, the legendary performer Joel Grey, and granddaughter Jennifer Grey.
For our purposes here, let me say that listening to Mickey Katz while dusting is wonderfully motivating. When I do, I immediately feel transported to my grandparents dining room. In the sound of Katz’ Yiddishisms, I hear their generation and it is a comforting sound. For that reason, may I suggest you work in the dining room while listening to the most meshuga Mickey?
6. Medley: “Tropical Nights/Bali Hai,” Liza Minnelli (1977)
There was a period in the late-1970s where everyone made a disco record. Given the lemming-like tendencies of the record business to begin with, it was practically mandatory. For Miss Minnelli, who was not a stranger to discos in the first place, a foray to the dance floor probably made more sense than it did for many of her peers, (like say…Ethel Merman, maybe?) The resulting record, Tropical Nights, is not one of her strongest efforts, but I love it anyway, primarily for the album cover (art directed by LuAnn Graffeo) and for the inclusion of this frantic medley.
Though the “Tropical Nights/Bali Hai” medley begins atmospherically enough, by the time you get to the end of the 6:17 track you will be thrashing through your medicine chest for something in the benzodiazpine family: it’s that caffeinated. As always, Liza is up, up, up for anything and here she gives it her all (and then some). Belting at full volume and at the very top of her range for six minutes about the tropics will do far more for your dusting than it probably did for Liza’s pipes. Speaking of plumbing, this record is long enough to finish a particularly annoying task, like cleaning out under the sink, so get crackin’.
7. “Up All Night,” Taylor Dayne (1989)
Though I’d already left Arista by the time Taylor’s second album Can’t Fight Fate was released, I always had an affinity for her and the other artists I knew and worked with at the very beginning of my career. Though Diane Warren’s “I’ll Be Your Shelter” and “Love Will Lead You Back” are the well-known mega-hits from this album, I always particularly enjoyed Shelly Peiken’s “Up All Night,” which easily could have been a hit as well.
The fact that I still enjoy listening to the song almost 25 years later is a testament to how highly I regard it still; that I’m endorsing the song as a house cleaning pick confers on the song an even greater level of esteem. But be warned in advance, this earworm of a twirler may very well have you prancing around with your dusting wand like a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
It’s hard to express how much I enjoyed (and still adore) the bizarre cultural mash-up of country legend Tammy Wynnette and the U.K. band KLF. At the time the song was an international hit. I love hearing Tammy singing about Mu Mu Land and other things that don’t make sense. At the time, she was quoted as saying, “I really don’t know why they chose me. I was apprehensive at first, but I’m really excited with the way it’s all turned out. Mu Mu Land looks a lot more interesting than Tennessee, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
There was a terrific video as well, but I haven’t included it here because you would end up sitting and watching it and get no housework done. I encourage you to seek it out on YouTube when you finish your cleaning.
9. “If He Walked Into My Life,” Angela Lansbury (1966)
In general I enjoy a wide range of musical styles but never more than while dusting. I think it is important to not get stuck in a rut; to keep the music varied both in tempo, genre, and vibe. Toward that end, a little Jerry Herman is never the wrong choice. Though I certainly do suggest housework accompanied by some of his uptempo standards, sometimes an exremely dramatic ballad allows the duster to step in to the frame of mind of the character. You’ll be surprised how this can impact your dusting and even change your style.
In this 11 o’clock number from Mame (1966), Mame Dennis looks back wistfully at the choices she made. Though Eydie Gormé had a hit with the song (and actually won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Performance), I thought I would share the great Miss Lansbury’s version from the Original Cast Album. If a bit of restraint is not your cup of tea, I always like to say, “Go with Gormé!”
Tigra and Bunny D. were two teenage girls from Kendall, Florida whose tribute to subwoofers was a minor hit back in 1989. I have always enjoyed dusting to L’Trimm and I think you will too. Though she may not enjoy it as much as I do, I bet Bunny has plenty of housework herself, having been married no less than five times, (though she only had four kids with four of her husbands). Who knows, maybe the sixth husband is the charm.
This song brings back fond memories of my days working at W.E.A. International (now Warner Music International), and serves as fun-filled finale to our first installment of great songs to dust to.