Album Reviews

Love Is A Drag: For Adult Listeners Only (Modern Harmonic)

love-is-a-drag

Love Is A Drag
Love Is a Drag: For Adult Listeners Only
Modern Harmonic

Modern Harmonic, a new sub-label of the renowned Sundazed Records, specializes in obscure esoterica related to jazz. Their latest find, Love Is A Drag, is a curiosity from a different era, a time and place that was merely fifty years ago yet seems like the Stone Age today. Hailed on the cover as “Sultry Stylings By A Most Unusual Vocalist,” the vocalist wasn’t actually named on the record, though years of research discovered that the vocalist was Gene Howard, a jazz vocalist who worked with Stan Kenton and was an on-call studio backing singer.

It’s only because of the “Most Unusual Vocalist” that makes Love Is A Drag of interest. Musically speaking, Love Is A Drag is merely boilerplate jazz vocalist covers of pop standards such as “Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered,” “My Man,” and “Mad About The Boy.” However, what makes this record of interest is that Howard is singing these songs without changing the gender of the songs; not so shocking now, but in 1962, a record like this would have been shocking—if not possibly illegal—in a society that wasn’t accepting of homosexuality. But the thing is, Howard was not gay, and Love Is A Drag was done as a lark—if not as a joke—and released in such a low-key manner that even in 1962 very few outside of the music world would have heard about it, even though it did have its cult appeal in certain circles.

Love Is A Drag isn’t a particularly good record; while Howard is a good vocalist, and the arrangements are lovely, there’s a certain stiffness to his singing that makes the performances feel staid, perfunctory, and, well…just plain dull. For an album containing love songs, the performances on Love Is A Drag are void of passion or emotion. One almost senses the discomfort and awkwardness that a straight man would have in singing standards to another man. (Not that straight people can’t sing from a gay perspective without passion or conviction; The Frogs, for instance, built a career with their militantly gay-and-proud album It’s Only Right And Natural, though neither Flemion brothers were actually gay.)

Society has changed so much since Love Is A Drag was released; were it released in today’s world, a record like this wouldn’t be seen as shocking or require the anonymity that surrounded it. Though mediocre by musical standards, what Love Is A Drag does offer is a glimpse into a time when both civil rights  and tolerance for those of non-heteronormative persuasions was nonexistent, wherein a record like this was a breath of fresh air for those in the gay community, and was, on some small level, a step forward in the fight for eventual cultural acceptance.

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