Compilation of Smokey, The Lost Great American Gay Pre-Punk Icons

smokey smokey

I can’t even imagine being a gay artist in the ’70s and trying to find a record that will help me sell my music. By his own admission the only reason John Condon was able to bring his music to the larger public was that his band “Smokey” were fags and they didn’t give a shit. That pretty much sums up the revised re-release of Smokey’s compilation ‘How far will you go’. It’s punk rock and blatantly bold for its times, to put it mildly.

Whether you know something about the music of that time (now some 40 years ago) or not, check this compilation out (for all punk lovers in particular) coz there is something to be said about songs that have lyrics like: ‘Did someone say sex’ in the song ‘Dance the night away’ followed by ‘Cha cha chas’ and the ‘ooos and the aahs’ to the delightfully energized ‘Fire’. There were also some romantic ballads in ‘I will always love you’, and the title track ‘How far will you go’, is the signature piece of the compilation. But its takes something like ‘Piss slave’ to celebrate kink in every word of its lyrics. Truly unabashed!

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The man behind the group Smokey, John Condon, was pretty much rejected by all major record labels for his music being too ‘gay’ and thus he came out with his own S&M record label. This is how Smokey’s songs saw the light of day. It’s funny that even now, for my own bit of education about Smokey and their music, I found little about them through mainstream research. It surely says something about the ‘real’ information that is made accessible to people. Finally, after over four decades Record producer EJ Simmons teamed up with Chapter Music to bring back this collection.

John Condon and Smokey were a product of their history, a creation of post Stonewall America that was grappling with the fact that being gay would have to be talked about. These people were not on the margins and could not be ignored anymore. The music tells this story pretty clearly. It’s political to the core. My favorite song in the compilation is DTNA ‘Dance the night away’ which takes you back to the 70s and celebrates all that comes with being oneself. This is by no means out of place in the contemporariness of our 2015 music. The excitement of feeling, expressing and being who we are, is as true today as it ever was. The songs are all history in the making, as they explore what was happening around them and what it meant to be gay in that time. Even a song like ‘Strong love’ plays on the stereotype of masculinity and what we refer to as man love. Some self-critique of this pervasive idea.

Smokey were the gay punk pioneers, who did what pretty much no one was doing around that time. This compilation of sixteen songs is a lot of fun and a must hear for its style and reminder of some pioneer work that broke the rules in so many ways.

Smokey is out and available on Chapter Music.