Village People are a concept disco group consisting of gay stereotypes formed in the late 1970s. The group is as well known for their on-stage costumes as for their catchy tunes and suggestive lyrics.
Original members were: policeman (Victor Willis), American Indian chief (Felipe Rose), cowboy (Randy Jones), construction worker (David Hodo), leatherman (Glenn Hughes) and Military man (Alex Briley). For the release of "In the Navy", both Willis and Briley appeared temporarily as sailors. Originally created to target disco's primarily gay fan base by featuring stereotypical gay fantasy personas, the band's popularity quickly brought them into mainstream. The group is seen by some music critics as less serious for their camp style, appearance and musical choices.
Village People scored a number of disco and dance hits, including their trademark "Macho Man", "Go West", the classic club medley of "San Francisco (You've Got Me) / In Hollywood (Everybody is a Star)", "In the Navy", "Can't Stop the Music", "Sex Over the Phone" and their biggest hit, "Y.M.C.A.".
The group was created by Jacques Morali, who was a French musical composer. He had written a few songs when he heard Victor Willis singing background vocals in a studio. Morali approached Willis and told him, "I had a dream that you sang lead on my album and it went very, very big." Willis agreed to sing on the first album, Village People.
It was a success, so Morali and his business partner, Henri Belolo, (under the collaboration Can't Stop Productions), decided to build a real group around Willis for a stage act to showcase and perform their disco music creations. They took out an ad in a trade magazine band which read: "Macho Types Wanted: Must Have Moustache." The first recruit, Indian Felipe Rose, Morali literally bumped into on the streets of Greenwich Village. Rose was a bartender who wore jingle bells on his boots. He was invited along to take part in the sessions for the first album. Alex Briley (who eventually took on the soldierman persona) was a friend of Willis'. The other three, Mark Mussler (construction worker), Dave Forrest (cowboy) and Lee Mouton (leatherman), were quickly replaced, respectively, by Dave Hodo, Randy Jones and Glenn Hughes, who all had more experience as actors/singers/dancers. Leatherman Hughes had first been spotted as a toll collector at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Early on, one of the group's songwriters, Peter Whitehead, even performed with the group for a brief time.
Despite the French songwriters, the songs lyrics were all in English as Morali and Belolo used American lyricists. On the first album, they brought in songwriting legends Phil Hurtt and the aforementioned Peter Whitehead. For the next three albums (and on other Can't Stop Productions such as Ritchie Family and Patrick Juvet) lead singer Willis was the lyricist.
Their original career was derailed by 1980's Can't Stop the Music, a musical comedy film directed by Nancy Walker. It is a pseudo-biography of the group which bears only a vague resemblance to the actual story of their formation. Newsweek described the movie like this: "Can't Stop the Music ushers in a whole new concept in entertainment — it's the first all-singing, all-dancing horror film; the Dawn of the Dead (1978) of the disco era." This movie, along with Xanadu, inspired John Wilson to create the Golden Raspberry Awards to honor the worst that Hollywood had to offer, and contributed to rendering the (live-action) movie musical genre functionally dead for about twenty years.
Village People Signature Songs:
Village People has examples of:
- Camp Straight: Victor Willis, who was the only member of the original lineup who wasn't gay.
- Celebrity Edition: An episode of Family Feud pit the group against a team of disco divas.
- Dance Sensation: Most significantly, the "Y.M.C.A.". It has become an Ascended Meme by the official YMCA website, which uses the dance on their "About Us" tab.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: They don't spell YMCA with their arms in said song's video. After audiences started doing so on their own, they incorporated it in their performances.
- Faux Documentary: Can't Stop the Music.
- Faux Yay: Out of the original lineup, the policeman (Victor Willis) is straight. Only the cowboy (Randy Jones) and the Indian (Felipe Rose) are known to be openly gay.
- Fun with Homophones: "They're signing up new seamen fast," from "In the Navy".
- Gay Cowboy: Randy Jones is one of several 'cowboy' characters and is openly gay.
- Hello, Sailor!: Alex Briley. Well, a soldier (imitators even go with sailor costumes). Also, "In the Navy".
- Homoerotic Subtext: Often the songs wound up with these. The YMCA was used by gay men to pick up dates, the allusion to "Go West, young man" also serves to San Francisco's state as a gay capital, the Navy has a bad "Don't ask don't tell" reputation. It should be noted that much of this subtext flew under the radar of most mainstream audiences in the 1970s. Moral Guardian parents even allowed "Y.M.C.A." to be played at children's birthday parties, which they never would have done if they got the subtext.
- Hot Men at Work: The "construction worker" members are rugged men who indulge in as much macho camp as the rest of the band.
- "I Am" Song: "I Am What I Am" is a pride-themed song about the singer accepting himself.
- Insistent Terminology: They are not THE Village People, just Village People. The movie in particular points out how awkward this gets, albeit unintentionally.
- Leatherman: Glenn Hughes. His Leatherman persona directly influenced Rob Halford of Judas Priest. Ironically, for as much as his Iconic Outfit became a defining image in gay culture, Hughes was actually straight. When Hughes died he was reportedly buried in that very outfit.
- Macho Camp: Part of the band's appeal is the members' flamboyant yet masculine costumes that include characters such as a cowboy or leatherman.
- Manly Facial Hair: Their first recruitment was through a flyer that read, "Macho Types Wanted: Must Have Moustache".
- Manly Gay: When the group first formed, part of their appeal was their masculine characters i.e. the cowboy, the Native American, the cop, or the construction worker. Later albums have the band embrace their camp appeal.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Most people know the "Y.M.C.A." from the song rather than the center for young men to meet up.
- Porn Stache: Construction Worker, Leatherman, and Cowboy.
- Repurposed Pop Song: "Go West", which uses notes from the Soviet national anthem. Pet Shop Boys did a cover version which became more popular and was used in a few commercials.
- "Sesame Street" Cred: The Muppets used "In The Navy" for a sketch with pigs as vikings. Gonzo also did an outrageous performance of "Macho Man" together with his chickens and a bunch of leatherman pigs.
- Spelling Song: The chorus of "Y.M.C.A." involves the group singing the initials, and it's popular for the audience to spell the chorus with their arms.
- Wrestling Doesn't Pay: Despite the acclaim they earned for their music, they still have to work as policemen/construction workers/etc.