Classics: Carl Bean – I Was Born This Way (Motown)
“I’m walking through life in nature’s disguise. You laugh at me and you criticize. ‘Cause I’m happy, carefree and gay, yes, I’m gay. It ain’t a fault, it’s a fact. I was born this way. Now I won’t judge you, don’t you judge me, we’re all the way nature meant us to be…”
Here we go with nothing but the first ever openly gay protest song. Although the original version of ‘I Was Born This Way’ saw the light two years before, back in 1975. And this by the likes of Chris Harris aka Valentino. Meanwhile, just like Valentino, ‘I Was Born This Way’ happened to be the one and only success by the likes of Carl Bean. This makin’ both of them belonging to the list of the one hit wonders.
Written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones, ‘I Was Born This Way’ sounded quite different from a release to another as a matter of fact. With Valentino delivering the message over a 4X12 beat-driven rhythm pattern. Meanwhile Carl Bean appeared like in a Philadelphia soundin’ environment. With thanks to its production by the likes of Norman Harris, Ron Kersey and T.G. Conway. But also to its mixing work courtesy of Tom Moulton.
Unsurprisingly, Frankie Crocker heavily championed both versions of ‘I Was Born This Way’ on WBLS at the time. Meanwhile Bean‘s version resurfaced almost ten years later on the Next Plateau label with extra remixes. From the Better Days Version and The Club Mix by the likes of Bruce Forrest and Shep Pettibone. To Timmy Regisford and Boyd Jarvis in charge of an additional one.
No need saying as to how ‘I Was Born This way’ had a huge impact. And this, not only in the history of the NYC clubbing, but also in the maturation of the local House scene. With many producers sampling fragments of it along with time. From Roger S on Underground Solution‘s ‘Luv’ Dancing’. To Pal Joey on Earth People‘s ‘Dance’. Not to mention to Masters At Work on Black Magic‘s ‘Dance (Do That Thing)’ to name but a few.
Also worth the mention is its late 2015 interpolation. In other words, ‘Love Is The Answer’ by the likes of Bob Sinclar & Dimitri from Paris along with Byron Stingily…
A quick look at Carl Bean‘s life shows as to how contrariety kinda modelled his life. Hailing from Baltimore, MD, he realized from a very early age that he was attracted to men but kept that secret at first. And when, at the age of twelve he did acknowledge to his foster parents that he was gay, they sought pastoral counseling for him. The session left him feeling so rejected and despondent that he attempted suicide by taking all the medicines that he could find in the house. Eventually returing to his birth mother, whose greater acceptance of his sexual orientation made his next years happier.
Bean left his Baltimore home at the age of sixteen to become a Gospel singer. His decision to use his musical gifts to spread the word of God led him first to New York. This being how, for several years, he lived and performed in Harlem in the early 60’s. This appearing at such prestigious venues as the Apollo Theater.
He next went to Chicago, IL, which was home to a number of prominent Black Gospel performers. Bean sang with the Gospel Chimes and the Gospel Wonders, then joined the Alex Bradford Singers. And with the latter, he appeared in Langston Hughes‘ ‘Black Nativity’, with more stage roles following. Then, after a last appearance in Micki Grant‘s ‘Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope’ on Broadway, he left the stage in 1972.
Bean moved to Los Angeles, CA. There, while working in a department store, a recording opportunity came his way. This with producers at Motown offering him to record a cover version of Bunny Jones‘ ‘I Was Born This Way’ after they heard him performing on the 1974 ‘All We Need Is Love’ album under the Carl Bean & Universal Love guise.
With its lyrics including such sentiments as “I’ve learned to hold my head up high / Not in scorn or disgrace” and “We’re all the way nature meant us to be”, as well as its chorus proclaiming “I’m happy, I’m carefree, I’m gay. / I was born this way”, the song became something of a gay anthem.
From then, Motown wanted Bean to do additional records and eventually sing more commercially viable love songs about women. But Bean declined the offer and decided to pursue his vocation as a minister.
Bean‘s name reappeared by the beginning of the 80’s though. This on a couple of singles on Californian label Airwave Records. With both of them teasing about a forthcoming album. But the latter never saw the light at the end. And, by the mid-80’s, Bean‘s emblematic anthem resurfaced on Next Plateau with remixes courtesy of Bruce Forrest and Shep Pettibone on one hand. And Timmy Regisford and Boyd Jarvis on the other.
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