In the Civil War folk song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", there's the refrain "we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home".
The tune of that song was originally a folk ballad called "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye." This earlier ballad contains the equally innocuous line "And me darlin', dear, ye look so queer."
An instance that rings especially odd to modern ears occurs in a hit song of the 1930s, "Girls Were Made To Love And Kiss"; the singer, defending his womanizing ways, asks "Shall I be blamed if God has made me gay?" (Given that the word was already Jazz slang for both "swinger" and "homosexual" by that time, this may have been an intentional Double Entendre, an in-joke that most listeners would miss.)
In Jerry Vale's "Pretend You Don't See Her", the singer advises himself to "smile and pretend to be gay" when the object of his unrequited affections approaches.
The title song from Tom Waits' musical The Black Rider uses the original meaning of "gay", probably in order to sound old-timey.
In the classic ballad "The Cowboy's Lament" (perhaps better known as "The Streets of Laredo") the dying cowboy sings "Once in the saddle I used to go dashing, once in the saddle I used to go gay." Perhaps that's why he got shot.
The Platters' "The Great Pretender" is "happy and gay like a clown". This song was also covered by Freddie Mercury, of all people.
Frankie Lymon And The Teenager's "Why Do Fools Fall In Love"
Why do birds sing so gay, And lovers await the break of day?
Andy Williams' "May Each Day", which was sung at the end of his shows, contained the line "May each day in the year be a good one, / May each dawn find you happy and gay" in the older sense of lively and joyous, as he was wishing the audience joyful memories for each day and moment of the year.
"Like a gay tarantella? Apparently, Dean has a 'side Dean' we know nothing about!"
The old song "Aba Daba Honeymoon": All night long they chattered away / All day long they were happy and gay
"It's a Big, Wide, Wonderful World" is a lovely old song that's never heard nowadays, possibly due to its opening lines comparing being in love to being "a gay Santa Claus."
Nowadays, it's hard enough during Christmas to find time to Deck The Hall[s] with boughs of holly; some of us will never manage, "Don we now our gay apparel." More recently, the hole's been dug deeper with, "Troll the ancient yuletide carol."
Lampshaded in one of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's Christmas specials, where one of the puppets sings the line, suddenly realizes what he has said, and giggles about it.
In Family Guy, Brian was given a Christmas sweater by Lois. It was rather effeminate, and had the caption "HO! HO! HO!" on it. When she insisted that he wear it, using this line, he said, "doesn't get much gayer than this".
Somehow made it through in the family film Franklin's Magic Christmas. Nelvana was aiming to use the traditional unaltered lyrics of the featured songs, including going the whole nine yards with the complete 5-stanza version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
Going still further back into Christmas past, the Boar's Head Carol has the title delicacy "bedeck'd with a gay garland".
Andy Williams' "It's The Most Wonderful Time of The Year" extols "gay happy meetings when friends come to call." Many cover versions change "gay" to "great".
"The child that is born on the Sabbath Day is blithe and bonny, good and gay."
"When Irish eyes are smiling / All the world seems bright and gay..."
An old ballad starts out with the line, "Lord Thomas he was a gay gentleman..." It immediately goes on to describe Lord Thomas's entirely heterosexual courtship with one Fair Ellender, which dilutes the awkwardness to a large extent.
There's an old folk song: "Ruben Ruben I've been thinking, What a queer world it would be If the men were all transported Far beyond the northern sea. Rachel Rachel I've been thinking what a gay world it would be If the girls were all transported Far beyond the northern sea." Well, yes, if they sent all the men or all the women away, it would be a queer/gay world.
From the World War I era song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary":
"Let me tell you 'bout a place, Somewhere up-a New York way, Where the people are so gay..." Somehow, we doubt Sam Cooke was referring to Greenwich Village or Fire Island with that line from "Twistin' the Night Away."
It continues in a later verse: "Here's a fella in blue jeans, dancin' with a older queen who's dolled up in-a diamond rings..."
"Somebody Nobody Loves", written by Seymour Miller and best known in Ella Fitzgerald's interpretation, contains the lines, "I've prayed on bended knee/For that certain gay prince charmin'/Who was meant for me."
The last line of the traditional London Bridge Is Falling Down was And a gay lady, not My fair lady. This replacement appears to have happened just out of superior rhythm or similar, however, as the change long predates the modern meaning of the word.
From Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)":
To think that only yesterday I was cheerful bright and gay (We could mention later in the song his fiancée stands him up at the altar, so maybe there's more to it...)
Similarly, there's the reggae group The Gaylads, who formed in 1963 (and continue to perform live under that name to this day)
The Hollies, in the early 1960s, recorded a song called "Keep Off That Friend Of Mine" the chorus of which includes the lines "Now she's turned her head away/She's lost her smile/She's not so gay". Nowadays, the last line is often parodied "...I think she's gay".
Vancouver-based Spirit of the West (compare them with Great Big Sea) used this phrase verbatim in the song "The Crawl" (a song about a pub crawl): "Well we planned to Have a Gay Old Time, the cash we did not spare..."
The classic standard "Am I Blue?" includes the line, Was I gay, until today...
The Shaggs' song "Why Do I Feel" is even more hilarious with this in mind:
"Sometimes I worry over nothing at all Sometimes I think life's just a ball When life changes and turns the other way I try to think of something gay"
As is "It's Halloween" with the line:
"All the kids are happy and gay"
George Jones's song "A Rose from the Bride's Bouquet" takes on rather a different context when looked at from this light:
I went to a wedding one bright summer day
The bride was a beauty and the people were gay
Alone in a corner I stood till the end
For the girl was my sweetheart and the boy my best friend
The Kinks' "A Well-Respected Man" mentions that the title character "likes his fags the best". They're referring to cigarettes.
The title character from "David Watts", meanwhile, is "so gay and fancy-free". But since the next verse says that "all the girls...try their best but they can't succeed" with David, it's probably a deliberate Double Entendre.
MF Doom's "Batty Boyz" plays with this trope by using clips from the 50's and 60's in its introduction.
Sharpen up your spirit of adventure: the fabulous gay way!
"Now don't get gay with me!" "Gay, sir, I'm far from gay."
The 50s show tune/jazz standard "Ballad of The Sad Young Men":
I'm gay every morning, at night Im still the same!
Interestingly, censors did object to the song, but only because they thought the title trivialized handicapped people.
"Three Little Pigs" by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronell:
Number one was very gay And he built his house of hay With a hey hey toot He blew on his flute And he played around all day.
A 1991 Direct-to-Video release called Simply Mad About The Mouse featured contemporary musicians performing Disney songs, including a hip-hop version of "Three Little Pigs" performed by LL Cool J: For the most part, LL's version stuck to the original lyrics, complete with the "very gay" line.
Seventies balladeer Clifford T. Ward had a big hit with a soulful and actually not-bad declaration of his love and devotion to a girl. Who was called Gaye. For some reason it isn't heard much on the radio these days, although it's a not bad tune.
The children's song, Kookaburra. "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree/Merry, merry king of the bush is he/Laugh, kookaburra; laugh, kookaburra/Gay your life must be."
The Scottish song Mairi's Wedding starts with the words "Step we gaily, on we go".
"Any Other Way", a soul song first released in 1962 by William Bell, included the lines "tell her that I'm happy / tell her that I'm gay": The song was meant to be a Break-Up Song where a man is in denial about how much he misses his ex-girlfriend, so "gay" and "happy" were being used as synonyms. When Jackie Shane released a version of the song that same year, her version was perceived as intentionally playing up a double meaning: Her stage look at the time was very androgynous, and it was later revealed that she's transgender and has always identified as a woman. In contrast, a 1965 cover by Chuck Jackson amended the lyric to "...tell her that I'm free".
The English version of the Catalan "Fum Fum Fum" has the line "Comes a most important day, let us be gay, let us be gay" (referring to Christmas).
Down the way where the nights are gay and the sun shines daily on the mountaintop...
We get a two-for-one in Uncle Dave Macon's "The Gayest Old Dude That's Out." For context, Macon was an old-time singer of "hillbilly music," or early country, and had a jovial stage persona that made his act almost as comedic as it was musical. This song is virtually a statement of purpose, stating how he approaches his music and his life with a funloving attitude in order to deal with life's travails. However, given the similar connotation of "out"...
Words other than "gay":
There is a 15th century French song called "Baises moy," which means "kiss me" in Middle French. A similar Modern French expression has a much more obscene meaning.
The band Saigon Kick had planned to title one of their albums Fields Of Rape (rape being a kind of flower). Their record company wouldn't allow it, so they titled the album Water instead.
"Flowers On The Wall" (1966) by the Statler Brothers featured bleak undercurrent as well as lyrics that demanded revision in subsequent cover versions.
Last night I dressed in tails, pretended I was on the town
As long as I can dream it's hard to slow this swinger down
In "The Pub With No Beer" by Slim Dusty, "The cook's acting queer".
Due to perceived Unfortunate Implications, Debussy's Children's Corner No. 6 is often referred to as "The Cakewalk" instead of its proper title, "The Golliwogg's Cakewalk". Either that, or the second word is misspelled "golliwogs'" without the double final G. This is an example of this trope because Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg, which Debussy was specifically referencing, was a heroic figure, the Harry Potter of his day; it wasn't until Enid Blyton got hold of the character type that it became the racist stereotype it is today (and acquired the present spelling).
Similarly, Creedence Clearwater Revival used to call themselves the Golliwogs before they became famous, they just thought it sounded British without knowing it was an offensive term for Black people.
Jumpin' Gene Simmons' 1964 novelty hit "Haunted House" includes the line, "I had a hunk o' meat in my hand".
The George Formby 1940s hit "Under the Blasted Oak" has the singer and his girlfriend "searching for some LSD" under the tree in question. At the time, "LSD" was British slang for "pounds, shillings and pence", i.e., Old British Money.
George Formby was well known for Getting Crap Past the Radar, so the only way we're certain this isn't deliberate is that LSD was only discovered in 1943 and wasn't widely known until years later.
The 1931 British novelty song "Ali Baba's Camel" says that the title character was "out for what we all want: lots of LSD!" When the Bonzo Dog Band covered it in 1969, they left the line in, obviously knowing the audience would find the newer double meaning amusing. And to tie it in even more with the trope name, the song was written by Noel Gay.
This was probably 100% deliberate considering it was recorded in 1971, but the song "Lake Shore Drive" by Alliotta Haynes Jeremiah has the line "Just zippin' on by on LSD," meaning, yup, Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Many older Chicagoans still use the initialism to refer to the road.
"Under the Boardwalk", written in the 60s, has the singer saying that he and his baby will be "making love under the boardwalk". Presumably this means the sweet-talking kind and not the kind that would lead to getting sand in uncomfortable places. It could also be an intentional example as it was changed to "we'll be fallin' in love" in radio edits.
For once not sexual, but plain weird: There's a German children's song about two Star-Crossed Lovers. The song ends with them running away, and the next sentence is "and the house ran after them". In old(er) German, this meant "all the people who were living in the house", or possibly "the family", but to today's kids, this has to create the strange mental picture of a running house. (And in fact, this was used in one kindergarten play.)
Nowadays, Bach'sAir on the G String conjures up some interesting images for some.
The song "To Know Him/Her Is To Love Him/Her" by Phil Spector includes the casual line "I'll make love to her/him", then obviously having the older meaning.
GWAR does this in The Horror of Yig. Odd considering that this isn't an old song, and the slang term existed when it came out. Given the subject matter, maybe they were trying to emulate H. P. Lovecraft, who used "queer" to mean "strange" often in his works:
"Yig now is coming! Yig now is here!"
"Yig now he makes things impossibly queer..."
Johnny Cash's Jackson, about a bickering couple who want to break up and intend to go to the town of Jackson to celebrate their new-found unattachment, contains a verse where Cash promises to "snowball Jackson". Presumably he means that he intends to roll right over it, like a snowball rolling down a hill gathering snow and speed as it goes, rather than the modern, squicky sexual connotation. "Snowball" could also mean to con everybody, play them for suckers, like a snow job.
Kate Bush's song Cloudbusting contains the lyric "We're cloudbusting, Daddy". As the word "Daddy" became associated with the ageplay fetish (which notably increased in popularity in the 21st century) the lyric is now rather hard for many to say with a straight face.
It even went on to sing about "The young folks roll on the little cabin floor".
The lyric has since been changed from "darkies" to "people", but gay is still official, as is the line about the young folks rolling.
People are still doing analyses of Lee Hazlewood's "Some Velvet Morning", heavy on the implications of "straight" and "gate".
An indirect example could be the classic jazz/folk tune "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (a Broadway tune that was memorably covered by the groundbreaking but largely forgotten jazz musician Al Jolson). At the time, the song was just seen as a comically-exaggerated but sentimental gesture of friendship. Today, the following lyrics would suggest something a little more... sensual (at least when sung by a male, though Judy Garland recorded her own version):
The heavenly blisses of his kisses fill me with ecstasy.
He's sweet just like chocolate candy and just like honey from the bee.''
The modern definition of "making love" was in use when Billy Joel's "Piano Man", but the song contains an straight example of the original meaning: "There's an old man sitting next to me / Making love to his tonic and gin."
There's also "the businessmen slowly get stoned," which is being used to mean "drunk" rather than under the influence of other drugs.
The Ink Spots' "That Cat Is High", from 1938, is an Ode to Intoxication, but the drug in question is alcohol, not marijuana. "High" used to be a common synonym for drunk, hence the lyric "you know that cat's been drinkin'".
As was "stoned"; in the song "What a Swell Party This Is," when the singer says of a character "he was stoned", the intended meaning was "he was very drunk."
The popular hymn "Farther Along" (written in 1911):
...There are others living about us
Never molested, though in the wrong
"Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)" was a very popular 1920s song about the newspaper comic character Barney Google (whose strip is now dominated by his cousin Snuffy Smith). It includes he line "[his wife] sued Barney for divorce, now hes sleeping with his horse!" Of course, "sleeping" is to be interpreted literally.
The Andrews Sisters "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" is requesting the musician play something with a fast swing beat, not domestic abuse with a potential side of incest.
The phrase "little girl" when describing your girlfriend, once common in lyrics, can sound squicky to the modern ear.
"Venus" by Frankie Avalon: Venus, if you will, please send a little girl for me to thrill.
"Sheila" by Tommy Roe: Man, this little girl is fine.
"I Feel Fine" by the Beatles: I'm so glad that she's my little girl.
"Run For Your Life" also uses the phrase. And even more awkward is their 1963 With The Beatles album track, "Little Child".
The song "Baby It's Cold Outside", about a woman who's asking to leave and a man who's trying to make her stay, contains the question from the woman, "Say, what's in this drink?" It probably refers to alcohol in what she thought was a non-alcoholic drink, which is bad enough, but these days it may bring up thoughts of date rape drugs.
The World War I song Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag has the line "While you've a Lucifer to light your fag". At the time Lucifer was a popular brand of matches while fag was slang for a cigarette.
Many Christian hymns written before the 20th century unfortunately suffer this, a disproportionate number being Christmas carols:
What Child Is This has "Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?" (A bonus for "mean", as it used to mean "lowly, poor" and did not carry negative connotations.) Good luck getting a seventh-grade youth choir to sing that without snickering.
Simon & Garfunkel use the term "one-night stand" to mean "a one-off performance by a touring act" rather than "a sexual encounter with no expectation of further interaction" in the lyrics for "Homeward Bound". Both terms would have been used at the time, and might still be understood, but now the sexual meaning has completely taken over.
John Denver's 1972 song "Rocky Mountain High" is about how how happy Denver felt after moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. In 1985, the song was censored by the FCC for promoting drug use, forcing Denver to have to testify before Congress that he was talking about a different "high". Ever since the voters of Colorado approved marijuana for medicinal, industrial and recreational usage (in 2000, 2012, and 2014), the song's title has taken on a different meaning to weed consumers.
Listen my children and you shall hear A story fantastic, a story so queer
Slade's 1973 single "Cum On Feel The Noize" now unintentionally includes the vulgar word "cum" (semen). At the time, the word was just "come" deliberately misspelled (several of their song names have words misspelled because it was a youthful '70s trend to do this).
I hate: my best friend from third grade who tricked me into saying I was gay in front of the whole class because I- I just thought it meant happy.
Some younger tropers assume that the song "The Lady is a Tramp" is an example of this, because the "tramp" once only meant "hobo", not "promiscuous woman". But the slang meaning was already very well-known when the song was written in 1937, and the song deliberately uses that meaning - the singer is comparing herself to a prostitute because she doesn't follow every little arcane rule of contemporary New York society etiquette. It's very much "I don't use the right fork; guess that makes me a dumb slut, huh?" with a touch of plausible deniability - the writers could claim they meant "hobo" if any Moral Guardians were upset. Incidentally, although it's often thought of as a Frank Sinatra song, it was originally sung in the musical Babes In Arms by the female character in question. Sinatra changed the lyrics and, possibly deliberately, the meaning.
Played with in Nirvana's "All Apologies", where the keyword may assume both of its meanings depending on the listener's interpretation:
What else should I say? Everyone is gay
Frank Sinatra's "Around The World" from the movie Around The World in 80 days. Actually, the movie's version lacked lyrics of any kind, but the versions performed has the words "It might have been in Country Down/Or in New York, or Gay Paree/Or even London town..."
You might suspect that "I'm Coming Out", performed by Diana Ross, would be an example of this. Nope. The songwriters were well aware of the other meaning of the phrase, although the song itself does not make any other references to homosexuality, even though it is associated with being a gay male.
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap did a song back in The '60s called "Young Girl" in which he is using it toward what may be "classily" referred to as Jail Bait.
Ian Dury and the Blockheads's "I Want To Be Straight", although it's deliberate. It even uses "bent" to mean "addicted to drugs". Ian was bisexual, thus he deliberately phrased this song in such a way that could be about either homosexuality or drug use.
Spinal Tap's "Cups And Cakes" uses "gay" in the sense of "happy" (what a gay time it will be"). The song was released in 1984, but in the world of the mockumentary it's from, it's supposed to be a song from in the 60's. There was probably some deliberate humor in placing that word in a campy, overly cutesy song by what was otherwise meant to be a heavy metal/ hard rock band.
George Carlin distinguished what "fag" and "queer" were on his album Occupation: Foole (1973). A fag was orginally a term for a sissy who wouldn't do guy things but was not "gay" as we know it. The difference, he says, is that "a fag wouldn't go downtown with you to beat up queers."
Discussed in "Back When", by Tim McGraw, in which he longs for a time when words like "hoe", "blow", "screw", and "Coke" had much more innocent meanings.
Nick Cave has so much fun with the trope quoting from, of all, The Bible. So we have his albums "And the ass saw the angel" (from Numbers #22 - the ass is a donkey, of course) and even more "Kicking against the pricks" (from Acts of the Apostles - the prick is a stick to control oxen).
In Eric Bogle's "Silly Slang Song", the singer complains about how once innocent terms like "gay", "fairy", "fruit" or "queen" changed meanings.