One of A-side label variants of U.S. 7-inch vinyl single
|Single by Village People|
|from the album Cruisin'|
|Released||November 13, 1978|
|Recorded||1978; Sigma Sound Studios (New York City, New York)|
|Village People singles chronology|
"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.
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. "Y.M.C.A." appeared as Space Shuttle Wakeup call on mission STS-106, on day 11.
In 2009, "Y.M.C.A." was entered into the Guinness World 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. "Y.M.C.A." is number 7 on VH1's list of The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century.
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'.
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.
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 Chic's "Le Freak" and 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." 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. 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.
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. 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 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. Willis says that he wrote the song in Vancouver, British Columbia. The initial goal of Morali and Belolo was to attract disco's gay audience by featuring popular gay fantasy. 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.
The song, played in the key of G♭ major, 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.
Impact and legacy
Origin of hand movement and 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
- 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." 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.
- Victor Willis - vocals
- Russell Dabney – drums
- Alfonso Carey – bass
- Jimmy Lee – guitar
- Rodger Lee – rhythm guitar
- Nathanial Wilkie – Fender Rhodes, clavinet
- Bitter Sweet – hand claps
Sales and certifications
|Canada (Music Canada)||2× Platinum||300,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||1,500,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||2,000,000|
|Total available sales:||5,762,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
Covers and parodies
This section contains a list of miscellaneous information. (March 2018)
- In 1997 Pepsi released a promotional cover called P.E.P.S.I.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In June 2017 the YMCA Australia partnered with singer 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. Boy George's version 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.
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|Original 1978 music video|