Friday, October 14, 2011

Cover Me Impressed: 'Johnny, Are You Queer?'

There has always been a debate about whose song this really is. Most give the credit to Josie Cotton, and I understand that. She released it as an indie single in 1981. It became a minor hit and helped get her signed to Elektra. The song really blew up in 1983 when Cotton performed the song during the prom scene of the film 'Valley Girl.' Quite a few in-the-know music fans, especially in the L.A. area, however, already knew this song well years before because it was a live staple of the then all-girl punk band the Go-Go's. Then there was the little-known studio version from the punk band Fear that popped up on bootlegs. So, whose song is it? Actually, it's the property of two songwriting brothers that had relationships with all three of these acts.

In the late '70s, the Paine brothers, Bobby and Larson, wrote the song and had begun working with and representing the Go-Go's. They gave the song to the band to use in their shows, and it became a showstopper. Unfortunately, the Paines and the Go-Go's had a falling out in 1980 when the band went against management wishes and toured England with Madness. The relationship was severed, and the band wasn't allowed to use the song.

A short time later, Cotton began dating Larson and got permission from him to use the song one time on a demo. Finally, the Paines just let her have it. When it appeared on her major-label debut album, it should have been a smash, but Elektra was a mess at the time and dropped the ball. Still, Cotton got the song on wax. So, I feel like the song should be most associated with her. L.A. fans of the Go-Go's from their earliest days may not necessarily agree.

Throwing another wrinkle in this whole timeline, however, is that the hardcore-punk band Fear had a working relationship with the Paines too, and Cotton told Magnet in 2006 that Fear was performing the song before either her or the Go-Go's. They did record a studio version too, and you can find it on bootlegs like 'Living With Fear.' Although I consider myself a fan, I have never heard Fear do this song. If you have, let me know if I'm missing something.

So which band did the original? Does it matter? All I know is both Cotton and the Go-Go's are great. The Go-Go's take below is from a live show at the Mabuhay in San Francisco, circa August 1979. It can be found on 'Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's.' In case you were wondering, since reuniting, the Go-Go's do pull this song out from time to time. As for Cotton, you can find her first two albums on one disc here. This one approaches must-buy territory.

The Go-Go's - Johnny, Are You Queer? (Live, 1979) (mp3)
Josie Cotton - Johnny, Are You Queer? (mp3)

More Cover Me Impressed:
"Almost Saturday Night"
"Too Many Teardrops"
"Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me"
"They Don't Know"
"Everybody's Talkin'"
"What Goes On"
"There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"
Halloween Edition
"Porpoise Song"
"Prairie Rose"
"Come On Eileen"
"Walking On Thin Ice"
Jason Falkner Edition
"True Love Will Find You In The End"
"This Will Be Our Year"
"You're My Favorite Waste of Time"
"The End Of The World"
"(Don't Go Back To)Rockville"
"God Only Knows"
"And Your Bird Can Sing"
"So Sad About Us"
"Walking The Cow"

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