retro record

LISTEN: This 1960 country bop is an accidentally hilarious ode to men who love cowboys

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Sometimes a song is queer-coded because the singer behind the tune was closeted. In other instances, it’s the producer, or maybe the songwriter—if they’re different from the performers. Other times, the track has simply been adopted by the LGBTQ+ community, earning a spot in our hearts and minds for one reason or another.

And then there’s Brenda Lee’s “My Baby Likes The Western Guys,” which is in a league all its own.

“My Baby Likes The Western Guys” was recorded for Lee’s sophomore self-titled album, which finally brought her commercial success, but not thanks to this tune. The set produced a trio of Top 10 hits on the Hot 100, including her first No. 1, “I’m Sorry.” From there, Lee was a certified star in America, and she’d go on to score plenty of hits throughout the years.

These days, Lee is perhaps best known for her holiday smash, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” which returns to the charts every year. 

Understanding Lee’s time and place in music history, her squeaky-clean image, and what passed for acceptable entertainment at the time, is important to grasping just how under-the-radar “My Baby Likes The Western Guys” was when it was first released back in 1960.

“My Baby Likes The Western Guys” is all about how a man Lee is in love with is himself obsessed with “Western guys.” In this context, that refers to the men who starred in cowboy-themed TV shows and movies, or simply, Westerns, which were incredibly popular at the time.

In the tune, she name-drops several of them in references that are hard to grasp these days without looking them up. Lee singles out Wyatt Earp, as well as “Mr. Dillon” from the TV series Gunsmoke and “Cheyenne,” which was another program on ABC throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The man that Lee is pining for spends the song rebuffing her advances, blowing off dates, and refusing to see her, as he is apparently only interested in these “Western guys.” In the tune, Lee croons mournfully, “Oh my baby came to my house last night oh yeah / I thought maybe he would hold me tight oh yeah / But my baby had to watch Cheyenne said it left his head in a spin.”

Later in that same verse, she sings, “Well my baby likes all the western guys oh yeah / He ain’t got no use for me tonight oh yeah,” a refrain she repeats over and over, as if she’s having a hard time believing it. She’s a beautiful woman, but he’s not interested in “holding her tight”—how could that be?

For a listener back in the early ‘60s, what Lee is singing about is clear thanks to her specific references. But gay fans at the time might have grasped a subtext that may or may not have been intentional, which has only become more important as the years have passed.

If this track was released today, it would certainly come with a completely different meaning, one which Lee and her collaborators likely didn’t mean to sell… but which comes through loud and clear for those of us who also like all the Western guys.

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