“Free” by Ultra Naté (1997)

I spent a fair amount of time in gay bars during 1997 and 1998. I’m reasonably positive that I went to Pride in NYC both years (actually, I’m reasonably sure I attended Pride in NYC every year from 1995 until 2007 or so.) If you were anywhere near a gay bar anywhere in the late ’90s, I can with almost 100% certainty say that you are familiar with Ultra Naté¹’s “Free”.

Unlike a lot of dance music that was making people twirl in the late ’90s, “Free” was a traditional pop song-meaning that it had a melody, verses, a chorus, even a bridge! That alone was worth points in my book. The lyrics weren’t threadbare or trite, either. The message of “Free”- be yourself, live your life, don’t let anything hold you back-provided inspiration for queer men and women who were fearful of being their true selves (for very valid reasons, especially at that time) as resonated strongly with queer men and women who’d fought the fight and were now living their truths.

I’m reasonably sure that there were some straight people who liked “Free”, too.

I posted a picture of Madonna’s debut album on my Instagram the other day in honor of Madge’s birthday and remarked that some of that album’s songs, despite not being incredibly well known to the general public, were huge hits in cities like New York. Same goes for “Free”, which only peaked at #75 on Billboard‘s pop chart. Lowly American chart placing notwithstanding, “Free” is a classic. It’s a transcendent anthem of liberation that inspires the heart as much as (possibly even more than) it inspires you to shake your ass.

¹-That’s her real name!!

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