Y.M.C.A. (song)

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"Y.M.C.A."
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"
ReleasedNovember 13, 1978
Format
Recorded1978; Sigma Sound Studios (New York City, New York)
GenreDisco
Length4:47
LabelCasablanca
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Jacques Morali
Village People singles chronology
"Macho Man"
(1978)
"Y.M.C.A."
(1978)
"Go West"
(1979)

"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). A medley with "Hot Cop" reached #2 on Billboard's Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart[1], while the song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in early 1979, kept out of the #1 spot by both "Le Freak" by Chic and "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" by Rod Stewart.[2] Outside the US, "Y.M.C.A." reached #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.

The song remains popular and is played at many sporting events in the US and Europe, with crowds joining in on the dance in which arm movements are used to spell out the four letters of the song's title. "Y.M.C.A." appeared as the Space Shuttle wake-up call on day 11 of mission STS-106.[3]

In 2009, "Y.M.C.A." set a Guinness World Record when over 44,000 people danced to Village People's live performance of the song at the 2008 Sun Bowl game in El Paso, Texas.[4] "Y.M.C.A." is #7 on VH1's list of "The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century."[5]

History[edit]

In the US, the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) began building single room occupancy (SRO) facilities in the 1880s to house people from rural areas who moved into cities to look for work.[6] The typical YMCA SRO housing provides "low-income, temporary housing for a rent of $110 per week" (in 2005) for stays that are typically three to six months long.[7] By 1950, 670 of the 1,688 YMCAs in the US provided SRO spaces, which made 66,959 beds available.[8] By the 1970s, the typical YMCA tenant was more likely to be homeless people and youth facing life issues, rather than people migrating from rural areas.[9]

Victor Willis, lead singer and lyricist, recalls that while in the studio, producer 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'.[10]

Upon the song's 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.[11] Although the song did not reach #1 in the United States, it became a #1 hit throughout the world and has remained popular at parties, sporting events, weddings and functions ever since.

Lyrical content[edit]

Taken at face value, the song's lyrics extol the virtues of the Young Men's Christian Association. However, in the gay culture from which the Village People stemmed, 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.[12] The initial goal of Village People producers Morali and Belolo was to attract disco's gay audience by featuring popular gay fantasy in their music.[13] Although co-creator Morali was gay and the group was initially intended to target gay men, the group became more popular and more mainstream over time.[14]

Conversely, Willis had said that he wrote the song in Vancouver, British Columbia[15] and, through his publicist, that he did not write "Y.M.C.A." as a gay anthem,[16] but rather as a reflection of the fun activities that young urban black youth experienced at the YMCA, such as basketball and swimming. However, Willis has often acknowledged his fondness for double entendre.[17][18]

In an article for Gothamist, writer Abbey White states the atmosphere of the YMCA was "more complicated than the lyrics portray, with gay culture and working-class workouts coexisting in a single communal space", creating "a mix of white-collar and blue-collar residents, along with retired seniors and veterans", with about half of the residents being gay.[19] While the song gives the impression that YMCA SROs in the 1970s had a party atmosphere, Paul Groth states that YMCA SRO units actually had "more supervision of your social life — a kind of management as to how you behaved...[than] in a commercial rooming house, which mostly wanted to make sure the rooms were rented", without monitoring who you brought to your room.[20]

Song structure[edit]

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.

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

Music video[edit]

The music video of "Y.M.C.A." was filmed in New York City. The location shown in the music video is at 213 West 23rd Street, although some scenes featured the exterior of the McBurney Branch YMCA at 125 14th Street. Other filming locations in the city included the West Side Piers and Hudson River Park. The video features the band singing the song and dancing all over the city and ends with the camera zooming in on the Empire State Building.

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[21]
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 the song. Clark then said to Willis that he would like to show him something, playing the song again 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."[22] 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.[23]

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.[24]

Impact and legacy[edit]

VH1 placed "Y.M.C.A." at #7 on their list of "100 Greatest Dance Songs" in 2000[25], while Paste Magazine ranked the song #1 on their list of "The 60 Best Dancefloor Classics" in February 2017.[26]

In 2012, in a landmark ruling in accordance with the Copyright Act of 1976, Willis terminated his copyrights granted to the publishers Can't Stop Productions and Scorpio Music.[27] On March 4, 2015, it was determined that the sole writers of the song were Morali and Willis.[28]

Personnel[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[64] 2× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[66] Gold 1,450,000[65]
Germany (BVMI)[67] Gold 250,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[69] Platinum 250,000[68]
Japan (RIAJ) 302,000[70]
United Kingdom (BPI)[72] Platinum 1,500,000[71]
United States (RIAA)[73] Platinum 2,000,000

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

Touché feat. Krayzee version[edit]

"Y.M.C.A."
Single by Touché feat. Krayzee
from the album Kids In America
ReleasedSeptember 14, 1998
FormatCD maxi
Recorded1998
GenreEurodance
Length3:09 (single version)
3:14 (album version)
LabelBMG, Hansa
Songwriter(s)Jacques Morali, Victor Willis
Producer(s)Dieter Bohlen
Touché feat. Krayzee singles chronology
"I'll Give You My Heart"
(1998)
"Y.M.C.A."
(1998)
"This Goodbye Is Not Forever"
(1998)

In 1998, Touché covered the hit for their album Kids in America with Krayzee. In this version Touche take over the vocal parts and only the rap contributes to Krayzee. In Belgium, this cover version was a top ten hit, while the success in the German-speaking countries, however, was rather modest.

Music video[edit]

In the music video Touche and Krayzee offer the song in a city area, accompanied by elaborate effects.[74]

Track listing[edit]

CD maxi

  1. "YMCA" (Rap Version) - 3:09
  2. "YMCA" (Vocal Version) - 3:14
  3. "Promise To Believe" (Touché) - 3:57
  4. "I Want Your Body" (Touché) - 3:19

Charts[edit]

Chart (1998) Peak
position
German Singles Chart 31
Austrian Singles Chart 31
Swiss Singles Chart 23[75]
Belgium (Flanders) (Ultratop) 10[76]

Other cover versions and parodies[edit]

  • In 1979, 龍飄飄 recorded Chinese version of the song, without changing the title.
  • In 1997, Pepsi launched a Super Bowl ad, where five bears danced to an alternate version with "P-E-P-S-I".
  • In 1996, the song was featured in an Old El Paso commercial, with lyrics changed to "S-A-L-S-A".
  • In 2002, the song was featured in a Diet Dr Pepper commercial, which is parodied as "It's fun to eat at 4:30 PM", and was performed by They Might Be Giants as Retirement Village People.
  • 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."[77]
  • The 1996 PC interactive game of Little Critter's Just Me and My Mom by Mercer Mayer, had four mice dressed like the Village People, and changing the lyrics to "T-A-X-I".
  • 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.[78]
  • 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.[79]
  • The song was covered in the 2013 Universal animated film Despicable Me 2 by Gru's minions dressed like the Village People. This version was included on the film's soundtrack.[80]
  • 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.[81]
  • In June 2017 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.[82] 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.[83]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

External video
Original 1978 music video