This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #329: Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat.
I have always been free to be me.
Never once have I been threatened or bullied or jailed or denied services because of who I actually am. Most people think that I am a decent guy, which is good because I am. Some may think I am boring or nerdy. Sometimes, even I would have to agree. But, no one taunts me on the street or tries to hit me or run me out of town because I am quiet and tend to keep to myself. I am who I am and no one has ever really made it an issue. I am lucky even if I don’t feel lucky. I just feel like me.
“Small Town Boy” by Bronski Beat tells a far different story. It was released in the early 1980s at a time when the A.I.D.S. epidemic was viewed as God’s revenge against homosexuality. It was not a time of Pride Festivals and Rainbow flags. It was a dangerous time for some people to be who they really were and love who they really wanted to love. “Small Town Boy” tells the semi-autobiographical story of singer Jimmy Sommerville, who felt compelled to leave his hometown in Scotland and move to a larger centre like London, where the chances of him standing out in a crowd were less and the chances of him fitting in with his crowd were greater. The opening lines of the song paint a picture of sadness and lonliness.
“You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case,
Alone on a platform, the wind and the rain, on a sad and lonely face.”
In the song, the main character (Sommerville) is encouraged by his friends to approach another boy at a pool who he finds attractive. The second boy is appalled. Later, along with some friends, he tracks down Sommerville and administers a beating to him for being Gay. The police eventually arrive and end up bringing the Sommerville home, which is when his parents find out their son is a homosexual. The Dad is furious and embarrassed. The Mom thinks it best if he simply leaves so she gives him bus fare…which is how he ends up standing alone on a platform in the wind and the rain.
“Small Town Boy” isn’t the only song to ever deal with the loneliness and danger involved in being Gay in a world that isn’t always accepting of lifestyles that differ from the norm but, it is one of the most famous. While it didn’t, singlehandedly change society’s attitudes toward becoming more open and accepting, it did shine a spotlight on a social situation that required some attention and discussion. Consequently this song has played a vital, early role in helping make the world safer for everyone.
As for Jimmy Sommerville, himself, he had a long, productive career in Bronski Beat, as well as a band called The Communards and a solo career, to boot. But, he will forever be associated with that image of being that boy who was “alone on a platform, the wind and rain, on a sad and lonely face“. When asked if he had any regrets about being a one-hit wonder or being pigeon-holed by a single song, Sommerville replied, “How could I be upset. For the first time, I was me, being me“. From all accounts, Sommerville has gone on to live a happy and productive life. He has accepted that he is a role-model for many others who may have been saddled with self-doubt, fear and loneliness because of their sexual orientation. He is proud that he may have been able to play even a small role in anyone’s transition from living in the shadows to living full-on in the light.
I wrote this post in the month of June, which is Pride Month in Ontario, Canada, where I live. We have a Rainbow crosswalk downtown and Rainbow flags atop our town hall, the local police station and at area schools. It is a safer world for those who identify as LGBTQIA. But their world is still not as safe as my world. Until that time comes, it is important that all of us remain as safe harbours for any who require a haven in their own personal tempest. It is also important that we remain vigilant for those who may wish to change laws that would see our society return to the golden age where being “alone on a platform” was where society felt that the gays deserved to be. No one actually deserves that. Everyone should be able to love who they wish and be who they truly are. No one should have to be alone anymore. Love is Love is Love.
Here is “Bronksi Beat” with “Small Town Boy”. Enjoy.
The link for the video to the song, Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.
The link to the official website for Bronski Beat, can be found here.
Thank you to KEXP for playing music that is as inclusive as it is inspiring. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.
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