Village People

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Village People
Village People in 1978. From left: Randy Jones, Glenn Hughes, Felipe Rose, Victor Willis, David Hodo, Alex Briley
Background information
OriginGreenwich Village, New York City
GenresDisco, soul, funk, R&B
Years active1977–present
LabelsRCA Victor, Casablanca Records, Mercury Records, Phonogram, Polydor, Ariola, Polygram, Black Scorpio, RCA Ariola, BMG Ariola, BMG Music, Universal Music, Sony Music.
  • Victor Willis
  • James Kwong
  • Chad Freeman
  • Jeffrey James Lippold
  • James Lee
Past members

Village People is an American disco group known for its on-stage costumes and suggestive lyrics in their music. The group was originally formed by French producers Jacques Morali, Henri Belolo and lead singer Victor Willis[1] following the release of the debut album Village People, which targeted disco's large gay audience. The group's name refers to Manhattan's Greenwich Village, with its reputation as a gay neighborhood.[2] The characters were a symbolic group of American masculinity[3] and macho gay-fantasy personas.[4] As of 2020, Victor Willis is the only original member of the group.[5]

The group quickly became popular and moved into the mainstream, scoring several disco and dance hits internationally, including the hit singles "Macho Man", "In the Navy", "Go West" and their biggest hit, "Y.M.C.A.". In March 2020, the US Library of Congress described the last as "an American phenomenon"[6] and added the song to the National Recording Registry, which preserves audio recordings considered to be "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".[7]



Jacques Morali, a French musical composer and producer, and his business partner Henri Belolo, known collectively as Can't Stop Productions, were enjoying a successful string of hits in France and Europe. In 1977, they moved to New York City to get into the American market. Morali had written a few dance tunes when he was given a demo tape recorded by singer/actor Victor Willis. After hiring Willis to sing background vocals on the four tracks, Morali approached him and said, "I had a dream that you sang lead on my album and it went very, very big". Willis agreed to sing on the eponymous debut album Village People.[8]

Songwriters Phil Hurtt and Peter Whitehead wrote the lyrics for the first album (Willis would subsequently take over writing duties in 1978 for the group's biggest hits). The Village People studio band was called Gypsy Lane, conducted by Horace Ott, who also provided much of the musical arrangements for Morali, who did not play any instruments.[9]

The album became an international hit, and demand for live appearances soon followed. Morali hastily built a group of dancers around Willis to perform in clubs and videos. Morali met the first recruit, Felipe Rose (who claims indigenous American descent and dressed as a Native American), in a New York gay bar called the Anvil. Willis hand-picked Alex Briley (who initially appeared in nondescript costumes before switching to G.I. uniforms). The others were Mark Mussler (construction worker), Dave Forrest (cowboy), Lee Mouton (leatherman/biker), and Peter Whitehead (one of the group's early songwriters), who appeared on American Bandstand and in the video for the group's first hit, "San Francisco (You Got Me)".

With record sales soaring, Morali and Willis saw the need to create a permanent group.[10] They took out an ad in a theatre trade paper which read: "Macho Types Wanted: Must Dance And Have A Moustache."[8] Glenn Hughes (leatherman), David Hodo (construction worker) and Randy Jones (cowboy) were among the hundreds who answered the ad.[8]

With the "official" lineup in place, the group did a hasty photo-shoot for the cover of the already-recorded Macho Man album. The 1978 hit single "Macho Man" catapulted the group into the mainstream, and their follow-up single "Y.M.C.A." became one of the most popular hits of the 1970s.

In 1979, the United States Navy considered using their single "In the Navy" in a television and radio recruiting campaign. Belolo offered them permission if the Navy would help film a music video for it. The Navy provided them access to the San Diego Navy base, where the USS Reasoner (FF-1063), several aircraft, and the crew of the ship would be used.[11] This song was also performed on the TV series' The Love Boat and Married... with Children, and in the 1995 Navy comedy film Down Periscope.

The group's fame peaked in 1979 with a three-month North American tour, several appearances on The Merv Griffin Show and American Bandstand, and performing with Bob Hope to entertain U.S. troops. They were also featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, Vol. 289, April 19, 1979. Willis left the group in August 1979, during production of the upcoming musical movie tentatively titled Discoland: Where the Music Never Ends. He was replaced by Ray Simpson, the brother of Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson) who had previously sung background vocals with the group on their 1979 tour. The end of 1979 saw the release of Live and Sleazy, a double album featuring Victor Willis on lead vocals on the “Live” disc and Simpson's debut with the group on the "Sleazy" disc.


In June 1980, the feature film now retitled Can't Stop the Music was released. The film was directed by Nancy Walker, written by Allan Carr and Bronte Woodard, music and lyrics by Jacques Morali (except Willis who penned the lyrics to "Milkshake" and "Magic Night") and starring Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine, Jean-Claude Billmaer, and Bruce Jenner. By the time it was released disco's popularity had waned. At the March 1981 Golden Raspberry Awards, the movie was named Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay, and was nominated in almost all the other categories. Although the title song became a club play chart success and moderate radio hit, it was nominated for Worst Original Song "Razzie" and did not live up to sales expectations, never obtaining gold status as a single or album.[12] The soundtrack also featured the talents of David London, who under his real name Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen became the future lead singer of Toto and one of the main contributors to Village People's next album. The group embarked on a tour in promotion of the film in Australia and Japan. The Japanese show was filmed at Budokan and released on DVD as Village People Live In Japan.

The group appeared in the November 22, 1980, episode of Love Boat (season four, episode seven). At the end of 1980, Jeff Olson joined the group as the cowboy.

In 1981, with new wave music becoming more popular than disco, Morali and Belolo ditched the familiar characters and re-branded Village People with a new look inspired by the New Romantic movement, and released the album Renaissance. It only attracted minor, mostly negative attention, but it did produce the group's first hit single in Italy with "5 O'clock in the Morning."

Willis rejoined the group briefly in late 1981 for the writing and recording the album Fox on the Box, which was released in 1982 in Europe and Japan, and in 1983 in the United States under the title In the Street. David Hodo and Ray Simpson both left the group in 1982 with Mark Lee and Miles Jaye replacing them respectively. Jaye contributed lead vocals to a single in 1983 called "America", which would be added as extra track to the 1999 remaster of In the Street. In 1984, the group sang background vocals on a disco version of "Where The Boys Are" by Lorna Luft.[13]

Their next album, the 1985 dance/Hi-NRG release Sex Over the Phone, was not a huge commercial success, but it fared better in sales and club play than Renaissance.[citation needed] The title track, when released as a single, was banned by the BBC because of its subject matter: credit-card phone sex.[14] Though banned, it did peak at 59 on the UK singles chart. The album featured yet another new lead singer, Ray Stephens (of The Great Space Coaster fame). It was the group's last album of new material until A Village People Christmas in 2018. Py Douglas came in to sub for Stephens for some of the group's live appearances in 1985 and can be seen in both promotional videos made for the group.

In 1985 the group took a hiatus, but returned in 1987 with the lineup of Randy Jones, David Hodo, Felipe Rose, Glenn Hughes, Alex Briley, and Ray Simpson and formed Sixuvus Ltd a group that managed the affairs of the group and had the license to use the name Village People and its characters in use until 2017.[15]


Village People receive their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008. Left to right – front row: David Hodo, Felipe Rose, Jeff Olson / back row: Ray Simpson, Alex Briley, Eric Anzalone

The 1990s brought a resurgence for the Village People. On September 22, 1991 they performed in front of 41,815 in Sydney, Australia, as part of the pre-game entertainment for the New South Wales Rugby League Grand Final held at the Sydney Football Stadium. They also performed a medley of self-parody songs at the MTV Movie Awards – "In the Movies" ("In the Navy"), "Psycho Bitch" ("Macho Man"), and "My MTV" ("Y.M.C.A."). The group also made a guest appearance on the hit show Married... with Children in the episode "Take My Wife, Please".

Founder Jacques Morali died of complications related to AIDS in Paris on November 15, 1991. Three years later, the Village People recorded with the German national football team on its official World Cup '94 song Far Away in America. In 1995, Eric Anzalone replaced Glenn Hughes as the Leatherman/Biker, and made his music video debut with Kelsey Grammer, Rob Schneider, and other cast members during the end-credits of the film Down Periscope, performing "In The Navy" with Ray Simpson on lead vocals.

At the beginning of the 21st century Village People released two singles, "Gunbalanya" (2000) and "Loveship 2001" (2001) under the name "Amazing Veepers". It was reported in 2001 that 'Gunbalanya', which was recorded with indigenous Australian people, took its title from a word meaning "in the tribe" though it is in fact the name of an Aboriginal settlement. Leatherman/Biker Glenn Hughes died of lung cancer in New York City on March 4, 2001.[16] Village People performed as the opening act for Cher on her Farewell Tour until it ended in April 2005. Former cowboy Randy Jones married Will Grega, his boyfriend of 20 years.[17]

Later in the 2000s Village People continued to make appearances worldwide. The original lead singer and "cop", Victor Willis, was arrested over drug and weapon related charges.[18] On September 12, 2008, Village People received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Willis was not in attendance at the ceremony. Willis gave his first live concert in 28 years in Las Vegas on August 3, 2007, and married Karen, a lawyer and executive, later that year. In May 2012 Willis won a landmark ruling in the first case heard regarding the Copyright Act of 1976, which allows recording artists and writers to reclaim their master recordings and publishing rights initially granted to record companies and publishers after 35 years. He recaptured copyrights including "Y.M.C.A.", "Go West", "Magic Night", "Milkshake", and "In the Navy".[19] Willis also began to recapture his 33% share of songs he co-wrote.[20]

In August 2013, Village People released a new song "Let's Go Back to the Dance Floor", written by Harry W. Casey of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Jim Newman joined the group as the Cowboy,[21] and in October 2013 Bill Whitefield joined as the Construction Worker, a role he had filled in for the group over the years for David Hodo who retired.[22] Continuing his legal quest, Willis reclaimed ownership of "Y.M.C.A." and other songs written with Jacques Morali, with the removal of Henri Belolo, previously credited as a third writer.[23] Victor Willis released Solo Man, an album he recorded in 1979 featuring the Village People band. Willis appeared as himself on the game show "To Tell The Truth" and performed "Y.M.C.A." the following year.

Village People continued to make television appearances, such as performing "Y.M.C.A." during halftime of the Chicago Bulls game as part of '70s Night. They also made several commercials including LetGo commercial debuts during the Rio Olympics,[24] and a series of commercials in the UK for YOPA online estate agents.[25]

In 2017, after years of legal battles over royalties and songwriting credits, Willis and Can't Stop Productions settled their differences resulting in Willis obtaining the license to use the name and characters of Village People and returning as the original lead singer (with a new group of background singers). Can't Stop also terminated the license of Sixuvus (the group which had been performing as Village People for numerous years with various members).[26][27] The trademark “Village People” then became the subject of litigation.[28][29]

In 2018, the U.S. District Court denied Sixuvus' preliminary injunction and ruled that only one group was entitled to use the Village People trademark, the group featuring original lead singer Victor Willis.[30][31] Felipe Rose (original Native American) launched his solo career and released the single "Going Back To My Roots" (a cover of the 1977 Odyssey dance hit) which received Best Dance Record Award at the 2018 Native American Music Awards. Changes to the new Village People lineup took place when Leatherman Josh Cartier was replaced by J.J. Lippold before the rebranded group's first appearance at the Streamys Awards. G.I./Sailor Sonny Earl was replaced by Atlanta native James Lee who filled in for him on more shows than he performed. In November 2018. Village People release their first studio album in 33 years, A Village People Christmas.[32]

On August 3, 2019, Village People co-creator Henri Belolo died aged 82.[33] On November 4, 2019 the group's Christmas album was re-released as Magical Christmas and included two additional tracks. It is available in both digital and on demand CD formats through Amazon. On December 21, 2019 the group released its first Christmas single, "Happiest Time of the Year." On December 31 the Village People performed live in Times Square on Fox's New Year's Eve with Steve Harvey and broke a world record for attendees doing the Y.M.C.A. dance (a record formerly held by the previous touring group).

On April 21, 2020 the Village People released a new single, "If You Believe," which hit #25 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. This was the first Top 20 hit for the group in 40 years. On June 9, Victor Willis demanded that President Donald Trump not use Village People music at his rallies in particular "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A."[34] while on September 11 Willis was okay with him using "Y.M.C.A" at his campaign rallies.[35] On September 22 the Village People were confirmed to be featured in the song "My Agenda" from the Dorian Electra album My Agenda (2020).[36] On October 24 Saturday Night Live performed a parody of the group's reaction to Donald Trump's use of their music at his rallies.[37] On October 30, Willis clarified his and the group's position against Trump's use of his music at his rallies.[38] On November 7, supporters of President-elect Joe Biden celebrated his victory by dancing in the streets and singing "Y.M.C.A." across the United States.[39]

Live concert[edit]

The incarnation of the group now touring has been performing the following songs (sometimes shorter versions depending on the length of the show). Depending upon the show, some songs are not performed.[40]

  • Fire Island
  • All Night Thing (Invisible Man's Band cover)
  • Macho Man
  • Key West
  • San Francisco
  • In Hollywood
  • Go West
  • Sexy Man (A Ritchie Family cover, written by Victor Willis and performed by leatherman J.J. Lippold)
  • Can't Stop The Music (with Chad Freeman and Angel Morales singing lead vocals)
  • In The Navy
  • I Am What I Am
  • Y.M.C.A.

In popular culture[edit]

Star Wars characters, a Jawa, Greedo, Chewbacca and an Imperial Stormtrooper, assume the roles of the Village People for the "Y.M.C.A." dance at a Disney "Star Wars Weekends" event in 2007.

Due to their easily recognizable characters, the group have frequently been imitated or parodied in movies, television series, video games and music. Numerous covers and homages of their songs have been recorded. Examples of homages and parody include an episode of the 1990s CGI show ReBoot, a scene in the 1993 movie Wayne's World 2, a 1993 episode of Married... with Children, the 1997 video for U2's single "Discotheque",[41] a 2000 episode of 3rd Rock From the Sun, and the 2013 movie Despicable Me 2.

The leather-clad biker character with a horseshoe mustache has also become a widespread pop culture icon associated with gay culture, and "Y.M.C.A." has become something of an anthem of the LGBT community. According to Jack Fritscher, Jacques Morali drew his inspiration for the character from the dress code of the gay BDSM leather bar and sex club The Mineshaft.[42] Leather man Hughes frequented the club.[43]

In AllMusic's entry on the group, Ron Wynn summarized them as "part clever concept, part exaggerated camp act" who were "worldwide sensations during disco's heyday and keep reviving like the phoenix."[44] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau originally found the group to be a humorous annoyance,[45] but warmed to their music after listening to the 1978 album Cruisin'; he wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981): "I give up—I've never been capable of resisting music this silly. At least this time they're not singing the praises of 'macho,' a term whose backlash resurgence is no laughing matter, and the gay stereotyping—right down to 'The Women,' every one a camp heroine of screen or disc—is so cartoonish that I can't imagine anyone taking it seriously. As for all the straights who think 'Y.M.C.A.' is about playing basketball, well, that's pretty funny too."[46]


Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
Village People 54 21 70 29
Macho Man
  • Released: February 27, 1978
  • Label: Casablanca
24 5 21 37
  • CAN: 3× Platinum[58]
  • Released: September 25, 1978
  • Label: Casablanca
3 16 1 2 1 6 6 5 3 24
Go West
  • Released: March 26, 1979
  • Label: Casablanca
8 8 22 2 14 8 28 4 7 14
Live and Sleazy
  • Released: September 1979
  • Label: Casablanca
32 69 23 13 25
Can't Stop the Music
  • Released: May 1980
  • Label: Casablanca
47 1 20 4 17 35 9
  • Released: June 1981
  • Label: RCA (US)
    Casablanca (Japan)
138 12 34
Fox on the Box/In the Street
  • Released: May 1982
  • Label: RCA (US)
    Casablanca (Japan)
Sex Over the Phone 47
"—" Denotes album was not released or failed to chart in that territory.

Charting compilations[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
Non Stop
  • Released: November 1981
  • Label: RCA (SP 238)
Greatest Hits Volume One and Two
  • Released: 1983
  • Label: J&B (JB 137)
The Greatest Hits of Boney M and The Village People
(with Boney M)
  • Released: October 1990
  • Label: Concept (CC 0147)
The Best of Village People
  • Released: March 22, 1994
  • Label: Arista


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications Album
1977 "San Francisco" 15 9 45 Village People
"In Hollywood (Everybody Is a Star)"
1978 "I Am What I Am" 32 Macho Man
"Macho Man" 25 3 16 7
"Y.M.C.A." 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 Cruisin'
1979 "In the Navy" 3 7 1 1 3 2 7 2 3 2 Go West
"Go West" 45 12 41 15 15
"Ready for the 80's" 52 Live and Sleazy
"Sleazy" 9
1980 "Can't Stop the Music" 1 7 10 18 2 15 11 Can't Stop the Music
"Magic Night" 88
1981 "Do You Wanna Spend the Night" 48 Renaissance
"5 O'Clock in the Morning"
1982 "Action Man"
"Jungle City"
1985 "Sex Over the Phone" 40 59 Sex Over the Phone
"New York City"
1989 "Livin' in the Wildlife" Single release only
"Megamix" 14
1993 "Y.M.C.A. '93 Remix" 96 12 46 12 The Best of Village People
1994 "In the Navy '94 Remix" 42 36
"Far Away in America" 44 Single release only
1999 "Y.M.C.A. Remix" 35
2013 "Let's Go Back to the Dance Floor"
2019 "Happiest Day of the Year" Magical Christmas
2020 "If You Believe" Single release only
"—" denotes single was not released or failed to chart in that territory.

Songs that reached the Billboard Club Play Singles chart[edit]


Original seven members[edit]

  • Victor Willis (Cop/Admiral/Athlete/Gigolo/nondescript)
  • Felipe Rose (Native American)
  • Alex Briley (GI/nondescript)
  • Lee Mouton (Biker)
  • Mark Mussler (Construction worker)
  • David Forrest (Cowboy)
  • Peter Whitehead (nondescript)

1977 to 1979[edit]

1979 to 1980 [edit]

1981 to 1982[edit]

1982 to 1984[edit]

1984 to 1985[edit]

1987 to 1990[edit]

1990 to 1995[edit]

1995 to 2013[edit]

2013 to 2017[edit]

2017 to 2018[edit]

  • Victor Willis (Cop/Admiral)
  • Angel Morales (Native American)
  • Sonny Earl (GI)
  • J.J. Lippold (Leather man)
  • James Kwong (Construction worker)
  • Chad Freeman (Cowboy)

2018 to 2020[edit]

  • Victor Willis (Cop/Admiral)
  • Angel Morales (Native American)
  • James Lee (GI)
  • J.J. Lippold (Leather man)
  • James Kwong (Construction worker)
  • Chad Freeman (Cowboy)

2021 to present[edit]

  • Victor Willis (Cop/Admiral)
  • James Lee (GI)
  • J.J. Lippold (Leather man)
  • James Kwong (Construction worker)
  • Nicholas Manelick (Cowboy)

Temporary members[edit]

  • Py Douglas briefly replaced Ray Stephens in some television appearances during the group's 1985 European tour and appears in the promotional videos for "Sex Over The Phone" and "New York City."
  • Alec Timerman stood in for Alex Briley on occasion between 2001 and 2003.
  • Richard Montoya also replaced David Hodo on some 2008 dates.
  • Angel Morales filled in for Felipe Rose in 2008–2010, later replacing Felipe Rose.
  • Ray Rodriguez stand-in for Felipe Rose in 2011–2013.
  • Stephen Hewitt stood in for Felipe Rose for 12 dates of the North American leg of the 2013 tour.
  • A. J. Perrelli stood in for Jeff Olson in 2013. Perrelli died on October 16, 2013 from a head injury.[74]
  • Pacho Andrews, stand-in for Felipe Rose in 2013.
  • James Lee, stand-in for Sonny Earl in 2017–2018, eventually replacing Sonny Earl.


See also[edit]


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  72. ^ "Dutch single certifications – Village People" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved March 16, 2019. Enter Village People in the "Artiest of titel" box.
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External links[edit]

Media related to Village People at Wikimedia Commons