Y.M.C.A. (song)

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YMCA by Village People US vinyl single A-side label.jpg
One of A-side label variants of U.S. 7-inch vinyl single
Single by Village People
from the album Cruisin'
B-side "The Women"
Released November 13, 1978
Recorded 1978; Sigma Sound Studios (New York City, New York)
Genre Disco
Length 4:47
Label Casablanca
Producer(s) Jacques Morali
Village People singles chronology
"Macho Man"
"Go West"

"Y.M.C.A." is a song by the American disco group Village People. It was released in 1978 as the only single from their third studio album Cruisin' (1978). The song reached Number 2 on the US charts in early 1979 and reached Number 1 in the UK around the same time, becoming the group's biggest hit. It is one of fewer than 40 singles to have sold 10 million (or more) physical copies worldwide. A medley with "Hot Cop" reached number 2 on Billboard's Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart.[1]

The song remains popular and is played at many sporting events in the U.S. and Europe, with crowds using the dance in which the arms are used to spell out the four letters of the song's title. Moreover, the song also remains particularly popular due to its status as a disco classic. "Y.M.C.A." appeared as Space Shuttle Wakeup call on mission STS-106, on day 11.[2]

In 2009, "Y.M.C.A." was entered into the Guinness World Book of Records when over 44,000 people danced to the song with Village People singing live at the 2008 Sun Bowl game in El Paso, Texas.[3] "Y.M.C.A." is number 7 on VH1's list of The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century.[4]


Victor Willis, lead singer and lyricist, recalls that while in the studio, Jacques Morali asked him, "What exactly is the YMCA?" After Willis explained it to him, he saw the expression on Morali's face and said, "Don't tell me, Jacques, you want to write a song about it?" and they quickly wrote the track for the album Cruisin'.[5]

Upon its release, the YMCA threatened to sue the band over trademark infringement. The organization ultimately settled with the composers out of court and later expressed pride regarding the song saluting the organization.[6]

The song became a Number 1 hit throughout the world (although not in the United States where it was kept out of the top spot by Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"). It has remained popular at parties, sporting events, weddings, and functions ever since.

In 2011, Willis filed a notice of copyright termination to the song as lyricist under the Copyright Act of 1976 which allows recording artists and writers to reclaim their master recordings and publishing. In a landmark ruling in 2012, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California ruled that Willis can terminate his copyrights granted to the publishers Can't Stop Productions and Scorpio Music because "a joint author who separately transfers his copyright interest may unilaterally terminate the grant."[7] YMCA and other hits written by Willis (for Village People and other Can't Stop acts) began to revert to him on September 13, 2013.[8] On March 4, 2015, it was determined that the sole writers of the song are Morali and Willis and the name Belolo has been removed. Willis now owns 50% of the song previously credited to Belolo.[9]


Taken at face value, the song's lyrics extol the virtues of the Young Men's Christian Association. In the gay culture from which the Village People sprang, the song was implicitly understood as celebrating the YMCA's reputation as a popular cruising and hookup spot, particularly for the younger men to whom it was addressed.[10] Willis, the group's lead singer and lyricist, said through his publicist that he did not write "Y.M.C.A." as a gay anthem[11] but as a reflection of young urban black youth fun at the YMCA such as basketball and swimming. That said, he has often acknowledged his fondness for double entendre.[12][13] Willis says that he wrote the song in Vancouver, British Columbia.[14] The initial goal of Morali and Belolo was to attract disco's gay audience by featuring popular gay fantasy.[15] Although co-creator Morali was gay and the group was initially intended to target gay men, the other group members were straight men, who simply enjoyed disco culture. Therefore, the group became more popular and more mainstream over time.[16]

Song structure[edit]

The song, played in the key of G♭ major Pentatonic, begins with a brass riff, backed by the constant pulse that typified disco. Many different instruments are used throughout for an overall orchestral feel, another disco convention, but it is brass that stands out.

As with other Village People hits, the lead vocals are handled by Willis and the background vocals are supplied by Willis and professional background singers. The distinctive vocal line features the repeated "Young man!" ecphonesis followed by Willis singing the verse lines. The background vocals join in throughout the song.

Willis's version of the song is used in the film, Can't Stop the Music, though by that time Ray Simpson had replaced him as the policeman.

Impact and legacy[edit]

VH1 placed "Y.M.C.A." at #7 in their list of 100 Greatest Dance Songs in 2000.[17]

Paste Magazine ranked the song number 1 in their list of The 60 Best Dancefloor Classics in February 2017.[18]

Origin of hand movement and dance[edit]

The YMCA dance demonstrated in a photomontage. In this rendition, the M (second from left) is done in a popular variant.
Members of the grounds crew of Yankee Stadium pause to do the YMCA dance.

YMCA is also the name of a group dance with cheerleader Y-M-C-A choreography invented to fit the song. One of the phases involves moving arms to form the letters Y-M-C-A as they are sung in the chorus:

Y —arms outstretched and raised upwards
M —made by bending the elbows from the 'Y' pose so the fingertips meet in front of the chest[19]
C —arms extended to the left
A —hands held together above head

The dance originated on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. During the January 6, 1979 episode, which featured the Village People as guests throughout the hour, the dance was performed by audience members while the group performed "YMCA." Clark then said to Willis that he would like to show him something. Clark again played the song with the audience doing the YMCA hand gestures. Willis immediately picked up on the dance and mimicked the hand movements back at the audience as other Village People members stared at him with puzzled looks. Clark then turned to Willis and said, "Victor, think you can work this dance into your routine?" Willis responded, "I think we're gonna have to."[20] In a 2008 retrospective article for Spin, Randy Jones has opined that the dance may have originated as a misunderstanding: The group's original choreographed dance had the group clapping above their heads during the chorus and he believes that the audience, believing them to be making the letter "Y", began following suit.[21]

Following the sixth inning of New York Yankees baseball games at Yankee Stadium, the grounds crew traditionally grooms the infield while leading the crowd in the dance.[22] In July 2008, Village People performed "Y.M.C.A." with the Yankees grounds crew at the last MLB All-Star Game held at the old Yankee Stadium. Similarly at the Sapporo Dome, during Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters baseball games, "Y.M.C.A." is enthusiastically enjoyed by the crowd and ground staff during the fifth inning stretch.[citation needed]


Chart performance[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[57] 2× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[58] Gold 1,450,000[59]
Germany (BVMI)[60] Gold 250,000^
Japan (RIAJ) 302,000[61]
United Kingdom (BPI)[62] Platinum 1,500,000[63]
United States (RIAA)[64] Platinum 2,000,000
Total available sales: 5,762,000

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Covers and parodies[edit]

  • In the same year, South Korean Disco singer Jo Kyung-soo released a Korean version of the song. This was covered by Twice on Immortal Song 2 in 2016.
  • George Lam's 1979 album "抉擇" (Choice) featured a Cantonese version of the song, entitled "YMCA好知己" (YMCA Good Friends).
  • On February 21, 1979, Japanese singer Hideki Saijo released "Young Man", with the tune of "Y.M.C.A.", but with Japanese lyrics that means "Young Man Can do Anything", cheering song to young people.[65]
  • Since 1990, the Hungarian parodist band "Irigy Hónaljmirigy (hu)" wrote an alternative lyrics to the song, that they since use as their signature song.
  • Billy Connolly's 1979 recording "In the Brownies" is a spoof of both this song and the Village People's "In the Navy".
  • A 1993 episode of Married with Children had Marcy placating a militant feminist group at a Halloween party by having Peg, Jefferson, Kelly and Bud impersonate and lip-synch to the Village People. However, the only Village People album Marcy owns is a single-track of Y.M.C.A, constantly repeating it and angering the guests.
  • The 1993 comedy film Wayne's World 2 features a scene where Wayne, Garth, and two of their show's colleagues (while fleeing from the main antagonist) accidentally go into a gay club; since they are dressed in disguises similar to the costumes of the Village People (power line worker, policeman, sailor, and roadie respectively), the DJ puts on the song and the four perform the dance.
  • In 1994, the duo of 2 Live Jews did a parody of the song as "What did you say?", which was about a young man, who could not hear what was being said from the older man. It came from the album Disco Jews (1994).
  • In 1996, the song was featured in a commercial for Old El Paso, with lyrics changed to "S-A-L-S-A".
  • In 1997 Pepsi released a promotional cover called P.E.P.S.I.[66]
  • In 1998 Edson Cordeiro covered the song in his album Disco Clubbing ao Vivo
  • On July 2, 2004, Colin Powell, then the U.S. Secretary of State, performed a modified version of "YMCA" for his fellow foreign government officials at the ASEAN security meeting in Jakarta. His lyrics includes the lines:

    President Bush, he said to me: 'Colin, I know you will agree. I need you to run the Department of State. We are between a rock and a hard place.' [67]

  • In 2004, Fisher-Price released a Sesame Street Elmo doll in which he dances and sings a spoof of the song by spelling his name.
  • In 2006, TC Moses covered "YMCA" for iNiS's Elite Beat Agents.
  • The 21st episode of Season 2 of the popular TV show Friends ("The One with the Bullies") showed Monica dancing to the YMCA song dressed up in a 50s style themed restaurant while working there.
  • In 2008, a commercial for the Israeli TV provider yes. had a group of Jews dancing on Wall St., moping about the then-new switchover to HD quality to the tune of "YMCA". It also poked fun at the religion; with references to Sodom and Gomorrah, to lyrics like "It's against the Torah!" and "Now the "shikes" look so well./You will all go to Hell!/Or in Hebrew, "yismor hokel"."[68][69]
  • In September, 2012, a Slovenian musical group and stand-up comedians Slon in Sadež released a Slovene parody of the YMCA-song with the title "NNLB". It makes fun of irresponsible financial management of the largest bank in Slovenia Nova Ljubljanska banka (NLB), causing a severe, longlasting financial and economic crisis in Slovenia.[70]
  • Ubisoft Games Called Raving Rabbids Travel In Time Covered A Song By Raving Rabbids And Just Dance 2014
  • On March 2, 2013, during the opening monologue on Saturday Night Live, Jay Pharoah parodied President Barack Obama giving a press conference about the recent budget cuts in Congress, saying that there were going to be cuts on the military, social service workers, federal construction projects, and Native American funding. The representatives of each of the four Village People characters did the arm dance in order after Pharaoh recited the appropriate verse of the song.[71]
  • In early 2013, Disney Channel covered the song as "O.W.C.A." for the TV series Phineas and Ferb in one of its music videos shown in commercial breaks. As seen in the music video, it shows Disney Channel stars from shows such as Jessie, Dog With a Blog, Good Luck Charlie, and Austin & Ally, and showed the secret agents dancing to the song.
  • The English YouTube company The Yogscast made a parody called M.I.L.K. in 2011, which was all about a milkman.
  • The song was covered in the 2013 animated film Despicable Me 2 by Gru's minions. This version was included on the film's soundtrack.[72]
  • In November 2013, Chris Pennington released a parody of the song directed at Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien, entitled "Why not P.K.?", expressing sentiment that Therrien was not giving star Canadiens defenceman P. K. Subban enough ice time.[73]
  • On the children's show Sesame Street, Oscar the Grouch sings the song "Stretch, Wiggle, Yay!" at his trash can, while his worm, Slimey and his worm friends do their daily workout. "Stretch, Wiggle, Yay!" spoofs "Y.M.C.A.".[74]
  • One commercial for Malaysian Idol - following the theme of the everyday Malaysian singing mundane situations for the sake of a place in the reality TV show - has a scene where security guards order a man to drive his car away from an apartment compound in tune to this song, as the man fails to produce his "visitor pass".[75]
  • In January 2017, artist Neil Cicierega released "T.I.M.E", which combined the Village People's lyrics with Hanz Zimmer's song "Time" from the 2010 film Inception, in the mashup album "Mouth Moods".
  • In June 2017 the YMCA Australia partnered with pop icon Boy George to release a cover of the song for a campaign on youth issues. This was the first time that any YMCA had embraced the song since its initial release.[76] Boy George's stripped back version [77] is part of the #whynot? campaign launched by YMCA Australia that aims to provide a voice to young people to speak out on issues that affect them.[78] The song was incredibly popular with growing views on YouTube as well as mass media attention. Boy George's involvement on #whynot helped launched the YMCA Australia's vision as an organisation that believes in the power of inspired young people, shining light on issues such as marriage equality, youth unemployment and youth mental illness.[79]


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External links[edit]

External video
Original 1978 music video