It’s a shame that Johnny Mathis isn’t discussed more by young gay people. Actually, by this point he’s not discussed at all anymore. He’s a relic of another time, celebrated by not even the parents of millennials, but that generation’s grandparents.
The crooner hit his heyday in the ‘50s, and at the time, he was a mega star—one who lived with a secret for far too long.
One of the biggest hits of Mathis’ storied career is the loving “Chances Are,” which stands out as one of the best recordings by a man who was known for many years for having one of the most beautiful voices in the world. It holds a very special place in his discography and as part of his legacy.
The tune deserves to be played to this day, as it is still as lovely as it was when it was recorded and released more than a half-century ago.
“Chances Are” tells the story of two lovers, with one being head over heels, while the other is… probably also feeling the same thing. But that’s a very big probably.
Lyrics like, “Chances are you think that I’m in love with you” and, “Just because my composure sort of slips / The moment that your lips meet mine / Chances are you think my heart’s your Valentine” hint that one-half of this romance might not be as into it as the other.
These lines can be read as playful, and that’s surely how many interpreted them when the single was released in 1957, but it wasn’t until decades later that an accidental admission by Mathis himself shed some new light onto the track and showed why he might have selected it in the first place.
In 1982, Mathis sat down with Us Weekly for an interview, and when the article came out, he was quoted as saying, “Homosexuality is a way of life I’ve become accustomed to.” In the aftermath of what was, at the time, a scandal of sorts, the singer stated that the comment was meant to be off the record, but once it was out, it—and Mathis, to an extent—was out.
Mathis told The Washington Post back in 2018 that he was open about his sexuality with those close to him, but that didn’t apply to his adoring fans. The world didn’t know he was gay, and if they had, his career surely would not have hit the highs that it did, so no one can blame him for remaining quiet. In fact, he even refused to discuss the Us Weekly snafu—or his sexual orientation—for a long time afterward, as he claims he was subject to death threats after the first report came out.
Knowing that Mathis was gay and singing a love song presumably written from the perspective of a man crooning to a woman, the lyrics of “Chances Are” take on new meaning. They’re potentially not so much about one lover teasing another, but rather about one person feigning interest. Or about a female assuming she’s ensnared a man, but really he’s thinking of someone else… someone of the same sex.
This is, of course, an interpretation. “Chances Are” was written by two straight men, Robert Allen and Al Stillman, but Mathis likely had a hand in picking it. He may have simply enjoyed the track, or he might have identified with it in a way few could have known at the time.
“Chances Are” became more important to the LGBTQ+ community in 1996, when Mathis re-recorded the standard with none other than Liza Minnelli. By that point, Judy Garland’s daughter had proved her talent by winning all four EGOT trophies, and she was already a gay icon in her own right.
Mathis was not openly gay—he wouldn’t fully admit to his sexuality until only a few years ago—but enough people knew how important this duet was to make it meaningful.
Mathis’ original “Chances Are” has been included on many lists of some of the best traditional pop standards of all time, and it was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Now, more than 60 years old, the single has lived several lives, and it earns new significance whenever new information is shared—just like the man who made it a hit.
In 1989, Liza recorded an album called “Results” that was a complete departure from her previous efforts and is arguably one of the gayest things she’s ever done.