Village People are a concept disco group consisting of gay stereotypes formed in the late 1970s. The group is 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 movie musical genre functionally dead for about twenty years.
Village People Signature Songs:
Village People has examples of:
- Camp Straight: Victor Willis and Glenn Hughes.
- Celebrity Edition: An episode of Family Feud 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: Only the cowboy and the Indian were actually gay. The rest were straight men acting Manly Gay.
- Fun with Homophones: "They're signing up new seamen fast," from "In the Navy".
- Gay Cowboy: Randy Jones.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: So well that many a parent in the 1970s refused to believe the songs were about a gay lifestyle.
- 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...
- Macho Camp: Most of the members.
- Manly Gay: At least when it was new and fresh. It has become retroactively more Camp as it has aged.
- The Muppet Show Cred: 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.
- Music Doesn't Pay: Despite the acclaim they still have to work as policemen/construction workers/etc.
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay:
- Back in the 1970s, it was still fairly common for folks to assume that everyone was straight, and the Village People's blatant Manly Gay/Faux Yay theatrics were not yet universally recognized by the audience. Possibly the most extreme example of this was the Department of the Navy backing "In the Navy" as part of a television ad campaign for Navy recruitment. May also qualify as Hilarious in Hindsight/Crowning Moment of Funny.
- The Navy rank and file apparently found it absolutely hilarious; if you look at local charts for Navy towns, it stuck around for quite a while on those charts.55
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis
- 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.
- Spelling Song: "Y.M.C.A."